Monday, April 21, 2014

We want to be digital-first, but how?

David Simpson, the student media adviser at Georgia Southern University (@adviserdavid) keeps a blog much like this one. A post of his caught my eye this morning. It's all about how to maintain a daily-digital presence.

I especially liked this quote from the piece:

Don’t dump three great enterprise stories online today and then have nothing special to offer tomorrow. Is your current practice to publish online the entire content of next week’s print edition on day of publication? Why? Picture a student with a smartphone. Is he really going to read all your enterprise in one sitting? Or would he be more likely to read one good enterprise story each day at lunch?

You can find the rest here: Daily Discipline in the Digital World.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nicely done! Classic digital-first coverage of AS election results

It was so great to see how a little planning and a lot of hustle turned into outstanding spot-news coverage of the Chico State student government elections Thursday evening. Here's a Storify roundup of the staff's effort.

Great job everyone!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Need writing inspiration? Read this!

I was racking my brain Wednesday night after critique trying to come up with a way to help members of The Orion feature staff adopt a different approach to their writing.

Too much of their stuff reads like the front page: all inverted pyramid and who-what-where-when ledes.

And I remembered examples of features I used to give my Media Writing class at Normandale Community College (where I taught before I came to Chico State last year), winners from an annual contest sponsored by the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors.

The group is now the Society for Features Journalism, and the contest entries are still inspirational.

Here's a lede from one of the Short Features category winners:
She scheduled an 11:30 a.m. surgery Wednesday to remove the brain tumor and told Tafoya they should marry first.
"I wanted to go into the surgery and come out to my husband," she says. "He could be my strength."
Monday, he picked up a marriage license.

During an angiogram, she mentioned to a nurse her plan to marry in the hospital, and word spread.

Invitations zipped out by text and Facebook message.

One hospital staffer offered a veil, another to play the harp, a third to do Amos' makeup. The gift shop would deliver floral arrangements and the caterer trays of fruit. They reserved a patio planted with wildflowers. Amos' 13-year-old niece baked a layer cake. The couple's friend, Jessie Sponberg, agreed to perform the ceremony. Hours beforehand, David's Bridal lent a gown.
How could you not read the rest of this story by Katy Muldoon of the Oregonian in Portland?

Here's another:
He's already written Sunday's sermon.
Psalm 23. The good shepherd story.

Reinhard Beckman hasn't put anything on paper, because he's legally blind now, but he's thought of the words, moved them around, locked them in. He knows what he'll say when he returns to the pulpit at Luther Memorial with his son, his friends and his flock listening from the pews.

His cup is running over.

"I'm going to stress all the good things God has done for me."

And the next day, he'll turn 100.
 That's by Peter Salter of the Lincoln Journal Star. Amazing, right?

A lot of great feature writing is about finding a great story to tell, but really great feature writing is also about the art of telling. Go to the SFJ website and read some of the other really great writing on the winners' page. See if it doesn't inspire you, too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time for a change on the mobile app?

I've probably retweeted a dozen articles in the last couple of months about how the digital audience is moving to mobile devices and away from both print and the web. So it's a little discouraging to see The Orion's audience at Chico State using the paper's mobile app at about 6 percent of the rate it uses (2,428 visits in March versus 39,260).

It's hard to know exactly why. Only 1,269 people have downloaded the app, so that explains a lot. The chart above shows the number of downloads since The Orion's mobile app was launched in September 2013. The big jump happened when the paper's PR team ran a "download our app, win an iPad" contest. So doing more marketing could be part of the solution to better numbers.

The Orion's app users clearly are interested in getting news on their phones and tablets. Here's how the traffic broke down in March by channel:

Maybe improving the rest of the content (and how it's presented) in other areas is a one way to build traffic.

Most Orion managers think it's time for a change. They'd like to move away from the paper's current mobile app vendor, iCampusTimes, to a different service. They don't like the current system's lack of flexibility and features.
•  Here's a slideshow of the way other campuses are using iCampusTimes.
• And here's a gallery of mobile websites that use one of the companies The Orion is looking at as a possible replacement. (You'll need to scroll down to see the links to individual sites.)

I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the current app, how The Orion is using it and suggestions for how the paper's mobile effort can be improved. Do you agree it's time to start over with a new company? Just leave a comment below.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Big numbers for at midterm

The Orion got off to an excellent start this semester when members of the news staff started updating website two weeks before classes started in January. That commitment to getting information to the audience in a hurry continued week after week, ending this past couple of days with excellent mobile-first coverage of the Cesar Chavez Day weekend.

While the website didn't have as much traffic as it did in February (mostly because traffic fell off during spring break), it continued to have amazing "stickiness," with 11.6 pages viewed per visit. That's one more page per visit than in February and four times more than a typical professional news site.

Not all the news is good. Despite a strong effort from the PR staff to increase the paper's social media presence, referrals to from Facebook were down drastically, from about 6,200 to 3,436.

Chalk some of that up to interest in soft news over hard. February's top web stories were a feature about a student who started a safe-ride-home service that had 2,230 visits and a feature about the university farm, 1,549 visits. March's most-read stories were about a bag of marijuana recovered in the parking structure (1,120 visits), Cesar Chavez Day coverage (1,036) and the drug and alcohol findings for the driver of a fatal car crash (850).

Despite smaller numbers on the website overall in March, visits to the sports section were up about 150 from February. I'm guessing strong finishes by the Wildcat men's and women's basketball teams (and strong coverage of both) helped that number.

The most exciting statistic, though, is the overall traffic growth from last semester to this. The number of page visits on the site this spring is averaging about 10,000 a month more than last fall (37,460 on average vs. about 27,000)! Chalk that up to a much-improved website and a commitment to digital-first journalism.