Sunday, November 30, 2014

Writing better ledes

One of the hardest but most important writing tasks is crafting a good lede. Without a compelling first sentence a story isn't likely to be read, so the best newspaper and magazine writers spend lots of time writing and revising and rewriting their ledes.

One suggestion I made to Orionites at the beginning of the semester was to use the San Francisco Chronicle as a writing model. I was struck this morning by the paper's front-page ledes:

When Linda Vida sold her house in the Oakland hills this summer, she was hoping for a buyers who would live there, put kids in the local schools and "give back or participate in the community," she says. (Kathleen Pender) 
Eight years ago, they were high school students who spent every Saturday morning together trying to gain a foothold in their adopted country by drinking coffee, eating bagels and studying one of literatures more revered and difficult masterpieces. Now... (Heather Knight) 
The cherished coho salmon that historically wriggled their way past beachgoers up Redwood Creek into Muir Woods vanished this year and are now on the verge of extinction prompting a last-ditch attempt by fisheries biologists to save the genetically unique species. (Peter Fimrite) 
Within arm's reach of his desk at Fraenkel Gallery, Jeffrey Fraenkel keeps the rejection letter from the graduate program in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. (Sam Whiting)

Notice these are not the 30-words-or-fewer, subject-verb-object, most-important-W-first ledes you're taught to write in journalism classes. Classic news ledes are still a good choice for breaking hard-news stories, but these are features or news features and require a different approach.

Only one of these ledes is shorter than 30 words, though two others are fewer than 40. Three start with an introductory clause. Two use a list of three things as a writing device.

All four are little stories themselves. They set scenes and introduce characters. The writers use very specific language and choose words that put pictures in a reader's brain. Most of all, each is constructed to sound like the beginning of a longer story (Think "Once upon a time...").

Keeping those four things in mind are a terrific way to start writing more compelling ledes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lindsay Pincus named editor-in-chief

Lindsay Pincus, features editor this fall at The Orion, has been named editor-in-chief for spring semester 2015.

Lindsay started at the paper last fall as a reporter and photographer, then joined the features staff last spring as do-it-yourself columnist. She spent last summer in England working as an intern for the Green Party.

A junior pursuing a journalism major and project management minor, Lindsay is on the dean's list and in Chico State honor's program.

Congratulations, Lindsay!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hey! That's my kid!

Max Plenke
The Chico State SPJ chapter has invited Max Plenke, who freelances for Esquire, Cosmopolitan and GQ, to speak Wednesday night (Nov. 19) at 6:30 in 106 Plumas Hall. It's free. Pizza will be provided.

And, yes, that's my son. Hope to see you there.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wildcat of the Year contest a winner

One of the great things about news on the web is that it allows (and can encourage) interaction with readers. Give people a chance to express their opinions about something they're passionate about and they'll reward you with traffic.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Sports Editor Nick Woodard's idea to have readers vote online for a Wildcat athlete of the year would get lots of attention. I didn't expect that it would be the most popular story on so far this month with more than 26,500 page views. That's 5,000 more views than either of October's big stories, the train fatality near campus and the Pocket Points feature.

Here are the top stories so far this month:
1. Wildcat of the Year announcement - 26,582
2.  Feature on Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman - 3,812
3.  Student complain, professor quits class - 2,674
4.  Baseball alumnus nears goal to pay for cancer treatment - 2,512
5.  Campus presidents up for pay raise - 2,260
6.  Out-of-towners attacked at party - 2,196
7. Halloween live Twitter feed - 1,482
8. Student dies of heart failure - 1,332
9. How queer folk can best support allies - 1,229
10. Student dies after two-year cancer battle - 1,185

Another interesting statistic from the November numbers is how many visitors are using the site menus to visit section and subject pages. The O-face, police blotter, opinion columns, opinion blogs, working Wildcat, opinion editorials, arts reviews, Craft Cat and a handful of sports pages attracted more than 2,000 views each in the first half of the month. That's one way of explaining why the "stickiness" of the site, how many pages the average reader looks at on each visit, is 11.82, roughly four times what most professional news sites are attracting.

And that says to me that readers are using much more like readers use print newspapers than websites. They're going to the website to find out what's happening on campus, not just following a social media link to read a specific story.

Sunday, November 9, 2014 on pace for another good month

No single, blockbuster story drove traffic to the first week of November, but analytics show the website is on pace to have another outstanding month.

For the first seven days of the month:
• 224,994 pages were viewed, which puts the site on a pace for 964,260 for the month
• Unique visitors numbered a little less than 10,000, so a total near 40,000 is a good bet.

October's record-setting traffic was helped by two big stories, the death of a student who was hit by a train near campus and a feature about Pocket Points, a new app developed by a pair of Chico State students. Both attracted more than 20,000 page views.

Even without a big story last week, lots of people were navigating to the site and staying to read stories, watch videos and comment. They visited an average of 11.3 pages per visit in the first days of the month, which was pretty typical of traffic in the past. Professional news websites are doing well when people stick around to read two or three more stories after coming to a site.

People coming to read only a story or two and then leaving is what web marketers call a high rate of "churn," a bad thing if you're trying to sell advertising on your site. 

Here are the top stories on for the first week of November:
1. The Orion's Wildcat of the Year contest announcement - 4,550 visits
2. Out-of-towners attacked at party - 2,170
3. Baseball alumnus nears goal to pay chemo treatment - 2,170 and 480 Facebook posts
4. Campus presidents up for pay raise - 1,974 visits and 324 Facebook posts
5. Chico Halloween 2014 live Twitter feed - 1,447
6. The O-face - 1,194
7. Chico State student dies of heart failure - 1,136
8. How queer folk can best support allies - 1,075

Sunday, November 2, 2014

October was best-ever month for

Some mind-blowing numbers for last month, with traffic jumping 42 percent from September and 112 percent from August. October's 1,161,342 page views was the best ever for The Orion's website.

The gains this fall clearly demonstrate the website has come into its own as an important news source for both the campus and the community.

The analytics from the paper's webhosting service, BlueHost, show in the same company as campus newspaper websites at much bigger schools with daily print newspapers:
• The Red and Black at the University of Georgia (enrollment 34,500) claims 30,000 average daily page views
• The Daily Collegian at Penn State (enrollment 40,000) has 133,146 unique visitors who make 367,834 visits on average each month at the University of Michigan (enrollment 28,283) averages 677,888 monthly page views, 368,377 monthly visits and 1.778 pages per visit.

Comparable Orion website numbers for October were:
Chico State enrollment - 16,356
Unique visitors - 42,328
105,487 visits - 2.49 visits per visitor
1,161,324 page views - 11 pages per visit 
37,462 average page views per day

Traffic per student enrolled is roughly the same for all four universities. The Orion's ability to hold onto its visitors is what accounts for its outsized page-view traffic.

The top stories on for October were:

  1. Woman killed, dismembered by train - 21,412 page views
  2. Pocket Points hits Chico State - 21,114
  3. Train victim identified as Chico State student - 6,805
  4. Navigating bro speak (cartoon) - 3,399
  5. Chico State reflects on stereotypes - 3,195
  6. Sorority bands together to help fallen sister - 2,947
  7. Students evacuate burning house - 2,500
  8. AS to build $130,000 statue - 2,455
  9. Gang shooting wrongly reflects Hmong community - 2,432
  10. Student remembered as energetic, cheerful - 2,040
  11. Bars close early for Halloween - 1,823

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Orion Picks Up a Pacemaker

Photo by Ernesto Rivera, The Orion

The Orion has won its first print Pacemaker award -- sometimes called the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism -- since 2009. Issues from last academic year, edited by Ben Mullin and Katrina Cameron, were judged in the national contest. Winners were announced today at the Associated Collegiate Press convention in Philadelphia.

Orion photographer Emily Teague won a fifth place in the competition for feature photojournalism.

This year was the 20th time since 1988 The Orion had been nominated for a print Pacemaker. It won the award in 1988-89, 1992-93, 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2008-09.

UPDATE: The Orion took third place in the Best of Show competition for four-year weekly broadsheet newspapers in Philadelphia and ninth place in Best of Show for large-school websites. Awards were announced Sunday morning.

Well done, everyone!