Thursday, April 30, 2015

... could teach The Orion something about mobile news

We had a fun and interesting class period Wednesday taking a look at the most popular online news websites and identifying things they did well that The Orion could emulate on and the Orion app.

Small groups opened BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Gawker and other news apps on the list as well as Circa, NYT Now and the NPR website, then identified three potential upgrades to the Orion's app. I presented a Prezi to introduce the exercise.

Here are the results:

Huffington Post

Main menu is basic, click to get options to see more certain section, but not every category. Orion- has too many specific categories, it would look neater if it they shortened the list. 
Social media  bar at the bottom doesn't move when scrolling down the page, more likely to share. The Orion could attach a consistent social media bar as well, make it easier to share stories for visitors. 
Story headlines broken up so it doesn't look like a laundry list(2 stories side to side, then 4 on top of each other) The Orion- does it at the top of the app, so they could easily just continue that throughout. 
Can swipe from story to story very easily. The Orion- Add this to the app for easier transitions story to story.


1.) Make the app work for mobile browsers, the Buzzfeed mobile site is very user friendly for cell phones. (No huge banner at the top)
2.) More click bait. 
-"The Wildcats miss playoffs first time in 20 years." 
-"Professor fired?"
-"Sports team drinking?"
-"Six ways to success."
Chico State:
"How to rent like a pro."
"Babies who love boobs."
"Is Disney couples texted each other."
3.) Buzzfeed uses whole screen efficiently to the max. Our mobile app inefficiently uses our space and we only have a third of the stories in the same amount of space. Buzzfeed triples the amount of content in the same area.


-Layout: photos next to titles as opposed to on top of, we have a lot of dead space next to them (this depends on the browser, so consistency between browsers should be considered as well). The photos should either span the whole width (for special articles, or each section) or be smaller and to the side of the titles.
-To do this, we need more focus on featured photos: tighter crops and CONSISTENT aspect ratios. Editors should tell photographers which photos they want, and photographers can send them in the proper format, or they can take them from the server and do it themselves.
-Too much weird wasted space at the top, with a non-eyecatching logo. Put some color in "the orion" and combine or relocate the top drop down menu with the one below it, adding a title to it like: navigate.
-Varied content: put videos/galleries/stories/art in the sections they are relevant to, instead of by type of media...
On the app, put up a gallery of articles at the top.
Use picture galleries for stories such as take back the night.
Incorporate a rating system for articles and reviews. 


Business insider best features: 
Categories and sub categories (color coded) 
App has an instructive introduction that explains how to use features of the app
Article broken up into subsections with subtitles that help the reader jump to certain parts (there are also pictures throughout the article that break up the reading) 

How could the Orion be improved:
Subcategories on the mobile site and app 
Shrink articles so that more are visible on the screen at once 
Mobile site and app should look the same 


1. The teasers - are very informational and tell the reader exactly what is in the story; The Orion for example, we only have a teasers for a few stories on the front page. There's only a few with the stories at the top of the website
2. All the various sections are represented on the front page
3. Videos on the front page including the New Creepy Woody Allen Movie - There are no videos on the front page of The Orion website could've included a video from Take Back the Night. 


Navigation List - On Mashable, when the drop down menu is in use it remains static as well as the page while the Orion nav bar must be scrolled through.
Tabs - Mashable has tabs on the homepage which helps with variation and there is not as much scrolling.
Photos - Mashable has more photos inserted throughout the articles.


Hyperlinking - Vox news has a lot of hyperlinks in all of their stories. Specifically, The Orion could have provided more hyperlinks in the story about the school board. We could have linked to previous articles that The Orion has written or we could have linked to another news source. 
Multiple photos and videos/ story: Vox news has a lot of photos and videos spaced out in each of their stories. Specifically, The Orion could have spaced out the photos throughout the stories. The photo gallery is hard to navigate on a mobile device. 
Subheads: Vox uses a lot of subheads to break up stories. Specifically, The Orion could have provided more subheads (at least in the online version) to the student firefighter story. Feeding chunks of information to people makes them more inclined to read the whole thing. 

1. Put 2 stories per section (the best ones) on the front page of The Orion. The Orion lists a lot of ours after the main one in the browser, and in the app, the most recent is the only one highlighted, and all it gets is a bigger photo.
2. Bolder headlines in The Orion app and website. There are also no teasers to describe stories in the app. Also, better fonts.
3. Podcast/video tab. Slate has one in the app and The Orion doesn't have video or photo galleries in our app. Online, they are buried or hard to find unless highlighted that day. There's too much scrolling (this leads back to no. 1).
Feature: Title of website needs to be smaller.
-The vice homepage features a small box saying vice news. The Orions titles takes up half the page which could be better used with a picture or story title.
Feature: 2x2 stories.
-when you scroll down the vice page it has stories 2x2 the whole way down. You get more options and more page clicks. The orion is only 1x1 which limits page clicks and interest.
Feature: search bar.
-Vice has a tiny search bar at the top of the page for easy searching. you have to dig deep to find the search bar in the orion making it frustrating for the readers.


1. Personalized News Feed:
If The Orion had this option, readers would be able to follow up on a story.
2. Pull Quotes style:
It links you to the sources, the actual stories and other websites. Because the articles are made up of quotes, Circa uses these elements to draw readers in.
3.Draws You In:
Effective use of pictures, picture slideshows and infographics - this pulls the readers in. Or at the very least click on the story.

1. Uniform size headlines, cutlines and photos for each story
2. Multiple hyperlinks in each story and more than one photo in most of them
3. Options to share the story at the top of the article not the bottom


The best feature of NPR is the layout and how almost every title had a photo.  
A large variety of story genres including audio of some story articles. Easy navigation, clear and straight to the main news. 
The Orion could try and offer a different way of listing/labeling each section . 
They could have a top rated section of the news that is most popular. 
Have a settings option to make font bigger and image quality hd. 

So, what do you think? Which of these features should The Orion adopt? Could some of them happen right now?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Meet The Orion leadership for Fall 2015

Risa Johnson
Two Chico State seniors, Risa Johnson and Cortnee Uriz, will lead The Orion and next fall.

Johnson, who is from Ridgecrest, California, will be the paper's next editor-in-chief. She has worked on the staff as a news and features writer, fitness columnist and features editor.

Johnson has also had internships at two magazines and an Italian radio station and maintained a travel blog while studying abroad in Viterbo, Italy, this past academic year.

Cortnee Uriz
"I want to make The Orion feel like home for people like it has been for me and continue building on the growth of my predecessors, who have been such incredible role models," she wrote in her letter of application.

The Orion's next advertising manager will be Cortnee Uriz, a business administration major from San Ramon, California.

Uriz has managed the Electric Lounge Tanning Salon in Chico and was a sales person for Beauty Source in San Ramon. She is a member of Alpha Phi International Fraternity and has worked as a volunteer raising money for the Oakland Children's Hospital and the Chico cardiac care unit.

Saturday, April 25, 2015 passed over again for online Pacemaker

The Stanford Daily's website was one of five in The Orion's circulation
class to be named a Pacemaker finalist
The Associated Collegiate Press on Friday announced the finalists for this year's online Pacemaker awards, and was not on the list.

Lots of other California schools did make it. In The Orion's competition class, the Stanford Daily was among five finalists.

Other state schools' sites included:
San Francisco State's Xpress magazine
The Occidental Weekly
The Daily Trojan from USC
Golden Gate Xpress from San Francisco State
Santa Ana College's el Don
Intersections South LA from UCLA

The complete list is on the ACP website.

I'm totally not objective about this, of course, but I'm left scratching my head about what the judges are or aren't seeing in

No judges' comments are published when ACP makes its finalist announcement, so there's no specific criticism of the sites that do or don't qualify as finalists. Here's what the announcement did say:
Judges noted that the top competitors provided readers with a complete visual experience, utilizing graphics, powerful photography and polished multimedia to tell stories. Timely coverage of topics relevant to the audience was a must. The best sites also engaged audiences effectively on social media.One judge said of one category, “Many of the sites … presented well-written news coverage, so many of the top spots were separated by design and ease of website use through navigation.”
The Orion's enrollment group (10,000-20,000 students) included the websites from Stanford, the University of Miami, Syracuse, Appalachian State and Duke, and their sites are very good. In print, The Appalachian comes out twice a week; the others are dailies.

My own biased assessment of their sites is that their navigation is essentially the same as's, with a standard navigation bar across the top of the page just under the site logo. The biggest design difference is that four of the sites display a single photo module at the top of their home pages that manually or automatically rotates through a series of images.

Appalachian State has the most nonstandard design, a home page full of image-and-headline modules ala Bleacher Report's Team Stream mobile app. Based on contests past, I think this is the big difference between becoming a finalist or not. Judges see that big image -- and the terrific photos displayed -- and sort those sites into the winner's pile.

The Orion's home page design is more typical of professional newspaper websites, with an emphasis on news stories and full story teases on the home screen. Only the Stanford website teases more than a story or two, and Stanford's teases are just headlines that duplicate the photo scroll. Stanford does incorporate the occasional parallax scrolling page for special stories, which is a design plus the other sites don't employ.

All seem to do a good job of using and promoting social media. Their photo sections are better developed and newsier than The Orion's, but the Orion video effort is much better -- both in terms of quality and quantity -- than all but The Miami Hurricane, which has its own branded video section, TMHtv.

Of course, there is no way to tell when the judges were looking at the sites to know specifically what it was that caught their eyes. In general, though, I think the biggest improvements The Orion could make to get into the Pacemaker finals in the future is to step up its photo game and dress up its hard news reporting to be more visually appealing through photos, videos and graphics.

I'm interested in seeing what you think the differences are between and its competition. Take a look and add your observations below as comments. Thanks!

Friday, April 24, 2015

What's Wrong With THIS Picture?

Hint: Wonderful photos, but this was the first social media post under the @theorion_news Twitter handle of the event.

I Really Like How This Page is Constructed

This appears to be the standard story template at my old newspaper, The Pioneer-Press in St. Paul, Minnesota. It does a lot of things really well:
• Leads with a dominant image and cutline
• Strong SEO headline
• Easy-to-find options for sharing
• Text configured to keep line length readable
• A related-stories listing up top, with links
• A secondary image (there's another farther down the page) that continues to keep column-widths at reasonable lengths.
I think this would be a terrific basic template for stories in, with variations for available content, of course. What do you think?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Importance of a Calendar to Planning News Coveage

It was probably my two-year stint assigning stories for KMSP-TV in the Twin Cities that made me appreciate how vital a simple calendar is to planning the day's news. When I worked for newspapers, we looked ahead a week at a time and got a general idea of what we were going to cover, but in the Channel 9 newsroom, I had to fill a white board with enough assignments each morning to fill our one-hour broadcast each night at 9.

That day-focused mentality came to mind last Wednesday when, in my weekly critique, I wondered why neither the print paper nor the website had stories on April 15 about the income tax deadline or the Associated Students elections, both of which fell on that day.

As a TV assignment editor, I started my morning asking myself: "What are we going to have on the show tonight?" It's a question everyone at The Orion should be asking every morning, too.

Here are a few suggestions for everyone responsible for content in the paper and on the website (which means "everyone who works for the paper").

A Calendar File Drawer or Online Calendar
One drawer in my desk at the station had 31 file folders labeled with numbers 1 to 31. Each represented a day of the month. When I got a call, a news release or some other notification about an event in our coverage area, I would file in the folder for that date the release or a note to myself with the essential details and contact information. 

The last hour of my day, I would take out the file folder for the next day's date and see what I'd put away. I'd also look at my regular, standard calendar to see if the following day was a holiday or had some other special significance (such as tax-filing day or the anniversary of a note-worthy historical event or story) and make phone calls to set up interviews for the following day.

A Daily White Board
Those stories would find their place the next morning on a white board hanging on the wall next to my desk. While a daily runsheet can be kept in Google Sheets or another on-computer application, I think it's essential to have a list of the day's stories posted in a prominent place in the newsroom so everyone knows what's being planned and who's responsible for getting it done and posted or published.

As a TV assignment editor, I filled in a grid that listed columns for shift, story slug, story format and reporter-videographer team. We had only one newscast at the time, so posting a deadline wasn't necessary, but I would add that column in an online newsroom today.

Using a white board is a good idea because news changes quickly in a broadcast newsroom just as it should in a digital-first newsroom. New stories squeeze out less vital old ones and crews are reassigned so the freshest, most important news ends up being covered. Because it was right next to my desk, I could change the line-up and assignments instantly, and the producers who sat across the room could see how their show was going to change in real time.

Share Responsibility With Reporters
The temptation in TV news -- at least in my newsroom, but I know it was true in many others -- was to let the assignment editor or editors set the day's schedule and keep the runsheet fresh. That seemed odd to me because I started my career in newspapers, where reporters ran regular beats and took responsibility for knowing what was happening on them and for letting the editors know what stories they were planning. Story ideas mostly trickled up from reporters, not down from editors.

Reporters who didn't do that were the go-to victims of news editors who came to work with an idea for a story or who got a phone call from a reader with a story idea. That's not always bad -- it's the way breaking news gets covered in practically all newsrooms -- but I learned early on to always be working on at least three solid stories so I didn't have to pick up a stinker and spend my day running down a story I didn't want to report or write.

The editors' jobs in a digital-first newsrooms such as The Orion's are hard enough without the added responsibility of coming up with every story idea. And it should be obvious that people who generally sit in newsrooms to do their jobs are a lot less aware of what's happening in the world than reporters who are running beats, driving around town or walking across campus. In an ideal newsroom, reporters would fill Camayak or another content management system with more than enough story pitches to provide fresh content daily for the website. More, they should be doing that when they come up with the ideas, not once a week when they're under the deadline pressure of a weekly story meeting.

One more suggestion One of the great things about the 21st century is that news organizations can rely on their audiences to provide story ideas. The Orion should be thinking about:
• Setting up one of its phone lines with a message recorder as a tip line and advertise it in the paper, online and on The Orion app inviting readers to contribute ideas or provide news tips.
• Designating a person in the newsroom to be the receiver of story ideas from anyone on the staff, including the cartoonists, the ad staff and the copy desk.
• Using social media to invite audience members to suggest ideas for coverage and crowdsource stories. What would the Cesar Chavez Day coverage have looked like if readers had been invited to tweet, Facebook message or post an Instagram photo with a special tag before, during and after the event?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bad news leads top 10 web stories

Three hard news (and bad news) stories were the biggest traffic generators for in March.

Topping the list of most-viewed posts to the website was the death of Professor Willis Geer, who was found in his Butte Hall office March 2. The bar-chart (above) that shows traffic day by day spikes on March 3..

The other two top stories were the deaths of two students, shooting victim Travis Powell and Nickolas Kline, who was hit by a car near campus.

Here are March's top 10 stories:
1. Professor found dead in Butte Hall office - 15,144 page views (two stories)
2. Student hit by car dies - 10,195 (two stories)
3. Shooting victim identified - 6,118
4. The meaning of St. Patrick's Day - 4,956
5. Faculty hit the ground running - 4,051
6. Freshman will spend 8 months at Disney World - 3,104
7. Men are survivors of sexual assault, too - 2,640
8. Local pedicab owner a driving force in community - 2,571
9. Chico State adapts new accessibility icon - 1,861
10. Student activist fights against human trafficking - 1,549

It's gratifying to see features -- good news -- well represented on the list. Four of the top 10 stories were profiles about people on campus or in the community.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Where are your readers? What does it matter?

March marked another good month for, with more than 47,000 people visiting the site where they viewed almost 700,000 pages.

The paper's other digital format -- a smartphone app -- did really well, too, with1,814 visits and 6,744 pages viewed, when you consider that just 407 people have downloaded the app.

Here's an infographic I put together to show how the paper's platforms compared last month. Click on it to get a readable view.

It's pretty obvious that most of the audience goes to the website for news, although it's interesting that a growing number of visitors get there through their phones (10,000 visits started on a Facebook page viewed on a mobile phone).

Every part of The Orion's audience is important, of course, but what's crucial to take away from these numbers is that the online audience should be uppermost in the minds of everyone on the staff. It expects news to be posted right away and comes to the website looking for breaking news.

That's what I mean when I talk about a digital-first and a mobile-first frame of mind.