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!

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