Saturday, August 29, 2015

For Transition to Digital-First, It Takes a Calendar

Calendar in The Orion's content-management system, Camayak
Probably the most difficult obstacle to moving student (and other) newsrooms from a focus on print to an emphasis on publishing to the Web and mobile platforms is the fear of missing the newsroom's only hard deadline: when PDFs have to be sent to the printer.

This is less difficult in daily newsrooms, which are used to daily deadlines, but even there I see my hometown paper, the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, posting most of its stories in the morning, long after the print edition in which they appear has gone to press.

Of course, it's possible to train readers to look for stories at a certain time of day or week, but I think most of the audience wants to know what's happening as or just after it's happened -- while it's still news. Keeping a home page fresh and up to date is the mark of a publication that's figured out how to be digital-first.

How do they do it?

I think the best way is by establishing daily deadlines (hourly deadlines for dailies) that regularly and relentlessly push stories onto the website. The Orion has a great tool for that: the calendar function in Camayak, its content-management system.

Camayak can be set up so every story assignment has a deadline. Editors can easily assign one or more stories to each day of the week, ensuring has a totally different home page at least every day. Managing editors can tell at a glance which sections are holding content for print and not producing a steady stream of content to the website. And everyone on staff can see which stories are missing or late: they're tagged in red.

Breaking news, of course, can't be produced on a schedule and shouldn't be. Those stories should be tweeted as they happen and a brief version posted to the web as soon as possible, maybe even from the scene. A longer version of the story offering context and more reporting can be posted later.

But what about that pesky print deadline?

As I told our editor-in-chief, Risa Johnson, last week, the print newspaper will take care of itself if one story from each section is posted to the web every day. Seven stories times six sections (including photo) will provide more than enough copy and art to fill the paper.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Orion Leadership for Fall 2015

The Orion's top editors and section leaders for Fall 2015 have now all been appointed. Here's the line-up:

Risa JohnsonEditor-in-Chief
Cortnee UrizAdvertising Manager
Madison HolmesManaging Editor
Trevor WhitneyArts Editor
Emily TeaguePhoto Editor
Miles HuffmanArt Director
Stephanie SchmiedingEnterprise News Editor
Taylor SinclairPR Director
Whitney UrmannOpinion Editor
Lindsay PincusSpecial Section Coordinator
Jenice TupoloBreaking-News Editor
Lars GustafsonSports Editor
Daniel HornVideo Editor
Alisa ThorsenFeatures Editor
Haley RodriguezChief Copy Editor
Tess NakabayashiMobile App Director

Saturday, August 22, 2015

TV Assignment Desk Good Model for Digital-First Newsroom

Photo by Dionne Anglin from her blog
A lot of college newspapers have struggled to make the transition from an emphasis on their print editions to reporting and writing that gives readers information immediately on the web, sometimes called digital first.

One key, I think, is changing mindsets and attitudes. Reporters and editors need to understand that their audiences are moving away from the print newspaper and onto their phones and desktops. At The Orion, we print 5,000 newspapers a week but get an average of more than 143,000 page views on in that same week (and that average includes summers, when the paper isn't printed at all). Writers' traditional desire to see their byline on the front page needs to be replaced by the thrill of seeing their name in a Google search and seeing their tweets favorited and retweeted.

Just as important, though, is reconfiguring the way assignments are made. The way that happened when I worked as the assignment editor in a TV newsroom (at KMSP-TV in Minneapolis years ago) would make a great model for college newsrooms.

Here are some of the elements of my day back then:
• I kept a file drawer with folders numbered 1-31, one for each day of the month. When I had news releases, news tips or notes from my calendar about anniversaries or holidays, I would drop them into the folder for that date. Before I went home each night, I'd open the file for the next day and see what might be worth consideration for coverage. Often I'd schedule interviews for the next day.
• In the morning, I would go through my list of checks: AP wire, calls to police, the morning papers, etc. Some of those would become assignments for the day.
• As they came in to work, reporters would tell me what they'd found on their beats or stories they'd lined up on their own.
• I'd take all the information I had from all the various sources and, after consulting with the news director and the news show producer, write assignments for reporter-photographer teams on a huge plexiglass board above my desk that was visible to the whole newsroom.
• The plexiglass was important because assignments would change throughout the day, and what one team had been assigned in the morning often changed as news happened. In those instances, I would often have to communicate the change over office-to-news car radios.
• Those changes were possible because I was glued to my desk to take phone calls and listen to the police scanners and monitor the AP wire.
• As crews came in from the field, they would log video tape together, then the reporters would sit down and write their scripts. After checking about what the producers wanted for length, they would edit their story in time for broadcasting that night.

Translation for college newsrooms:
• Have a person who is the equivalent of the TV assignment editor in the newsroom. At The Orion, that's the breaking news editor.
• The day before, start planning the next day's stories.
• That person should do daily checks: email, phone messages, cop calls, snail mail, campus public information office.
• Individual reporters should scheduled to cover the parts of every day. Because of class schedules and other obligations, reporters might have to be responsible for just part of a day, morning until noon, for example, and be available in the newsroom or on their phones.
• Make videographers and photographers part of the breaking coverage team and give them daily assignments, too. Sometimes all the paper/website really needs is a photo and cutline or a 15-second clip to tell a story.
• Have the day's schedule posted so everyone can see it. A plexiglass or white board would be great, but a shared Google doc or even a paper runsheet would suffice.
• When the breaking news editor isn't in the newsroom, give other editors the responsibility for turning phone calls and scanner chatter into immediate assignments. Someone needs to be in the newsroom at least every weekday from 9 to 5.
• Make producing at least one story, photo or video the requirement for each person's shift, even if that only means rewriting a news release with a fresh direct quotation.
• Institute a "photo of the day" assignment so photographers and reporters are competing to provide a photo for a special place near the top of the home page. That's probably the easiest way to have fresh content on the website.
• De-emphasize the 12-inch text story as the Holy Grail for reporters, replacing it with the three-paragraph, hundred word brief that gets expanded to a larger story when warranted. This is also a way to keep the website fresh for readers.
• Stories need to be written and photos and videos posted the same day they're reported, not saved for later in the week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Which of these photos worked best?

The Orion's Jenise Tupolo did a nice job of posting a tweet and a story about the start of construction Tuesday of a new bridge over Big Chico Creek on campus. Her tweet went up about 8 a.m., the story about 11 a.m.

The Chico E-R was on the scene, too, and posted its story about six hours after Jenise's. It followed up with a tweet this morning about 8.

It's great to see that sort of hustle from The Orion's news staff, showing both readers and @theorion_news followers that the paper is on the job covering the news.

Not as good were the images brought back from the delivery of the new bridge deck.

The photo on the website shows (old) signs, no people and no new bridge. The tweet photo had people and put the image in context, but it's really hard to see the new bridge unless you know what you're looking for. The E-R's photographer did a little better, showing the bridge deck in a sunny spot. Still, no people and little context.

I was telling the photo and video staff's at Oriontation yesterday how important images are to the web. Readers are drawn to stories by them, so they need to do a good job indicating what the story is about.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's all about the app, the app

Traffic on The Orion mobile app the first year

The Orion has done a fantastic job of building a top-notch website over the past couple of years, with traffic a lot of daily papers (student and professional) would love to match (see my last post). Unfortunately, the phone app launched last summer hasn't done as well.

I'm sure there are a dozen reasons for this, but I think the primary problem was that no one on staff was put in charge of its care and feeding. It's not enough to set the RSS feeds for an app and pretend it's the Field of Dreams ("if you build it, they will come").

The editors have hired Tess Nakabayashi, who worked on the paper's PR team last year, to fill that role this fall. It'll be up to her to set a direction for both promoting the app (which means increase downloads and page views) and working with the rest of the staff to make its content is usable and useful.

I don't think it's unrealistic to double the number of downloads this semester from the current 521 to 1000+. Fixing the app presentation for things like video and (especially) photos should help with traffic.

I'm hoping reporters and editors will start thinking about all the paper's content as something that a majority of readers will see first on their phones. That's what the national audience data is showing and what I observe as I walk across campus on OrionDay -- students with heads bent over screens instead of buried in pages of newsprint.