Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stephanie Schmieding named EIC for spring semester

Stephanie Schmieding, The Orion's enterprise news editor, has been named the paper's editor-in-chief for spring semester 2016.

Stephanie has been on the staff three semesters, working first as a feature writer, then features editor and this semester as editor for non-breaking news stories.

Her platform for spring is to refocus the paper's efforts on its digital platforms, where most of The Orion's readership goes for its news. She plans to shuffle editorial positions to put more people in roles directly related to The Orion mobile app and theorion.com.

Stephanie, who's from the Bay Area, will graduate this spring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

At long last, website fixed

As of 8:35 last night, theorion.com returned to its newsy, speedy self after the paper purchased a new cloud hosting package from BlueHost, our web hosting company, that added capacity and a sexy new caching function. Gone (I hope forever) are the 30-second home page loads and database connection error screens.

What an awful month!

Just how important the website is to the rest of The Orion's operations became painfully apparent as the website stayed broken for most of October. Because I think it's important for everyone on the staff to know what happened and what was done to cure the problem, here's the month in a nutshell:
• On Oct. 8, BlueHost took down the website for terms of service violations. The website had too many connections, which triggered the shutdown. I removed the Twitter feed at their recommendation, and they agreed to put the site back up.
• Later that day, I paid BlueHost $99 to optimize the site. Not the solution.
• We suspected the tens of thousands of spambot comments that had been building on the site might have been the cause, so Web Editor Matt Nachtigal deleted all comments from the site. Still no improvement. He also added a captcha plugin to stop the bots.
• Our friends at Camayak noticed that The Orion's entire copy-process system wasn't working because of the errors and let us know. They also suggested shutting down Camayak to cut down on editor frustration :-)
• More calls to BlueHost support. No help and no resolution.
• The public relations team -- tasked with doing a better job of using social media -- found it had nothing to promote because stories weren't being posted on the website.
• I dove into the backend of the site one morning and noticed many image files larger than 1 megabyte. I immediately pulled them down, optimized them to be no more than 100k, and put them back up. Editors were reminded to optimize photos.
• Editor Risa Johnson then took the drastic step of pulling down all the site's images and asked section editors to optimize them and reload them through Camayak. That resulted in fewer errors, but the site was still slow and still throwing database connection errors.
• Ad manager Cortnee Uriz expressed concern at a Big 5 management meeting that site difficulties were threatening business and new ads that were set to come online Nov. 1.
• Another call to BlueHost support. They assured me everything that could be done to the database had been done and said the error was with WordPress. When I went on WordPress discussion forums, I found others with the same problem but no solution.
• Last weekend, I Googled "WordPress repair" and requested quotes from three companies to solve the problem. I hired one of them Monday morning.
• Report from quickwebsitefix.com: malware detected (the site had been hacked).
• Follow-up report: The errors were triggered by high use of the database.
• I called BlueHost support, described the problem, and this time the support person suggested that the intermittent nature of the database errors indicated capacity issues. He suggested an upgrade to cloud hosting, which would give theorion.com more resources (capacity) and smarter caching. I paid for two years of cloud hosting.
• The website was migrated from its old server last night. Risa Johnson reported speedy loads later that evening. Problem apparently solved.
I plan to ask quickwebsitefix to clean up the malware and make other repairs. Going forward, I'm hoping the section editors will take the time today and tomorrow to put the optimized images back online and Matt to do what he can to upgrade the WordPress theme and other plugins to head off any further problems.

Thanks, everyone, for your patience. I'm hoping one upside to all these problems is understanding how crucial the website is to The Orion's mission. Be aware that the focus of your work needs to shift back to theorion.com and keeping the site fresh and up to date.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Traffic Up Despite Crazy Month

It hasn't been a great month at theorion.com.

Instead of seeing The Orion home page when they navigated to the website, visitors were greeted with the (bad) news that a database connection couldn't be made. Reloading (sometimes several times) allowed access to the home page and the rest of the website, but after hours of investigation, chats with the paper's hosting service and advice from some smart people, the problem persisted.

The site is a little better now, but it looks as if the paper will have to hire an outside tech to fix the site, which one repair company guessed was probably hacked.

The good news?

Even with all the hurdles, the audience still made its way to the website, which recorded its best traffic month all year.

The numbers:
65,347 individuals visited during October.
They viewed 241,216 pages during 642,405 visits (a respectable 2.66 pages per visit).
The number of unique visitors was a record.
The number of visits was greater than the total of all visits to the website in 2014.

Spambots, which left tens of thousands of junk comments on the website (now cleaned up), made more than 3 million visits to the site, though those are not counted in the traffic numbers provided by BlueHost, The Orion's web-hosting service.

Because of the attacks and hacks, the numbers don't necessarily represent legitimate traffic to the site. This month (November) things should settle down and get back to normal once the site is repaired.