Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Make This (Unmagical) Change and You'll Get More Readers

Traffic on The Orion app for March 27-April 25, 2017

What's wrong with this picture?

It shows a typical slump in traffic on The Orion app on weekends, a trend that's replicated just about every weekend on as well. It can be explained by an illustration from this past week:

The days with multiple posts to in this chart are the same days that have the most traffic on The Orion app. The same is true with traffic to the website.

I predict traffic overall would increase if The Orion could attract more readers on the weekends. I also think the graphs above show that posting more stories on Fridays and Saturdays would make that happen.

This is a more complicated solution than it seems. The first step is easy, and it's something the breaking news team has been doing all semester: staggering deadlines so stories are being turned in every day of the week instead of mostly on Sundays and Mondays (so they're ready for Wednesday's print edition). To make this happen, each section editor needs to the same: assign stories so at least one comes in every day.

The next steps are harder.

The second step is figuring out a way for the stories to be edited and sent to the copy desk in a consistent way. The third is getting the stories edited the same day or night they're turned in and published to the website.

The way to do both is to schedule section editors and copy editors to work every day, or at least setting deadlines so stories are available to be published every day. That means identifying stories that can wait a day or two before they're published, editing them, and then scheduling them to be published on days section editors aren't working.

It also means having editors consistently available to handle the copy. I'd suggest a schedule like this:

News and opinion section editors: Sunday through Thursday, 4-7 p.m.
Sports and arts section editors: Tuesday through Saturday, 4-7 p.m. (working later for late games or concert reviews)
Copy editors, a copy chief and an assistant chief: Monday through Saturday, 6:30-9:30 and Sunday 1-9 p.m. (to accommodate print layout) in shifts. The copy chief and assistant would each work three nights and part of the day Sunday so all shifts would be covered.

• section editors insist reporters bring in (not just turn in) their stories on deadline days and make them stay until the stories are finished,
• a copy editor and a copy chief read every story and post it to the web, and
• everyone pitches in to pencil-tap pages on Mondays,
stories will be cleaner and more timely, reporters will learn not to procrastinate, and readers will get used to the idea that The Orion will have something fresh for them to read, listen to or watch every day of the week. And they'll read more stories.

It's not magic, but it will be effective.

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