Meh to Epic: Learn from Online Pacemakers


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An overview of the website category of NSPA’s signature award, The Pacemaker, with examples from the 2011 finalists and winners, presented at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Anaheim, Calif., April 2011.

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Meh to Epic: Learn from Online Pacemakers

  1. FROM ‘MEH’ TO ‘EPIC’ Learning from Online Pacemaker finalists Logan Aimone, MJE National Scholastic Press Association • @NSPA David Studinski College Publisher / Access Network • @dpstudTuesday, April 12, 2011
  2. Introduction The Pacemaker is the highest honor in scholastic journalism. For eight decades, it has recognized trend-setters and go-getters, effort and enterprise, achievement and talent. Today, the Pacemaker continues to recognize the best student journalism in the nation.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  3. Keep in mind … • The images seen in this presentation are 2011 Online Pacemaker Finalists. Winners will be announced at Saturday’s awards ceremony. • Inclusion in this presentation does not indicate a website’s status as a winner. • Do not read anything into whether an example was included here. • Find these examples online:, April 12, 2011
  4. Who’s judging? • Pacemaker judges are professionals working in media as well as a range of experts familiar with student media. • A team of digital media journalists from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis judged the 2011 Online Pacemakers.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  5. Who’s judging? • We ask the media organization to compile a group representing different aspects of digital media. • Entries are judged holistically. There is not a rubric with points attached to certain criteria. • Judging is by nature somewhat subjective based on NSPA’s Multimedia Guidebook.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  6. How do they judge? • The number of Pacemaker finalists and winners is proportional to the number of entries. • The number is not fixed, but about half of the finalists will be named winners. • This is a contest, not a critique. • Judges provide general feedback on the finalists. Some teams are more thorough.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  7. What do they judge? • Coverage and Content • Interactivity and Community Tools • Breaking News • Design and Navigation • Rich MediaTuesday, April 12, 2011
  8. Judges said top sites stood apart for: • Excellent photography. Using images inside their templates to best effect — no stretching or low-res artifacts. • Compelling writing. Interesting stories well told with good Web-native features.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  9. Judges said top sites stood apart for: • Design outside of the template. Every CMS comes with a standard template, but some publications were able to transcend that and make it truly their own. • Effective use of multimedia. Winning publications demonstrated a balance between using all available tools while remaining focused on telling a good story.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  10. Coverage & Content • Coverage is comprehensive, focusing on many aspects of the high school community it serves, including academics, school activities, faculty and administration and student affairs. • Includes Web-exclusive content, such as blogs, interactive elements, video, audio and breaking news. • Same standards for excellence as print.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  11. From the judges on Content & Coverage: • The front page should not include content older than a month or two. • It is more desirable to have a shorter page with less content than to have a long page with items that are out of date. • Communicate to your specific audience. Know who you are writing/designing/ developing for.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  12. From the judges on Content & Coverage: • Include noticeable, clear access to multimedia features, interactive, videos, blogs, podcasts and similar content. Get beyond the headline.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  13. Foothill Dragon Press Coverage & Content Foothill Technology HS • Ventura, Calif. Headlines are to the point — nothing “cute” that makes content indiscernible. Summaries give a preview of the story content.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  14. Wayland Student Press Network Coverage & Content Wayland HS • Wayland, Mass. Clear headlines, and some provide clues to what’s inside, (sound slideshow). “Most Recent” column gives readers a place to look for what they came for — new stuff.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  15. Coverage & Content Francis Howell North HS • St. Charles, Mo. Great example of a visually distinguished site. Note how background coordinates with other site elements such as link color, category color, calendar, etc. Note the tabs for topic coverage (Construction, College Guide).Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  16. Interactivity and Community Tools • Readers can interact through comments, discussions and polls. • Social networking tools (links, sharing, guides) empower and engage the reader. • Readers can submit content, story ideas and letters. There’s a method to do so. • Website uses reader-generated content.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  17. From the judges on Interactivity/Tools: • Make sure readers can post comments, which encourage return visits and foster a sense of community. • Encourage interaction with “recommendation” or “like” widgets on each article page.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  18. The Harbinger Online Interactivity / Tools Shawnee Mission East HS • Prairie Village, Kan. Large buttons jump at you, encouraging a way to connect. Calendar gives readers another reason to make this page a browsing stop.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  19. Silver Chips Online Interactivity / Tools Montgomery Blair HS • Silver Spring, Md. Poll element creates involvement Twitter is more than a button — a call to action. The letter icon in a prominent location invites viewers to submit their views.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  20. Little Hawk Interactivity / Tools City HS • Iowa City, Iowa A number next to the dateline on the main story indicates the number of comments, a key indicator to Web-only content and interactvity. The Spring Break destination map is a great interactive element.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  21. Breaking News • Frequency of update is a consideration. • Multiple media — which may include photos, graphics, text, audio, video and interactive elements — are used to report breaking news events. • Coverage is useful and related to school community. • News is accurate, even if the information is incomplete.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  22. From the judges on Breaking News: • The Web ages quickly and old stories indicate that the editorial team isn’t updating very often and visitors aren’t coming frequently.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  23. The Talon Breaking News Los Altos HS • Los Altos, Calif. Indicate updates or breaking news with icons. The time stamp indicates stories are updated periodically and not all at the same time (like on the day the paper comes out).Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  24. The Paly Voice Breaking News Palo Alto HS • Palo Alto, Calif. A Twitter feed can also enhance breaking news, even if the news is just a soccer game score. Facebook feed with “likes” and a list of recent stories demonstrate a constant flow of content.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  25. Breaking News Francis Howell Central HS • St. Charles, Mo. Excellent example of a splash page when big news warrants this type of comprehensive coverage, especially if your viewers come expecting you to deliver.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  26. Design & Navigation • The site is visually appealing, drawing readers into stories. • Navigation is easy; readers can effortlessly find what they seek. • News is presented in a clear hierarchy, with the most important and/or newest stories prominently displayed. • Multiple elements of a story are packaged together into an integrated unit.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  27. From the judges on Design & Navigation: • Content carousels are cool but should be used deliberately and not because a CMS template offers them. (More on these later.) • Present a cohesive look and feel. Templates offer clean designs to follow, but bad color choices or a cluttered masthead/flag image set apart experts from amateurs.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  28. From the judges on Design & Navigation: • Organize links logically for viewers. They likely seek the latest sports stories before contact and background information. • Limit category and link displays to popular areas. Use Google Analytics to track your popular views. Reduce clutter to subsections if they aren’t relevant. • Your staff cares about the divide between yearbook and newspaper staffs, but users don’t. Create a navigation that allows them to find the right content — not platform silos.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  29. El Estoque Design & Navigation Monta Vista HS • Cupertino, Calif. The navigation bar is clean and unobtrusive. A top story is featured in each section, and multimedia packages are prominent.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  30. Rockville Rampage Design & Navigation Rockville HS • Rockville, Md. Weather is a nice touch, although the icons may be a bit too large. Section headers are clear. Contact / About Us are clearly labeled in main navigation — great!Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  31. Eye Online Design & Navigation Singapore American School • Singapore Although the site uses a popular WordPress template, a nice masthead specifically created for online helps set it apart. Be careful captions don’t hide the photo content in carousel.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  32. Rich Media • The site uses a variety of media: audio, video, photos, text and graphics. • Media enhance content and help tell stories rather than simply add flashy elements to the site. • Audio, video and graphic elements are technically excellent. • Copyright laws are understood and followed; only original content or copyright-free material is used.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  33. From the judges on Rich Media: • Don’t “shovelware” your print edition. Link to third-party resources in every article. Embed Google Maps content. Add value to your web articles with features your print edition can’t handle. • Much of what is produced for print may be used on the Web, but it should be modified for the new form (add hyperlinks, photos, etc.) to become “Web native.”Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  34. The Communicator Rich Media Community HS • Ann Arbor, Mich. Text content receives equal coverage as audio, video and image content. Featured content is easy to find, and so is the archive of the same sections.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  35. TRNWired Rich Media Prince George HS • Prince George, Va. Slideshows / Photos/Video are clearly listed in navigation. Video shown above the fold. Each headline is prefaced with a media type, e.g. “Slideshow,” “Soundslide” or “Photo Gallery.”Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  36. And now, some tips. Less “meh.” More “epic.”Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  37. 1. Customize the template • The template is a starting point. Utilize widgets and modifications to ensure the design, organization and display fit the needs of your content and your viewers. • Move things around. Swap objects out or around to see if polls get better response, Facebook more “likes” or stories more views. Use Google Analytics to track success.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  38. 2. Make the CMS work for you • CMS are not evil. They help you organize and maintain consistency through time and staff changes. • Evolve slowly. Even the smallest style change can set a site apart.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  39. 3. Three letters: SEO. • That’s for Search Engine Optimization. • Give clues. That’s how search engines will find your site and content. • Use key words. Write headlines and leads with words that will pop up in search. • Use plugins to increase search relevancy. Try Google Site Map optimizer.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  40. 3.5 More on SEO. • Who are you? Put the name and location of the school on the site. Most visitors will know this, but it’s an important detail for each publication (on or offline). • Put it in text. Search engines can’t read images, so include the full name of your publication, school, physical address, and phone or email in footer of your site.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  41. 4. Improve those content carousels • They are overdone. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s the solution. • Test it. Consider how long each slide is shown, how the animation works, how to place the captions. • Compelling photography is essential. If a story doesn’t have good image, you should not splash it across the top of the page. Avoid duplication in multiple places on the front page.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  42. 5. Details count • Have a social media presence. Facebook and Twitter links should be easily accessible through recognizable icons. • Reinforce your brand. Use a favicon to brand your site in a row of tabs or a bookmark list. Imagery has power. Use a site to condense your logo and add code to your head tag. • Experiment with new trends. Try things like Tumblr, Posterous and more.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  43. 6. Navigate logically • Go home. Home buttons are useful unless it’s obvious clicking on your flag/ masthead will take you there. • Always include “About” or “Contact us.” Nest staff pages, advertising and other “business” pages under these categories. • Organize and archive. Homecoming is only current and relevant so long. Try turning a section into a button in your right rail, or nest all special sections under a certain navigation name.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  44. 7. Analyze your traffic. • No one likes math. Make Google Analytics a part of your staff’s routine. • What’s trending? Talk with staffs about why certain articles are trending. • Consider bounce rate. That’s the number of people going to your site an immediately leaving. The lower the bounce, the better you are at keeping people around. • Try Google Analyticator for WordPress and Chartbeats if you have high traffic.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  45. 8. Help your audience • What would you expect as a viewer? You’re immersed in your high school life and experience it daily. How can you build a site for the audience most likely to visit your page? • Help the less familiar. For visitors unfamiliar with your school, add context like a wiki or links to past coverage.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  46. 9. Prioritize the content • Make the front page a menu. The landing page doesn’t need the clutter of dozens of photos. • Service visual skimmers. Just as you do in print, draw the eye with visual elements and text cues as to what is important. Sites like and utilize many summaries and links and few photos “above the fold” on the main page.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  47. 10. Increase the interactivity • Ask the audience. Reader-generated content not only encourages interaction, it drives traffic like crazy. Contests for cutest pets or best spirit day costume are guaranteed winners. • Allow submissions. Readers can submit ideas, give advice (“How would you cut the budget?”), or add to a wiki (“What’s your advice for incoming freshmen?”). • Share, share, share. Facilitate sharing of your content among social media.Tuesday, April 12, 2011
  48. What’s next? We announce the winners this afternoon! Contact Logan Aimone: Contact David Studinski dave@dpstud.inTuesday, April 12, 2011
  49. Questions? Thanks! Twitter: @NSPA Facebook: National Scholastic Press AssociationTuesday, April 12, 2011