Statistics, Blogs, and the Long Tail

As seen earlier on the Collegian: Web Wire blog…

Earlier this month our wonderful systems manager, Rick Simpson, began providing us with daily statistics information about our site. In the past, statistics were tabulated at the end of the month and didn’t give us a good idea about what are visitors were looking at on a day-to-day basis. Our statistics reports are publicly available, so if you’re curious you can see what I’m talking about. I try to avoid getting too worked up over some details, because statistics can be lies with numbers. But I did want to focus on a couple areas of interest – blogs and the long tail.

First, let’s talk about blogs. I’ve been checking Technorati, a blog search engine, a lot to see who is linking to the Daily Collegian Online. According to Technorati the answer is a handful of real blogs and a lot of spam blogs (blogs that just steal content and links to attract more hits). After checking out the referring URLs in our statistics I realized that we get linked a lot more often than I realized. College Humor currently has Friday’s Bundy story linked on its home page, as did FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Bundy, by the way, gathered more page views than our home page yeterday. Yesterday Fark tagged our story about a creationism/evolution lecture from Sept. 29 as “sad”. Those are just some examples of the bigger sites linking to us.

This all leads into my second point – the long tail. Those two “hot” stories from yesterday’s statistics are ones that did not appear in yesterday’s paper. In fact, a look at our statistics reports will show that only about a third of our traffic is for that day’s news. The long tail is a concept introduced in a Wired magazine article that has later been expanded into a book. It suggests that the Internet has started a shift in business from selling a small number of popular items to using technology to sell small quantities of many smaller items. Think of sites like Amazon.com and Netflix, whose selection is a big selling point. Julia Turner demonstrated last month how the long tail works for Slate magazine.

Seeing information like this shows the significance of maintaining archives and not putting them behind a pay wall. Some people may think it bad that a significant amount of our traffic goes to our archives, but from an advertisers’ perspective we’re still delivering them eyeballs. There may be some issues revolving around what sort of audience comes from outside our site. One way we don’t capitalize on this currently is that our archives don’t bring people back into the site well. Our navigation isn’t consistent across the site and we don’t have any “fresh” content on our archive pages. So most people who come to our site from a direct link to a story don’t necessarily to see what else we have going on.

The long tail is a valuable lesson for a lot of businesses including newspapers. Its unfortunate that more news sites do not embrace this philosophy and leverage their archives better.

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New Look Collegian

I have been on a kind of blog hiatus since I finished up my summer internship and I am going to try to start up again. First up though, a post I wrote for my Collegian web log about the biggest development in my life this fall: the Collegian home page. I plan to repost relevent stuff from that blog in the future.

Our Brand Spanking New Home Page

All the News that's Fit to PrintYou probably noticed last week we launched a redesign of the home page of the Collegian Web site. You may have also noticed that we changed the Web site’s name from The Digital Collegian to The Daily Collegian Online. These are two of the more obvious changes to the Web site this year, but they will not be the last.

I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight some of the new features on our Web site and give you an idea of where we are going in the future. I would also like to give you an idea of what is going on behind the scenes, so you can give us a break when things don’t look 100 percent.

The home page redesign is just the first part of a year-long project to revamp the Web site. I designed the new look, taking the best parts of an earlier mock-up from my Web project partner, Chris Bajgier. Our design goals included making pages wider, creating a consistent set of navigation links across the site, and making better use of space in general.

The new home page has more room for top stories, features, and section headlines. It also shows the weather more prominently and includes a preview of the day’s front page. This is a feature our design staff has been begging for and we’re glad we can highlight their work on the Web site. Behind the scenes, the page uses something called Cascading Style Sheets, which create a set of design rules and keep file size down. The expanded Collegian home page takes roughly the same amount of time to load as the original.

So far almost all the response has been pretty positive from both our staff and our readers. The biggest question/complaint we have gotten is why we aren’t using this design on all of our pages. The answer is a bit complicated. The Collegian uses some custom software to generate the article and section pages. We tried porting the templates over when we updated the home page, but ran into difficulties. At the last minute we decided to hold off on the other pages. We’re working on resolving these technical issues and hope to push the other design changes in the near future.

I won’t say much more for now, but I’ll be back later in the week with more details about our Web plans. In the meantime, you can read Editor-in-chief Erin James’ column about the web and Web editor Allison Busacca’s column about our blogs. Thanks for reading.

Reporting Reflections

Tonight I went down the Collegian to do some work and got roped into attending their semi-annual “Meet the Staff” night. They get a bunch of current staff members to go up and talk to the new reporters about life at the Collegian. It’s actually a pretty well run thing, as the news coordinator is a former journalist and manages to ask interesting questions that keep the discussion going. Among topics covered were how to handle tough interviews (like the parents of dead students) or the difference between being a football fan and a football writer. We got a moment to plug our web project and share our advice with the candidates.

The event got me thinking back to my own experience as a writer with the Collegian. I started as a sports writer, focusing on women’s tennis for a semester. I think I enjoyed the work environment of the Collegian a lot, but I didn’t like being a reporter as much. I probably blamed the subject matter a lot, but truth be told I was a bad reporter. Hindsight is 20/20 and I can see a lot of the mistakes I made back then. I ended up quitting before the start of the following fall, only to come back later that year to start the web project.

The surprising theme of the night was that a lot of the staffers all had similar feelings when they’re started. Sure its tough being new in any organization, but I think being a reporter takes extra getting used to. It seems kind of unnatural to walk up to strangers and ask lots of questions, but that’s what needs to be done. It’s also difficult to take an event a part and tell it as an interesting story while being accurate. I ended up advising those who struggled with reporting to consider trying other things such as copy editing, design, or even web.

The other thing I noticed was how much of an impact being there really is in an organization. Chris and I did a lot of development outside of the Collegian’s offices last semester and struggled, but this semester we stayed on site and got a lot more done. There were other factors, but I think being there and having people to talk to helped keep us motivated. Interestingly, they mentioned that the photo staff was cut off from the rest of news up until this year. The reason was the photo people had their own corner and stayed away from the newsroom. This year they started bringing photographers into staff meetings and suddenly everyone started working better together.

Anyway, I find the night to be much more worthwhile than I thought it would. Hearing people talk about their experiences also reminded me that there’s still I would like to do with our project and that time is running out. So that will keep me motivated towards getting something done sooner.

Knight Ridder, Philly Newspapers Sold

Since I’m interested in newspapers these days, I’ve been following the fate of Knight Ridder with anticipation. Knight Ridder is a large company that owns dozens of local papers across the country, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Tonight the NY Times is saying that a smaller group, McClatchy Company, is buying them out for $4.5 billion. The whole deal has been seen as a sign of weakness for the newspaper industry, as it feels the threat of readers and advertisers moving online.

It is expected that the new owners will make a lot of cost cutting measures, including shutting down the Philadelphia Daily News. I think this would be a big mistake, since the “People Paper” has a style and an audience that the Inquirer does not. If it does happen, hopefully the Inquirer will have the sense to scoop up some of their talent and breathe some life into their publication. The Philadelphia Inquirer certainly has a proud tradition, but lately has become a poor local newspaper that wastes space with international wire stories. I’d also like to see the new owners try new things with Philly.com and the rest of the Real Cities network, since the Internet is going to be the future for these papers.

The real reason I am writing about this though is that my family has been discussing the impending sale a lot this weekend. We have a friend who is an editor at the Daily News and is really feeling nervous about the future of his career – even before the sale was announced. Apparently many people in both newsrooms are nervous and a lot of the veteran writers have been retiring just to save jobs for younger ones. It’s a tough time for the industry and I hope that new management will have the sense to try to do new things and adapt to the changing market.

Update: No sooner is Knight Ridder sold, does new owner McClatchy put the Inquirer and Daily News up for sale. We’ll see what happens next.

Sprint to the Finish

I naively though this would be an easy week, when I reviewed my to-do list in my head Sunday morning. Just get through the week and do my history presentation, then off to spring break. Unfortunately I miscounted my eggs before they hatched. I recalled throughout the day that this week would also include a midterm, a short essay, a scholarship application, scheduling for next semester, meetings, and an annoying CSS bug. So my easy week got a whole lot harder by the time Monday morning hit. I am getting closer though and I can take comfort in the fact that I get to go home in a couple days.

While this week I am putting out a lot of fires, I have been doing a lot of long-term planning lately. We’re only halfway through the semester and I am already being forced to look past that. I accepted an internship this month for the summer, which will require me to live in Erie, PA for about 10 weeks. I’m hoping the lake weather will make up for being far way from home. At the Collegian we’re making some progress with development, which means we need to start thinking about how we’ll implement it all over the summer for the fall. I am also narrowing in on a thesis topic for next year, which will involve newspapers’ adoption of IT. I even have a thesis adviser who wants to work with me.

Tonight I had to sit down and figure out what classes I’ll be taking next fall. It’s hard to believe at this time next year I’ll be preparing to enter the “real world”. Suffice to say, I am looking forward to a relaxing spring break. I got my tax refund recently and some of that spare cash is going into some great DVDs, including the new Controversial Classics DVD set, which includes one of my favorites: Network. That should be fun. Back to my earlier discussion – I can see my college years slipping away. So I guess I got to make the best of what I have. I also need to get to sleep, so that’s all for now.

The Not So Comic Cartoon

A controversy is growing in Europe over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and I imagine it could spill over into America soon. It begins with the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which ran a series of cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad this fall, protesting self-censorship and celebrating free speech. Illustrating or imagining Muhammad’s physical appearance is a major taboo in Muslim culture. The images erupted in a wave of controversy throughout the country. The issue became larger this week when a French paper republished them, followed by other European news outlets, as a sign of solidarity with the right to free speech. Tonight there are protests and riots erupting throughout Europe and the Middle East in response to the cartoons.

The Jyllands-Posten and the other publications are correct in asserting that the freedom of speech entitles them the right to publish these images. With great power comes great responsibility though, and it is on the second half of this equation where the papers fail. Imagine if the NY Times organized a public flag-burning ceremony as an expression of their freedom of speech. They would be within their rights to do so, but it would be beyond poor taste. Even more disappointing is the fact that many of these pictures were filled with hateful stereotypes like suicide bombers or covered women.

I will note that at this point, news organizations choosing to republish these images is somewhat more justified. The initial republications were done intentionally as an opinion piece celebrating free speech. The French paper printed it with a caption “Yes, we have the right to caricature God.â€? However, if an organization prints the pictures now simply because the images themselves have become news, that is more acceptable. It is for that reason I will link to a Wikipedia entry with the pictures, for those who are curious. It is regrettable that in the act of doing this, the editor of a Jordanian newspaper was fired.

Almost a year ago today I wrote about the nature of free speech and this is clearly disappointing to see it at its worst on display today. I am actually ashamed of my Western culture and values. That’s not to say I don’t agree with free speech – it is something I believe strongly in. It is just disturbing that people are using it as an excuse to publicly ridicule a religion. I encourage those who are feeling angry and frustrated about these cartoons to use free speech, not violence, right back at those who support these cartoons. Here’s a start – a cartoon from Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, by way of Naseem.

Response Cartoon

The Community Blog

There’s a good essay going around the blogosphere about a former journalist who started up a blog about the happenings of her local community. She uses sarcasm and humor while covering “hyperlocal” stories, such as a train delay or a set of lazy lifeguards (I take a bit of offense to that one, because I was once a card-playing lifeguard myself :)). At its worst she calls it “small town newspaper meets the Daily Show”, but at its best they publicly scrutinize the small town happenings that never get covered.

Blogs get a lot of attention these days, usually unwarranted. This is the type of thing that the medium is great for. Jeff Jarvis talked about the flaws of local newspapers today before talking about this essay. The truth is a lot of news, and blog postings (i.e. this one) are regurgitation. There’s a lot of news going on in your own backyard and I would like to see more people recognize this. The web has an opportunity to enhance real-life communities by mirroring them in cyberspace. We see this in play on campus with the Facebook.

This is the type of thing I would love to be doing in my hometown when I am through with school. Last summer we had two totally random shootings that got some press coverage, but I haven’t heard much since. We also had a town commissioner hit a cop, that I would like to hear more about. Until then, though, I guess I’m stuck with reading Philly.com.