When The Orion news team convened for the first meeting of the semester, I told them all to take a deep breath and close their eyes.
Some raised their eyebrows. Some cracked hesitant smiles. But they humored me while I began my speech:
“I want you to imagine you’re all big shot reporters for the New York Times,” I said, eliciting genuine smiles from the group. “Suddenly, you get the call: the Empire State Building is on fire. You rush over to the scene and talk to the police, who tell you the building could collapse at any minute.”
I paused for dramatic effect. It’s possible one of them yawned.
“Suddenly, you’re confronted by a mother who’s out of her mind with worry because her baby’s stuck on one of the floors. When she asks you about the situation, what do you do? Tell her everything you know right away, or ask her to wait until tomorrow morning for the print edition?”
It may sound like a no-brainer, but there are still a few news organizations who operate using the latter method: they report the news all day and put their stories into the next day’s newspaper, just in time for it to be outdated and irrelevant.
Up until about last year, The Orion, Chico State’s student-run newspaper did just that, even though we’ve had a website since the late ’90s. A few stories inevitably found their way online between weekly editions, but the majority was posted Tuesday night, right before our print edition came out on Wednesday.
This semester was different. The majority of news writers made Twitter accounts for The Orion and posted brief bulletins whenever they noticed something interesting or newsworthy happening on campus. When we were notified that Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Brett Olson went missing during the annual Labor Day float, we posted it to Twitter immediately. When we heard that Governor Brown was visiting campus to promote Proposition 30, it was online within the hour. And when Chico State president Paul Zingg suspended the Greek system, we had a videographer, a reporter, and two photographers on the scene, with coverage to match.
On Halloween weekend, reporters and photographers stayed out until 2 a.m. capturing images and stories for publication the next day. I would routinely get called at O’Dark Thirty from staff writer Pedro Quintana, who slept during the day so he could listen to the police scanner at night.
The Orion isn’t the first collegiate newspaper to attempt to bolster its online presence through Facebook, Twitter, and a neverending stream of online stories. In many ways, we’re behind the times. But this year, the Associated Collegiate Press acknowledged our efforts by naming The Orion as a finalist for an online Pacemaker award, widely regarded as the Pulitzer Prize of digital college journalism.
When the awards were announced last semester, The Orion wasn’t among the winners. But most of the editors saw our failure to clinch the award as inspiration to try again next semester, with a focus on delivering news to Chico State’s students in real time, with text, photos, and video. We’re also launching an app which students can use to get their Chico State news from their smartphones.
Chico State, welcome to the future of journalism. We’ll see you all on the other side.