California State University San Marcos
PressPage speeds up editorial formatting, adds photos and videos to stories in seconds, and shares campus news on social media networks instantly, allowing much more time for writing and editing.
PressPage does it all for the CSUSM online newsroom
PressPage speeds up editorial formatting, adds photos and videos to stories in seconds, and shares campus news on social media networks instantly, allowing much more time for writing and editing. Katie Chappell is the Web and Social Media Specialist for the Office of Communications at California State University at San Marcos. She's also one of the editors of the university's internet publication, 'NewsCenter.' 'NewsCenter' serves as the online newsroom for the Cal State San Marcos campus.
The idea: make NewsCenter quicker and more nimble
Early this year, Cathy Baur, the VP of Communications at CSUSM, and her staff faced this question: What could they do to make 'NewsCenter' much more nimble, timely, relevant, attractive, and reader-friendly—and at the same time make it a true media resource. Could they do this and avoid increasing the workload of CSUSM's Instruction and Information Technology Services (IITS) department? Could they somehow sidestep having to ask their IITS department to provide customized programming of the campus' content management system, Cascade? In April they decided to subscribe to PressPage, a purpose-built newsroom service.
The limitations of their content management system (CMS)
CSUSM's Office of Communication had published news on Cascade for years. They understood its limitations. While their website's CMS served the publishing needs of the campus community, it was not designed to meet the needs of online news editors. It lacked automatic editorial scheduling. It didn't have the capability to publish news immediately. It served hundreds of writers and editors on the California State University San Marcos campus. And on Cascade, all editors were equal. Occasionally Chappell and her comms department colleagues found themselves waiting in a queue for 30 minutes to publish a news item on 'NewsCenter.'
More limitations of the website's standard CMS
Formatting articles and pages on the existing website's CMS took far too long for the instant write-up and distribution of breaking news. Changes, corrections, and story updates were just as time-eating and complicated. Baur and Chappell were looking for something that would harmonize perfectly with their existing website, yet be absolutely independent of it—but not in a way that was noticeable to their public. In other words, they didn't want readers of NewsCenter to be conscious of transferring from one platform to another when they visited the CSUSM website. 'The PressPage staff assured us that readers would never be aware of the fact that the news was now on PressPage's platform and server rather than our website. PressPage harmonizes perfectly with our website. The connection is invisible and seamless,' says Chappell.
Then, too, under Cascade, their native website's CMS, Chappell's publication didn't have a standard banner-header format for 'NewsCenter' stories. The comms department designer had to create a banner for each news story—an extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming process. As for videos, previously videos were stand-alone items. The standard CMS had no way to archive videos on the communications department newsroom, so it was impossible to find them from the CSUSM website once they were removed from the home page. With PressPage, videos from any of the video-hosting-platforms are easily embedded within seconds and form a search-friendly archive on the CSUSM website.
The misadventures of sharing news on Facebook
Sharing news and photos on other social media from a standard website CMS requires constant vigilance and checking of the shared items, especially on Facebook. A news story shared on Facebook through CSUSM's content management system could appear on Facebook without its photo, banner heads only partially reproduced, or logos that looked strangely fuzzy. The communications department could never be sure the shared news had been passed on to Facebook in its entirety, so all stories had to be manually composed before being posted to Facebook. That's not all. There was no way to automatically schedule a story for sharing to Facebook or any big other social media platform at a pre-determined time. If you wanted your story to appear on Facebook at 8:00 a.m. EST on Monday, you had to get up at 5:00 a.m. PST on Monday to do the sharing yourself that morning. If the sharing failed, your only recourse was to do it again. PressPage solved all of these social-media-sharing glitches instantly: no more fuzzy logos, missing photos, or banners garbled and ruined by missing words or phrases.
PressPage's instant adaptation to mobile devices
PressPage's superior adaptation to mobile devices was a godsend to the communications department as the wildfires threatened their campus just three weeks after PressPage was installed. Chappell says, 'We really appreciated PressPage's mobile-friendly features. The week of May 12th, we could be certain that the first article users of our website newsroom saw on their smartphones or tablets would be that moment's most important information about the wildfires. That was crucial.' Another big advantage of PressPage's site design was the prominent contact info for the CSUSM public information officers on the NewsCenter home page. Each story carried the name, telephone number, and email address of the person at Cal State San Marcos to be contacted above that story. In Chappell's words, 'We received many media opportunities in the wildfire crisis simply because our story contacts were front-and-center and detailed. It saved the communications department a lot of time, and it let us concentrate on writing and distributing news. We were confident that the media knew who to contact and how.'
Why CSUSM's comms department didn't have to pitch its stories about the wildfires
Guess what? The Comms Department at CSUSM didn't have to pitch stories about wildfires on its campus to the media. The media picked up many original stories by CSUSM reporters as written, and simply reproduced them, another first for the CSUSM communications department. Chappell says that PressPage's time-saving features have enabled her department to spend much more time thinking about story ideas, writing, and editing. She herself finds she has more leisure to reflect on content and glean story ideas from all over campus.
Why PressPage makes writers and editors pickier about visuals
Chappell asserts that a critical edge PressPage has given her department is to make everyone more creative in the selection of visual content to accompany stories on NewsCenter. 'Photos are easier to find, crop, and size; videos are far easier to embed.' 'We can be so much more selective and imaginative, because there are many more images to choose from, and it's so much easier to find the visual content that truly enhances the story.' Another example from Chappell: 'Pull-quotes are so easy to do on PressPage. Now when we need a pull-quote that we think will make a great tweet, we do it without thinking twice. That was unheard-of under our old system.'
The startling buzz power of the self-publishing newsroom: A story
Chappell says she's been struck by the power of self-publishing on the new PressPage platform: 'We publish an important magazine for university donors and benefactors twice a year. 'We upload feature stories from this magazine to appear on NewsCenter at the same time the magazine lands in the mailboxes. Last June 23, we uploaded a story from the magazine to News Center about a big new CSUSM sports arena scheduled to be built in the very near future. This was the first announcement of this arena project. 'We posted this story on Facebook at 7:00 a.m. on Monday, June 23. Within a few hours, several important local media outlets in San Diego had picked up the story and were running pieces about it.' 'There had been no official university announcement about the arena. We hadn't sent out a single press release about it. The story was on NewsCenter and Facebook. That was it. 'We were surprised and impressed by the media response to the Facebook post of our magazine story. Quite honestly, we never remotely suspected the big media would be so quick to pounce on this. After this episode our team realized we had a powerful new weapon in our arsenal. In this instance, PressPage was the difference.'
What the statistics show about the PressPage effect on CSUSM's online newsroom
Chappell's analytics show an 82% increase in unique page views for NewsCenter for May 2014 as opposed to March 2014, a 14% increase in mobile users, a 27% increase in social media referrals, and most important, a 182% increase in new users. Chappell's not sure how much of these increases to attribute to PressPage's efficiency, timeliness; interactivity, improved search ability, and clean, pleasing design. She knows the nationally reported wildfires around San Diego in mid-May must be given some credit for the heavier social traffic. But she knows PressPage made her job and the jobs of everyone in Communications much easier to do during the wildfires crisis. She knows more university stories were reported verbatim by outside media than ever before. She's certain that journalists searching out contacts at CSUSM got in touch with the sources they sought much faster and much more often than they would have in the pre-PressPage era. Katie Chappell looks forward to the next academic year with renewed energy and assurance that with PressPage, Cal State San Marcos can take pride in its new status as its own media company, self-publisher, and media outlet. She's seen that concept work in real time, in a crisis, and in a developing news situation.