Michigan State University: examining the strongest content types in each section

March 27, 2017

There are four major sections of coverage for The State News: City, Campus, Features, and Sports.

We used Parse.ly to dive into the numbers of the 2015-2016 school year and deeper into the analytics of the Fall 2016 semester to determine the following:

  • Sections that had the most audience interest and engagements
  • Categorize stories for each section, analyze the trends and with that knowledge plan for future coverage.
  • Comparing the sections

Views and visitors from 2015 to 2016

According to Jake Allen, The State News Editor in Chief, "it is obvious that the feature section is an area of the newsroom that needs improvement. The sports section leading all sections is due largely to the success of the men’s basketball and football team in the 2015 season. The even distribution of views and visitors between the campus and city sections proves to me that our audience is large enough and diverse enough that both areas of coverage are valued.

Story categories and analyzing the trends

We ran reports for stories published for the Fall 2016 semester for each section. We divided the stories from each section into categories so we could better analyze what types of stories garnered the most views with our audience.

We divided the campus section stories into three categories:

  • Breaking News – Student deaths, campus protests, campus crimes, etc.
  • Event Coverage – Meeting coverage, planned speeches on campus, etc.
  • In-depth Reporting – History of events on campus, analyzing campus issues
  • Top 10 Campus stories for Fall 2016

Top 10 campus stories from Fall 2016

"I like that of the top-50 most read campus stories, the majority would be considered breaking news stories," says Allen. "Breaking news was something we really wanted to focus on this semester. It’s something we decided was going to the responsibility of the newsroom as a whole. If a newsroom employee saw breaking news anywhere in the MSU or East Lansing community, whether you were a reporter, photographer, editor or designer you were supposed to inform one of the editors and help coordinate efforts to get the story covered. This paid off big time. Hopefully we will only improve on these efforts next semester."

City Section

The city section stories also were divided into the same three categories:

  • Breaking News – City crime, unplanned news events, etc.
  • Event Coverage – City government meeting coverage, election, etc.
  • In-depth Reporting – Longer-form stories about city issues
  • Top 10 City stories for Fall 2016

Top 10 city stories from Fall 2016

Allen explains, "of the top-50 most read city stories, event coverage type stories lead the way with a total of 24. Although, we have covered some really important events this semester, such as East Lansing City council replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. East Lansing and the surrounding communities are a larger area to cover than campus, but I still think if we are more vigilant next semester with breaking city news we can be better. This may mean making sure the City Editor is paying attention to other local papers and has notifications set up so we don’t miss anything other publications are covering. I think it also means we need to build better source relations with the East Lansing Police Department and other emergency responders in the surrounding areas."

Sports Section

We divided the sports section stories into seven categories:

  • Instant Game & Halftime updates – Stories posted within 10 minutes of the game ending with final score and update, stories posted at halftime with a score and game update.
  • Secondary – Stories posted the day after games that breaks down why MSU lost or won.
  • Revenue Sports – Football, Men’s or Women’s Basketball or Hockey stories (may be in the top 2 categories as well)
  • Non-Revenue Sports – Stories about volleyball, field hockey, soccer, etc.
  • Sports Features – Stories on athletics, players, coaches, anyone involved in Sports.
  • Breaking News – Stories about unplanned news events, death of an athlete, crimes involving athletes, team suspensions, etc.
  • Columns – Columns expressing an opinion about sports from TSN reporters or editors.
  • Top 10 Sports stories for Fall 2016

Top 10 sports stories from Fall 2016

"Instant game and halftime stories did not break the top 50 for most read sports stories this semester. We need to re-think these stories," Allen interpets, "It’s good practice for our reporters to be working on these on a tight deadline, but maybe we can figure out a way for our stories to be different than other news outlets. Non-revenue sports stories were also rarely in the top 50. We need to find a different way to cover these sports. I think one way would be to focus more on features and interesting athlete profiles as opposed to only reporting on the results of non-revenue games. Finally, it should be noted the only columns to crack the top-50 most read were written about either football or basketball. We should continue to do sports opinion columns when warranted.

Feature Section

We divided the feature section stories into three categories:

  • Personality Profiles – Stories about interesting people on campus or in the community
  • Event Coverage – Stories from events that don’t fall under news
  • Uncategorized – Stories could include stories about campus places, unique classes, etc.
  • Top 10 Feature stories for Fall 2016

Top 10 featured stories from Fall 2016

Allen obvserves, "the features section was the one section of the paper with a noticeable drop in audience views between the Spring and Fall 2016 semesters. Of the top 20 feature stories from the 2016 school year, 17 stories were published in the Spring semester. To only have three stories of the top 20 for the whole year to come from the Fall semester is disappointing. The top five feature stories for the year year were personality profiles published in the Spring. And in the Fall semester, personality profiles were the top two read stories by a significant margin. Our audience wants and values these types of stories about interesting people in their community. The features desk should focus their efforts on those stories and shy away from standard event coverage.

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