Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Web Integration on a Grander Scale

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Web Integration on a Grander Scale

Article excerpt

This month I'd like to use this column to pitch an idea for newspaper Web sites. I'm pretty sure it's not original, yet I haven't seen it done yet. The reason is likely due to newsroom cultural barriers and attitudes -- ones that I would argue are long overdue for overhaul.

We have to go beyond user comments as the sole means of interaction on news articles.

The premise is that most newspaper Web sites remain largely stuck in the we-tell-you mode of news. The typical staff-reported news story includes user comments, but that -- and the occasional reader poll -- is the extent of user interaction. Never mind that some readers of a staff story may be eyewitnesses or have some expertise in the topic. User comments (sometimes moderated, sometimes not) are pretty much the be-all, end-all of reader interaction when it comes to staff-produced content.

Of course, some news sites do promote more user interaction by recruiting reader reports. The hurricane or tornado strikes and eyewitnesses are encouraged to share their personal stories, photos and/or videos. But such "amateur" content typically is shuffled off to the side in its own area, set apart from the professional journalism. The extent of the connection between the eyewitness accounts and the professional reporter's work is a (usually underplayed) link to the amateur stuff rather than actual integration.

Let's get past that outdated strategy. It's time (past it, actually) to integrate staff content and information from your community.

Every-story enhancement

What I'm proposing is to integrate the work of professional reporters with eyewitness and community-expert content. Here's an example:

A reporter writes a fairly traditional story about a bad traffic accident where there were fatalities. An info-box sidebar asks people who were eyewitnesses to the accident to share any photos (or video) they may have taken, and to describe what they saw. Any content shared by eyewitnesses would be posted on the same page as the reporter's story, enhancing and expanding the coverage overall.

That approach can -- and should -- be employed on most staff coverage on a newspaper Web site, from big stories to small. I argue that it's actually more interesting when applied to the smaller headlines, because it serves the people for whom a "small" story is actually big to them. Small stories often are reported by a small number of news organizations at a shallow level, so expanding them provides a powerful public service for those who want or need to know more.

Small story: Here's a recent story from my local newspaper: Bear Chased in Niwot. Written by a staff reporter, it's seven paragraphs long and includes no photos. Three days after publication, the article had attracted six user comments (most under the "smartass" category); only one of those added anything to the story, when a commenter noted that the neighborhood where the bear was sighted actually is not in Niwot.

By going beyond user comments, we can cover this story more completely. By asking for eyewitness accounts, photos and videos, for instance, perhaps we'd actually get a look at that bear. After all, if you live in that neighborhood, you will be interested in that story. You might even have taken a photo or video of the animal. Prompted to act when you read the story either in print or online, you then might add your photo to the paper's online coverage. A wildlife expert reading the story might be prompted to post advice on what to do if you spot a bear foraging in your garbage cans.

Because this additional coverage will come mostly after initial publication of the story, there will need to be an e-mail or other alert system when extra content is added. You'll sign up for that, most likely, if you: 1. live in that neighborhood, 2. are interested in bears, or 3. have had previous bear encounters.

Big story: They don't get much bigger than major hurricane disasters, so let's ponder what can done with that one. …

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