In journalism school you’re told to find the way that best relates a story to your readers. Make it easy to read and understand. But don’t just give the plain facts, also find the context of the story to help the reader fully understand what has happened and what that means.
What better way to do that than having a Wikipedia-like feature on your newspaper’s web site? Since the web is the greatest causer of serendipity, says Telegraph Communities Editor Shane Richmond, reading a story online will often send a reader elsewhere in search of more context wherever they can find it.
Why can’t that search start and end on your web site?
What happens today
Instead of writing this out, I’ll try to explain this with a situation:
While scanning the news on your newspaper’s web site, one story catches your eye. You click through and begin to read. It’s about a new shop opening downtown.
As you read, you begin to remember things about what once stood where the new shop now is. You’re half-way through the story and decide you need to know what was there, so you turn to your search engine of choice and begin hunting for clues.
By now you’ve closed out the window of the story you were reading and are instead looking for context. You don’t return to the web site because once you find the information you were looking for, you have landed on a different news story on a different news web site.
Here’s what the newspaper has lost as a result of the above scenario: Lower site stickiness, fewer page views, fewer uniques (reader could have forwarded the story onto a friend), and a loss of reader interaction through potential story comments. Monetarily, this all translates into lower ad rates that you can charge. That’s where it hurts the most.
How it could be
Now here’s how it could be if a newspaper web site had a wiki-like feature:
The story about the new shop opening downtown intrigues you because, if memory serves, something else used to be there years ago. On the story there’s a link to another page (additional page views!) that shows all of the information about that site that is available in public records.
You find the approximate year you’re looking for, click on it, and you see that before the new shop appeared downtown, many years ago it was a restaurant you visited as a child.
It was owned by a friend of your father’s and it opened when you were six years old. Since you’re still on the newspaper web site (better site stickiness!), you decide to leave a comment on the story about what was once there and why it was relevant to you (reader interaction!). Then you remember that a friend often went there with you, so you email it to them (more uniques!) to see if they too will remember.
Why it matters to readers
For consumers, news is the pursuit of truth and context. Both the news organization and the journalists it employs are obligated to give that to them. The hardest part of this is disseminating public records and putting it online.
The option of crowd-sourcing it, much like Wikipedia does with its records, could work out well. However just the act of putting public records online in a way that makes theme contextually relevant would be a big step forward. It’s time consuming, however the rewards are great.