By nature, the Internet is a platform that allows for more engagement than any other medium. Not only is it not-linear, but it also combines music, video and writing.
To really utilize those capabilities and, for journalists, publish a story that will best benefit readers, links must be incorporated into the story. But there’s a lot of conversation about linking that centers around the pros and cons of linking to competitors in news stories.
Other than the obvious issue of advertising a competitor’s story when linking to that story, linking to any site potentially takes readers away from your site and from reading your entire story. And, if not used properly, links can be distracting and more of a hassel for readers rather than helping tools.
When writers include relevant links in their work, they act as aggregators for their readers. Just like Google sends users to various sites after a search, and yet always has users coming back to Google for more searches, a writer who uses links effectively should still maintain a solid readership as readers use the site as a homebase for finding news and articles to branch off to.
In addition to using links to build a solid base for readers, linking to other sources gives them the opportunity to link back to you, which boosts SEO, as mentioned above.
But many writers don’t use links, which is not only a disadvantage to their site’s traffic, but also raises an ethics issue.
The Internet is so multidimentional that readers need to know where information is coming from. Anyone can write a blog post and comment about information, so readers should be able to see the original source and determine for themselves how credible that source is.
The Internet might somewhat be a wild frontier, unlimited and unrestricted, but some of life’s fundamental principles still apply. When it comes to links, “link to other’s good stuff as you would have them link to your good stuff.”
An editor probably wouldn’t purposely publish a story with misleading facts in it, but for some reason headlines seem to pass with misleading information often.
Perhaps headlines have managed to have a little more creative leeway than stories do because headlines used to be short, creative and attention-grabbing rather than long and SEO designed, but they still have to maintain a degree of integrity. By integrity, I mean that if readers are going to pass along false information because they only read the headline, then that’s an issue.
In an article about Saints player Drew Brees and his record-breaking touchdown pass, the reaction from the Falcons, the opposing team, was overdramatized to write a headline that would draw more readers. Yes it’s misleading, but because of the nature of the situation, it’s not untrue.
Apparently throwing for another touchdown with only three minutes left in a game and a 38-16 lead just isn’t done, so the Falcons were assumably upset even if they didn’t say so.
Using the Falcons’ body language and presumed emotions doesn’t solidly back a headline saying they’d “never forget” the incident, but it is information presented in the article. A reader who passed along information that the Falcons were upset about the action wouldn’t be wrong, he just wouldn’t be able to back his statement with quotes or facts.
But in an article headlined “Obama has a big problem with white women,” the issue of Obama losing popularity among women is discussed. Obama doesn’t really have a prolem with white women, so the story doesn’t back the headline at all, and that’s an issue.
But it’s not something that necessarily falls under skeptical editing because it’s the editors who write the headlines. It seems to be more of an issue of where to draw the line on trying to attract readers as journalism conforms to new mediums.
Entertainment stories seem to write sensational, purposely misleading headlines often. Sometimes they’re funny when they’re aggregated into a post and we can look at them in a list, but aren’t we annoyed when we actually click on these stories that aren’t about anything we thought they’d be about?
Maybe it’s just our own fault for reading so much about celebrities and their personal lives, but I do wonder if there will be a point when readers are desensitized to sensational headlines in entertainment stories, and editors will have to come up with a new way of attracting readers.
But entertainment is a whole different animal than hard news, and that’s also part of the issue with the Obama story mentioned above.
Hard news deserves accurate headlines that draw readers in because the content is newworthy. Readers shouldn’t be tricked into reading about the president’s ratings or local hospital cost policies.
A headline should reflect a story, not mislead and trap.
The Internet offers an unlimited and broad platform for presenting information, and topic pages are a way of utilizing that large range to make a presentation that attracts readers.
With so much news out there and so much information to be read, topic pages offer a somewhat clear channel into the news site. “Instead of trying to lure people to a home page with a variety of general interest news stories, sections of a news site are built out with deep content in each to serve the more particular interests of people within the publication’s broader audience.”
Topic pages can revolve around anything from people to places or subjects to events, but they offer people a way to look at the news and follow anything they find interesting.
Because they’re centralized around just one topic, topic pages have to include a range of links and ways to interact with the site to keep it from becoming dull. The levels of interaction offers readers a way to become as involved with a topic as they want.
The information intake is all up to the user, but the topic page has just about all of that information in one simple place.
Also, because of the news links and archives, readers can search through other news on the main site that catches their eyes, but the main draw is that one topic that they continuously find interesting and continuously come back to the topic page to follow.
Because of information overload caused by constant Internet access, topic pages are a way for news organizations to draw the largest audience possible. By offering an alternative way to stay informed, a way with a more streamlined flow for chugging information, news sites can reach out to people who would otherwise throw their hands up and say, “To hell with being ‘informed!'”
Topic pages also vary in the way that content is presented. The Times Topics page for Florida includes news articles, multimedia and plenty of background information about the state, but it’s mostly just informative. Look at a Topix page for any city in Florida, however, and you’ll find polls, maps and trends, as well as an archive of news articles.
Different formats serve different purposes, and different formats reach out better to different audiences. But either way, a larger audience is theoretically being reached and becoming better informed.
So does the idea of a single page all about one topic sound anything like Wikipedia? Topic pages aren’t necessarily user-edited, and unlike Wikipedia pages they must include an archive of news articles on the topic, but both do offer an overview of a single subject in one simple location.
In essence, topic pages are created around context rather than time. Their success lies in providing enough useful content to keep an audience and also in providing content that’s interesting.
According to the Nieman Journalism Lab linked to above, topic pages are inspired by Wikipeida as much as anything else, and while they don’t offer a technological advance, they do introduce an entirely different philosophical approach to doing the news.
My delicious page: http://delicious.com/em19819