Covering breaking news online part 2576

Scott Karp neatly highlights why newspapers – be it small locals or, in this case, larger ones like the Washington Post – are still failing to deliver the goods when it comes to breaking news online.

Scott painstakingly details his battle to find out what was going on when heavy storms hit is home area. Although there was some very decent online coverage, he had to delve through several layers of links on the Post’s site to find the live updates and full information he was looking for, while the only easily visible piece from the front page that was a standard print article.

Unsurprisingly he turned to Google and immediately had more success.

Two scathing comments sum up what is wrong with the majority of news sites:

“And what’s the root cause problem? The useless article with no real-time data and no links was written for the PRINT newspaper. And the homepage is edited to match what will be important in the PRINT newspaper. And the navigation assumes I think like I do when I’m reading the PRINT newspaper”

“It’s like newspapers on the web as saying: here’s all the static stuff we produced for the paper — you want all of our dynamic web innovation? Oh, that’s downstairs, in the back room. Knock twice before you enter.”

Linking back to my analysis of the Exeter bombing, you could argue it was similar with the Express and Echo. Although there were updates, you got a better feel for how the story was developing via social media and forums.

To be honest, the same could be said for the majority of websites belonging to traditional media organisations (although a few of the national broadsheets, most notably the Telegraph and the Guardian are pretty clued up). And the sad thing is it really wouldn’t take much to change things. Simply set up a contingency holding area on the front page for a liveblog and perhaps picture and video updates if there’s a breaking news event in the area.

To be honest, the news event doesn’t necessarily have to be a major one, but if it’s big enough to get people interested or curious as to what’s going on, it’s worth covering.

Print journalists and editors must get out of the mindset that their site is a replicate or slight extension of the newspaper. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face – you can provide excellent breaking coverage online without compromising the next day’s print edition. When a breaking story is ongoing, readers just want information asap. The next day, in-depth reporting and analysis comes into its own. So, whilst the models of the 24 Hour News Channels come with their own problems, adopting a similar mindset but for online is a must.

In one of the comments on Scott’s post, ‘Ray’ said:

“People use Washington Post and Google for different purpose. People go to newspaper site to get updated on the list of current news. People go to Google to search for one news that he is interested in.”

That may be just about true now, if at all, but it sure won’t be in the future and that comment misses the point. The Post, and other papers, are trusted sources so readers will head there as a matter of course for breaking news. But if the news is hard to find or falls short, Google and assorted social media sites provide a gateway to find what they want, when they want, as soon as they want it. That is what print media needs to do if it is to survive in a Web 2.0 news culture.

Like it or not, the user now has more choice than ever before and with choice comes more power. Ray says people use Google to search for news they are interested in. If newspapers are to retain readers (and advertising) online they also need to be a portal for readers to search for news they are interested in. The two aspects are most certainly not mutually incompatible.

[hat-tip: Martin Stabe]


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June 2008
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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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