Monday, 19 May 2008

Golden rules for newspaper websites

I've just put together some golden rules for our newspaper websites.

Here's a few of the ones I came up with for our reporters and news editors from different newspaper titles.

1. All stories to be reported online first

Hard news stories should be reported online as soon as they happen.
A full story does not have to be written up straight away, just the main facts of the story.
The story can then be developed throughout the day.
This does not necessarily mean more work than you would normally do – as all you are doing is putting online the research work you would do for any story.
If possible online readers should be asked for their knowledge/comments on the story.

Here’s a very simplified example -

· A reliable source telephones the office to say they’ve seen a crash on a local road.
· You write a two-paragraph story for the web with the details of the crash given to you by the source, asking online readers to comment/contact you if they have any other details.
· You call the emergency services and you get a statement from them saying they received a call and are attending the scene.
This statement goes online.
· Photographer goes to get picture of crash, several of which can go online.
· Later call emergency services again and you’re informed they are still at the scene, which includes a number of casualties and a fatality.
This statement goes online with a plea for tributes to be left/emailed to the deceased (even though you don’t know their name).
· Contact several nearby residents and get comments from them.
Get these online.
· Call emergency services later and they inform you the road has been cleared – get this comment online.
· Overnight several eyewitness reports and tributes left to deceased, one from his brother quoting the man’s name (in the commenting admin you will be able to find the brother’s name and email address and by leaving a comment they have agreed to be contacted by our journalists).

If the paper now went to print you have a ready made story, with little extra work than what you would normally do, plus a lot more content than you could have hoped for without using the website.

Of course you may not want to use this web first policy to disclose any genuine exclusives.

2. Encourage user-generated content

Crowd sourcing, citizen journalism, user-generated content – call it what you want, it’s simply about getting readers to get in touch with you.
Using the website you can encourage more people than ever before to contact you about a specific incident or local issues.

Stories can be enabled to allow user commenting and you can designate a specific email address for online readers to use all the time.
Social networking sites and Web 2.0 sites should be investigated as another way for people to contact you and share content.
For example encouraging YouTube posters to add a specific tag - such as “EveningLeaderVideos” - to their local videos means they can then be easily picked up by news teams.

3. Write Google friendly headline

Nine out of ten times the headlines given to a story in the newspaper are no use online.
Story headlines are one of the most important ways search engines find news content – which in turn drives traffic to your website.

It might sound boring but headlines need to say exactly what the story is about.
Google doesn’t have a sense of humour so don’t use puns.

You also need to ensure the headline refers to where the story is set – otherwise our story about the fatal car crash will simply get lost in all the other millions of stories on the web about car crashes.

You need to think what people looking for the story would need to search for to find your article and use these keywords in your title.

Taking our car crash again as an example the newspaper headline may read something like– “Death on county blackspot”.
However, for the web you may want something more like: “Flintshire man dies in A55 car crash”.
It may not read as smoothly but it is still short enough and gets a few key words into the title.

Always remember though that you still have to write for humans – so don’t just use keywords if it means the title doesn’t make sense!

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