The lifecycle of a news story and the structuring of news site

I’ve been obsessed with the lifecycle of news for many years now: with both surfacing archival content, as well as resurfacing existing news.

I’m troubled by the short lifecycle that a news story has, and dependency on two factors:
– Visibility: The reach of social media, which is limited by two factors. Firstly, the transience of social media, given that both facebook and twitter have an immense number of updates that users have to go through, and a single update will get lost in the deluge. Secondly, personalization and the throttling of reach. Facebook virtually killed reach around July/August 2013, which means that publishers are forced to pay for reach on a platform that they initially popularized. It was bait-and-switch by Facebook, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter does something like this too.
– Intent: If you’re found only when a user is looking for something that you’ve written, then that limits your reach because you’re competing with Wikipedia. Discovery is in Google’s hands. Tweaks of their algorithm can kill a publishing businesses.

So how do you deal with this, and help readers learn more? Invariably, it means doing two things:

1. Different story structures:

The ContentSutra model, which I was inducted into by @Rafat, was part news, party aggregation, part opinion. It was 2006. I naturally gravitated towards linking back towards historical content to provide readers with more reference material, and this was expanded upon with MediaNama where we began with doing fewer but deeper stories and linking to stories both internal and external. This means that you follow an almost Wikipedia like approach to structuring a story, enabling users to discover and explore more stories. This benefits a publication in that users visit more pages, spend more time with the publication, and/or pay for archival content. In this way, the structuring of a story helps increase the lifecycle of the story.

Another way of doing this is to create timelines to provide context.

With news being commoditised, readers will go where they believe they’ll receive maximum value for their time. If you consistently provide value, they’ll turn to you more often, and linking to more stories internally or externally does that.

2. Different discovery mechanisms: With the new MediaNama design, we’re bring tags to the top, and using plugins to highlight popular content by day, month and year. The key approach with the plugins is that the story page is the homepage, and by showcasing related content in the left sidebar, we’re helping readers discover relevant, related stories.

The tag pages are design in a card based layout, and possibly the best designed of our pages, created to help discover more content. They help readers more on a particular company and topic. They’re still not ideal, in my view, and we’ll have to figure out iterations that deliver more context. The basic idea here is that the tag page is the homepage for that issue/company etc. Ideally, I’d like to have surfaced job posts for that same company or topic, company announcements, a key events timeline. That was a plan for MediaNama before it began, and I think this is where WordPress limits us. Drupal can allow this – a job board, an outsourcing board, a company page with announcements uploaded. The richer the detail in the tag pages, the greater their lifecycle and relevance.

It’s also in line with the “body of work” approach we take to editorial: each story is, the way we look at it, a part of a connected history. Over 20 stories on net neutrality, for example, give you complete context on what’s going on.

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The one problem that this doesn’t solve for me is surfacing some great, relevant archival stories. For example, the 2008 guidelines for MVNO’s provide learning on how the government was thinking about them then, and while I know that I can look those up and link to them, the thing with the digital industry is that most people don’t have historical or cross-segment context. That’s where we, as editors, come in, I guess.

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