Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sorting out platforms: features

For me, features poses the biggest questions about fit in the digital age because it's such a squishy category. It's almost easier to talk about what it's not -- sports, news, entertainment, opinion -- than it is to define what it is. The StarTribune in Minneapolis doesn't have a section named Features. It assigns a topic to its soft news section each day: taste (food), home and garden, travel, health, style, relationships.

Exactly what to do with features has changed over the years, too, so that today's feature pages read and look more like magazine pages than what used to be called women's sections years ago. 

One thing is clear: As the pages have become more visual and less about text, they translate poorly to the Web. The best newspaper features pages take advantage of their section fronts to tell stories in bold, visual ways that are hard to duplicate on a traditional website page, like this cover from the University of Miami. >>>>>

So when it's time to talk about features on multiple platforms, it's a good idea to focus on what should always be the first question digital-age editors ask about a story: What's the best way to tell it? 

The I Love Miami Because.. feature could have been 15 inches of text with student mugshots scattered throughout, with a traditional intro that talked about why people like living in Florida's biggest city. Instead, the editors opted for a much more readable grid of photos with short quotes layered on top. No writer or editor's voice involved. Translated to the Web, this feature could have taken on other interesting and attractive forms: a slideshow or a soundslide show, video snippets edited into a clip with or without narration, a page of photos with captions or with audio accessible by clicking the faces. Readers could be invited to submit their own photos and quotations.

Being open to telling stories in different ways should be the future for features at The Orion. More than any other section, it will have opportunities to tell stories in different ways and the same story in different ways for print, web and mobile platforms and be able to cross-promote among them. For example, a story about a new restaurant downtown could:
• have a food review and a traditional feature about the new owner in print that refers to
• a video on the website of the interview that provided the quotes for the feature, and
• a slideshow of what the new place looks like.
The review could also move to Facebook and invite readers to leave their own first impressions of the food, atmosphere, prices, etc.
Those impressions could be put together for follow-up stories, also told in multiple ways. 

Exciting, isn't it?

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