Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: News

This week I'm writing prescriptions for a better Orion. Today: News.

Rx1: Improve beat coverage
Covering a beat is the best way, by far, to generate original news stories with actual value for readers. Without running beats, a news organization is at the mercy of PR flaks and anonymous tipsters with a grudge to define news in their communities. The news editor should decide what she thinks are the most important coverage areas for The Orion and assign them as beats to her reporters, then hold the staff accountable by asking what stories came from beats during weekly story planning. Reporters should physically cover their beats, introducing themselves and leaving business cards on the first visit and then stopping back regularly to find out what’s new or developing on the beat.

Rx2: Provide better daily coverage by writing briefs
Part of the give-and-take of covering a beat is putting information in the paper that helps beat sources (“Could you put something in The Orion about the flu clinic next week?”), but there often isn’t room or time to accommodate that sort of request when reporters are focused on fulfilling a weekly one-news-story quota. The same expectation makes it difficult to generate enough news each day to keep the news on fresh. The fix is to encourage reporters to write 100-word, three-paragraph news stories that can be posted to the Web the same day they’re written. Traffic accidents, announcements, small stories from beat reporting, etc., can be quick to report and write and give readers a reason to visit the website TheOrionApp often.

Rx3: Write it long or write it short
The Tennessean presents
write-it-long stories as centerpieces
I’ve written and talked about his in the past, but it still holds promise as a way to transition to digital-first news presentation and give readers something special on each of The Orion’s publishing platforms.
Write it short: The news briefs in the previous prescription not only improve the website, they also can be collected and rewritten (updated, revised, edited) for use in The Orion. Readership studies show time after time that short, well-written stories attract as much or more reader time and attention than medium-length stories.
Write it long: The Web is an awful place to read 1,500 words of text, and presenting those stories on a website is a design nightmare. The broadsheet newspaper page, on the other hand, is the perfect medium for long-form explanatory or investigative journalism, with the room to present photos, graphics and other storytelling devices in attractive packages (centerpieces, like the one demonstrated at right). Readers (and contest judges) love papers who devote time and space to tell big, important stories.

Long story short: Replace the 12-inch stories so prevalent in the news pages with longer, larger projects and a page of news briefs interspersed with news photos. Rethink the front page (and other section fronts) with that philosophy in mind.

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