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Content is king, but don’t forget context

One of the greatest benefits digital publishing gives newsrooms is the ability to show the context of today’s stories in ways we have never been able to in the past. In print, there are only so many pages, and inch-counts dictate how much news and background information we can give readers.

In radio and television, each story can only last a set number of seconds, which significantly limits the ability to give the audience an in-depth backstory.

In the digital world, not only can the text of a story be paired with photos, graphic elements and videos, but we have more opportunities to point our audiences toward relevant related stories that provide more details about the topic they are reading about. This can take┬áseveral forms, but I’ll name just a few that I’ve seen used effectively.

Context is even more important based on the way modern readers consume news. The majority of your readers are reading isolated articles and are not seeing your home page or searching your website for more news on a topic. This means that to fully inform a reader, we must put the context right in front of readers eyes on each article they read.

This is a common form news organizations should be taking advantage of regularly. If a reader is reading a story about Joe Biden’s latest political apointee, there should be links alongside that story that point to previous coverage of either Biden’s other cabinet picks, or about the person he has picked. This allows us to show the reader the full coverage of an issue and allows readers who may have missed previous stories to see that we have been providing coverage of stories that are important to them.

These types of related items would be stories that may not be coverage of the same issue, but that provide the reader with important details that are happening alongside or surrounding that story. This puts the story in the context of events happening around it.

This is where you would link a new story from the same day rather than previous stories. For example, a story about your local school system wrapping up classes for the holidays might be paired with a story about upcoming family events in the area. The two stories may not directly relate, but a reader who is interested in the first story probably has kids in the school system and will be on the lookout for family-friendly activities during the winter break.

This is an area news organizations are getting more comfortable with as technology evolves and makes it possible. This implementation links to full-text documents or audio and video recordings of the item being reported on. A story about a crime would include a PDF of an arrest warrant, a story about an on-going court case might include audio or video from the trial and a story about the president’s State of the Union Address might include a PDF containing the text of the speech. This allows readers to see exactly what journalists are seeing and gives them access to documents that are not readily available to them. It increases our transparency as journalists and forces transparency from sources.

Adding these types of contextual links to our stories allows us to serve the interests of our audience better and keep them more informed about events that are important to them. Unfortunately, the news business is still deadline-driven and stories are quickly put together without enough thought on how to polish the presentation and link the related items we already have on file.

The majority of news sites today may have a “related stories” area attached to each article, but most of the time these are just the most recent stories, the top stories of the day, or some form of native advertising. These are good ways to keep the audience on the website, but it isn’t fully taking advantage of the capabilities of our digital platforms.

In general, linking related content is good for the media organization and good for the reader. It increases transparency, trust and accountability. It also helps cash-strapped newsrooms show that while one story may not be 3,000 words, the issue is still covered in great depth.

We may not be able to hire investigative journalists to write one or two big in-depth stories per month, but we can show that the body of coverage of an issue is thorough and in-depth. We now have the ability to combine all of our day-to-day coverage of issues and events into the presentation of the most recent coverage of any given issue and we should be taking full advantage of that.

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