Professional thoughts about the coverage from Tucson

Professional thoughts about the coverage from Tucson

Having lived in Tucson, not far from the store where the mass shooting occurred last Saturday, I was particularly stunned. I feel very sad for the victims and have since spent many hours following the coverage on national and local news sources.

As an online journalist, I know this tragedy offers a lot of professional lessons in reacting to a breaking event, showcasing that event and fulfilling the public service duty of a news organization. These lessons are important because tragedy is a regrettably common part of our world.

Local media outlets did a great job posting voluminous coverage online, as well as a great job streaming their local video coverage for a national audience to consume. My critique, instead, is about the showcasing and organization of that content.

Some sites eventually set up a archive page to showcase the individual stories [1] [2], photo galleries and videos collected from this news event. None that I found, however, put all of this content on the top of their home page – where it would be most easily accessible and searchable. In many cases it took a day or more for news outlets to create messy archive pages, while others apparently made only minimal (if any) changes to their standard templates.

Sketch of a standard homepage arrangement
Sketch of a homepage during a breaking news situation

The key, I believe, is to have available a breaking news section that can be switched on quickly if necessary. It should display the most recent coverage of the event on the home page and include the most recent entries from the 3 areas of content: text, photo and video. Promoting the items high on the page, and pushing everything else down, gives visitors an impression of importance and dedication to the coverage. It also may earn visitor loyalty throughout the event.

The second level archive page, I believe, should be a well-organized archive page showcasing everything that is published in chronological order, with the most recent additions at the top. That page could also be made even more effective with a short (single paragraph?) summary of the event included at the top.

I believe this extra work is important during a local tragedy because, in that moment, online local news sources become nationwide pipelines for information about the specific event. They are expected to focus relentlessly on the subject, and even provide the resources for the national news entities. Why not then make oneself into the authoritative source for information about a subject online by being clear, upfront and rapidly searchable?