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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I've told my students to read the Sunday News Sentinel for a current events quiz, and I know many of them rely on the online edition. However, I think they're missing a lot, especially if they wait for the day of the quiz instead of reading the paper on Sunday. This rather long blog entry is mostly for their benefit...

Unlike many online newspaper sites, does let you scan back to see the previous seven days' headlines for each newspaper section (Local, Business, etc.), where there's a "Previous..." list of the past seven days in the left column. The archive pages are by section, so they don't include the "cover" from Sunday.

Unfortunately, all the news decision-making and design expertise that went into the Sunday paper's magazine-style front page gets lost in those simplified day-by-day menus.

For example, here's what the menu of "Local" stories from Sunday's paper looked like on Tuesday:
Follow the first of those links and you'll see datelines like "GUAYABAL" and "LA DESCUBIERTA," both in the Dominican Republic.


The headlines give a few hints, especially the last one, but it takes a minute to realize you're looking at a seven-story package about Tennessee medical missionairies. Some reordering would help -- putting the last one first, which is where it was in the paper, or including a missing link, either the page one headline "Men on a Mission" or another line of large type that went with the "Reaching Out" story. That line read, "Appalachian missionaries struggle to bring gospel, health care to Caribbean," and it ran across the top of the front page of the Perspective section.

Inside, eight full pages were dedicated to stories and large, dramatic color pictures telling the medical missionaries' story. The computer screen is a much smaller canvas to work with.  The first six headlines listed above, and the tenth one, are part of the "Reaching Out" package, which was a lot easier to follow in Sunday's paper -- or from Sunday's KnoxNews home page. 

If you click on any of the stories, you can find a better entry point for the whole package at the end of a sidebar link marked "Multimedia: Reaching Out." (It's also on the home page.) That multimedia package is the online equivalent of the special section in the newspaper. It has a summary of each story, the picture that headed the Perspective section, and four slide shows of photos using Macromedia Flash, if you have it installed. Take a look.

The other stories on the list shown above are more local. For clarity, "Razor's edge" would benefit from adding the second deck of the headline,  even if the pun makes me wince: "Barber's mysterious death still cuts deep after two years of uncertainty."

For the record, the other stories introduced on the Sunday newspaper's front page were "UT's Merry-Go-Round Won't Stop," on the university's basketball coach situation; "Gizmos on the Go" about electornic gadgets for travellers; "Texas-Sized Decadence," about South Padre Island at spring break; "Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide," about the surrender of a shooting suspect in Georgia; "Hamas adds name to Palestinian ballot"; and "One murder, several questions, no answers," which is the "Razor's edge" story.  There were also top-of-the-page blurbs for the Gershwin musical coming to town, a salary survey in Parade magazine, and a book review, "French women don't get fat." You can find any of those stories by going to and using the search box.

Inside the paper, the lead stories on the "Local" section front page were a General Assembly story from Nashville (filed under "State" on the website), plus the other stories listed on the online Local menu for Sunday.

To sum up, the day-by-day archives are handy, but they just don't capture the newspaper editors' decision making about which stories were most important. Some readers may like it that way, if the headlines give them enough information to decide what to read.

I'm not writing this to fault the KnoxNews weekend online editor, an under-appreciated job I used to do at another news site.  (By "poor 'heads'" I meant the confusing layout of the abbreviated headlines, of course.) I realize the website is limited in some ways by its content management software, which would take a great deal of time, effort and money to change.

I'm glad the past week's day-by-day archive is there at all, and for free, which is something I'm sure the students appreciate after being hit with a $70 pricetag on a single textbook.  But I hope they buy the paper once in a while, too. Among other things, that helps pay the salaries of former journalism students.

7:16:01 PM    

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