Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
Explorations of personal and community journalism...
Traditional, Alternative, Online...
2002-2009 blog page archive

Subscribe to "Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog" in Radio UserLand.

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I agree with the KnoxViews bloggers doing this "no reader registration" e-mail campaign, which congratulates KnoxNews for changing its requirement that readers sign-in with a password to read News Sentinel stories. I mentioned the change to students last week, but the KnoxViews item is a great excuse to write about it here.

UPDATE: From the comments I hadn't read (oops) on several blogs about registration at Scripps Howard websites, it seems that the practice hasn't really ended at KnoxNews; it has been given a different "threshold" to let infrequent visitors in for a few visits without immediately requiring registration. We'll have to experiment and see how that works with the various login schemes on our classroom and lab computers... but probably not right now, during the last two weeks of the semester. Anyhow, I think the comments below still fit with minor adustments to my first draft.

For bloggers, the change makes it easier for their readers to follow links from blogs to KnoxNews stories, which might even create more readership for the paper and more healthy discussion of public issues... a win-win for the KNS business office and the community.

Personally, I like a "no registration needed" (or even "none for new visitors") policy for a slightly different reason:

I teach journalism and want my students to analyze stories and discuss the news during class. However, they (and I) tend to forget site-registration passwords, which wastes class time. Stored passwords and cookies aren't practical on classroom computers that are programmed to wipe their memories when users log out. The same is probably true when students or faculty use computer lab and library computers here and at other universities. Given a choice, I think most of us choose information sources with no extra hurdles.

For example, each semester I hear a few students tell their classmates about, which has been messing up online demographic data-collection for years by offering fake login names for registration-required sites.

My message to news site publishers: If you WANT younger readers, make it easier for them to find stories that interest them.

And, in a college town, if you want students and other new or short-term residents to understand the stories, you might experiment with more "backgrounding" using the Web's power to link. Provide capsule biographies for state and local names in the news; link to voting records for elected officials; offer more photographs or maps of places mentioned in stories, or even link to discussions at other websites. (With a disclaimer about not endorsing the information on those sites, if that's the case.)

While I'm "talking to" KnoxNews, here's the next improvement I'd like to see. I've mentioned it here before, but not in this context of "ways to get more students to read more stories."

Either fit longer headlines into the KnoxNews home page OR get staff members to write fresh, interesting and more specific heads for the that page.

Perhaps the recycling of the newspaper headlines is automated. I may be complaining about a content management system's page-building robot that's hard to re-program... But here's what happens: Too often the home page just imports the first "kicker" or "hammer" line of a News Sentinel story's two-line headline. That kicker is frequently a short line with almost no meaningful information about its story, a quirky, obscure or too-general statement when standing alone.

Here are some recent examples of "kicker" lines as they appeared on KnoxNews as the only front-page information about the stories inside:
  1. Something to bark about
  2. Sundown Rises
  3. Happy campers? You bet
  4. Reward given for job well done
  5. Steps to self-esteem
  6. Hands-on art her passion
  7. Calming presence will be missed
  8. 'Your heroism inspires us'
Is the first one about the Dogwood Arts Festival? Is the third one about a narrow escape from bears? Is the last one about Tennesseans in Iraq? Wrong on all counts. Those kickers do make sense in print, combined with their more informative second lines -- which Web readers only see on the individual story pages.

Here's the second half that went with each of the short lines, in the same order:
  1. Knoxville's first off-leash park officially opens to rave reviews from dogs and their owners
  2. Big crowd greets first concert in Knoxville's summer series
  3. Young people with disabilities benefit from therapeutic experience
  4. 911 dispatcher's _directions helped save trapped children
  5. Dance studio lets kids with Down syndrome shine while having fun
  6. Artist finds satisfaction not only in creating sculptures, but teaching others, too
  7. Farragut Intermediate's principal for 30 years dies unexpectedly at home
  8. French pay tribute to 68 veterans of World War II from Blount County

In all cases, those longer lines could stand on their own, and I think they'd do a better job of inviting people to click into the full stories. However, that might require a redesign of the page, perhaps (horrors!) making it look more like a newspaper. But there's an easier alternative: Keep the current design; just write home page headlines that are shorter than the long lines, but more specific than those short ones.

Here are my quick tries for the same stories, attempting to maintain the tone of each original, but adding at least one more specific word:
  1. Pooch park pleases dog owners
  2. 'Sundown' rises, crowd rocks
  3. (or "Little Feat kick off downtown shows"?)
  4. Camp enables disabled campers
  5. How 9-1-1 helped save trapped kids
  6. Dance steps lead to self-esteem
  7. Sculptor passionate for hands-on art
  8. Farragut principal dies unexpectedly
  9. French honor Blount County vets

Those are all shorter than some of the "short" heads on the front page, including this nice one today: "Dogwood Smackdown: Which trail is best?"

I'm not saying mine are great headlines, but in each case I'd be more likely to click to read the whole story. If we have time in class this week or next, I'll see how many students agree with me.

Last point: One way to put clearer headlines on the front page is simply to put more time and money into writing them... Hire more student interns and recent grads... and maybe assign a supervising editor to preach the "shorter, clearer" gospel to them. The same team might build and maintain a library of those background links I mentioned, and keep track of the stories the bloggers are linking to.

Official "transparent self-interest" footnote: Journalism students and successful alumni may indirectly pay my salary someday, so making more jobs for them could benefit me. Actually, my current lecturership is thanks to generous (or overly optimistic) folks buying state lottery tickets. But those other faculty positions include above-ground offices and pay better. I'd take one if offered.

1:14:58 PM    

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website. © Copyright 2009 Bob Stepno.
Last update: 7/27/09; 3:27:47 AM.
April 2006
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Mar   May