Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why doesn't the SF Chron have a real "Prop 8 Central"?

California Supreme Court justices are in the process of deciding one of the most contentious issues to hit the state in a while: whether to uphold Prop 8.* But not only is it one of the most contentious issues. But it's one of the issues that has most gripped the attention of the average citizen. From a news organization's perspective, that spells opportunity--opportunity to draw readers to your website and rack up those ever important page views.

So how is the San Francisco Chronicle covering it? As if they were... a newspaper.

Which begs the question: Why don't they cover it as if they were... a new media organization?

Specifically, the Chron is basically filing daily dispatches on the story. News and analysis, for sure. But for all intents and purposes, the same kind of daily stories you'd be getting if this were 20 years ago and the Internet didn't yet exist.

But here's what I think they should be doing: Create the premier go-to hub for all things Prop 8. Brand it as its own destination site, the same way the LA Times created "The Envelope," a destination site for all things Oscar. When you go to The Envelope, you don't feel like you're wading through a newspaper. You feel like you're at a website that is completely and totally devoted to the Oscars. It has everything that kind of site would have: Forums, blogs, photo galleries, timelines, trivia, gossip. Yes, the Times' news reporting is there too. But it's not front and center. It's only one component in a larger experience.

Why is this important?

-- Traffic to was up 25% (!) for the month of February

-- The LA Times had 8.7 million page views** the day after the Oscars.

What's the lesson? To draw visits, you can't simply dole out daily dispatches. You have to create a compelling destination. You need to move beyond the mindset of "Give me a story to put in tomorrow's paper." Instead, you need to think along the lines of: "There's an important story going on in our community. What kind of information would the community like to get about that story? Let's find a way to give it to them."

So what would a Chron Prop 8 look like?

  • First, it would be a branded destination site, like The Envelope. When you arrived, you'd feel like you were at an independent website, not as if you were buried deep within the pages of the newspaper.

  • Include all of the following components:
    * Running blog posts, so visitors feel like they're right in the middle of the action. Posts would come from numerous bloggers. Some inside the courthouse. Some outside. Some covering the machinations at the various interest groups. Some covering other aspects of the fight.
    * Legal analysis of the various aspects of the suit, from attorneys (not reporters)
    * Bios (with photos) of all the key players
    * Video from the various demonstrations that have been taking place -- with the option for visitors to upload their own video
    * Ditto photographs
    * Trivia about the history of this battle
    * Forums and/or social networking integration so that visitors can link up with other people interested in the debate and carry on conversations among themselves.
    * Opportunities for visitors to share their own stories, whether they are a gay couple talking about what Prop 8 means to them, or an evangelical Christian talking about their community and why Prop 8 is important to them
    * And, of course, traditional news stories and analysis pieces
    * Other?

To be fair, the Chron is doing slightly more than daily dispatches. It has bundled all of those dispatches onto a Prop 8 landing page. (And its donor database, where you can see who gave how much to the campaigns for and against Prop 8, is a truly inspired piece of new-world journalism.)

But on the whole, the way the landing page is organized, and the content on it, still says, "We think of ourselves as people who create daily stories. We're bundling them here to make it easier for you to find them." What it needs to say is, "We've created a great space for you to learn everything you want to know about this battle, as it's happening, and for you to participate in helping to tell this story."

* Prop 8, as you may recall, was the November ballot measure that created a constitutional amendment declaring marriage is only between a man and a woman only. It passed 52% for to 58% against, outraging many across the state. Advocates of marriage equality have brought suit to have it overturned.

** Via Romanesko

Photo courtesy of mugley. Creative Commons license.

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