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A few things I’d like to see local news sites publish – Joe Murphy

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A few things I’d like to see local news sites publish

Here are a few things I’d like to see local news sites publish. I’d like to see them not just because they’re interesting, and not just because no news sites are publishing them now, but because publishing this information would:

  1. Provide context about the exact place that I live. Context makes information actionable.
  2. Make accessible and linkable historical information about the place that I live. News sites are a community resource — time to start acting like one.
  3. Give news sites exponentially more entry points to the information they’re already publishing. More entry points makes information more findable.
  4. Make local political news and information more accessible. This makes politics more approachable and actionable to those not already disposed to follow it.

1. An index of all the facts included in the articles they publish

This means a list of facts, as well as a means to link directly to the part in the article that fact exists.

Example: McDonald’s buys more than 3 billion pounds of potatoes annually across the globe. This nugget of information is more interesting than the article’s headline, McDonald’s seeks better ‘tater for its French fries, yet it was left embedded in the article body for only the most curious to find.

Indexing facts does more than provide new and engaging entry points to existing content. Facilitating easy citations with facts and links to facts can improve the quality of conversations on news-site article comments, and it can also encourage wikipedia users to cite the news site with the tools that make it easy to cite.

2. News archives. Not just from the last month — from the last year, ten years, fifty years, century.

Every local news-dot-com publishing with a newspaper is sitting on a goldmine of archived content. The New York Times hired reCaptcha to help digitize their archives — sure, the NYT’s web strategy doesn’t always align with that of local news-dot-coms, but in this case, they’re onto something.

3. Indexes of news and information by zip code

Denver’s a decently big city. We’ve got 72 neighborhoods and xx zip codes. If there were a place I could go to get all the news, calendar events, and classified listings in my zip code, I would. Not only that, I would tell my neighbors about it. Indexing by zip codes gives a hook for loyal readers to introduce your site to the people that live around them that may not care for your publication, and it gives the non-loyal readers, the non-news junkies a compelling reason to visit.

4. Indexes of information on local politicians, organized by politician.

I don’t care about your catch-all “local politics” category. I care about about the politicians that represent me, and I want an easy way to find out everything they’re doing. That means not just local politicians either — that means the people repping me in the statehouse, my U.S. House representative and my U.S. senator.

Looking at “local” as a catch-all bucket rather than a collection of specific and distinct pieces is a superficial approach to publishing.

The New York Times’ Represent application approaches local politics in a mature and fully fleshed manner.

Here are some examples of catch-all local politics buckets:

5. Indexes of major crimes, by date, with crime stats aggregated by month, year and every type of location that’s available (county, zip code, neighborhood, street, block etc.).

Yes, this is the type of information you see Everyblock and Adrian Holovaty pushing online. I’m not saying publish data-driven presentations of all crimes — I’m saying start with the big ones, see how that works, and go from there. Publishing per-capita rates for violent crimes opens a window on urban vs. suburban living, on what’s happening in the places we call home and work, and how these incidents trend over time.

I’m going to repeat that: How these incidents trend over time. Crime drives a large part of the news truck, but so often it’s crime without context. Now that local news is online, it has the opportunity to give context to the information it publishes. What would this context do? Turn crime news from the hand-wringing / rubberneck activity and make the crime information actionable. If arson has increased 200% in my zipcode (80204) in the last year, that’s worth asking my police department and local government about.

Posted in Ideas, Internet, Journalism, Local, Observations, Online, Participants, Step Away From The Article, Storytelling, Themes. Tagged with , , , , .

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