Advice for online news sites

Get a breaking news blog and learn to love widgets. OJR editor Robert Niles offers those two suggestions and more in his summary of lessons learned in 2007. Niles says coverage of the Southern California wildfires made the case for blogs:

Blogs are the ideal format for breaking news, as they allow newsrooms to swiftly publish little bits of information, as they are confirmed, and without having to weave them into a traditional story format. They also make it easy for readers to see “the latest” on a developing story, rewarding the reader and making it easier for traditional-print newsrooms to compete with the immediacy of broadcast media.

Actually, that lesson should have been learned already; the New Orleans Times-Picayune proved the value of blogs covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  And widgets are so widely available and easily installed that there’s no reason for news organizations not to use them, especially for this year’s campaign coverage. Beyond that, Niles says, news sites need to figure out how to engage and involve their readers–not as citizen journalists but as sources. And finally, he wants news sites to “call out the liars.”

The news sites that prosper in 2008 and beyond will be the ones that do not leave their readers hanging with “he said, she said” coverage, but that report aggressively to reveal to readers who’s lying and who is telling the truth.

His point is that it’s going to take more than “brand identity” for news sites to distinguish themselves from all the other information out there. I could not agree more. People are drowning in information. News organizations that offer context and meaning will cut through the clutter.