Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting it right on Sanford coverage

Kudos to The State newspaper for getting it almost all right on covering the tragic story of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The paper very effectively used its Web site to get all sorts of information up quickly. Once it got confirmation that the e-mails between the governor and his Argentinian paramour were legit, it posted many of them. As a result, it got lots of exposure including debriefs on the late-evening news shows locally and on cable.

It put up a timeline to help people digest the story.

It posted a link to a Twitter search for "Sanford."

It made sure all the elements were accessible from each page.

It put up a poll, etc. (About all it didn't do was play the theme from "Sanford and Son," a rather tacky little move done by "The Takeaway on public radio.

Now, a few minor observations -- not really criticisms, but something to chew on:
  • The State is a McClatchy paper. Things tend to "go away" into the archives after a week or so. I would hope that does not happen here.
  • I would hope that once things die down, the paper creates a "microsite" for all the coverage. And I would hope the paper would give it an easy-to-think-of URL, such as thestate.com/sanford
  • It would have been very useful if the stories all had a "sanford" tag - or "sanford affair." Too many news organizations still don't use tagging. Yes, microsites are useful, but the tagging gives another way for people to easily access the thread of a story.
  • The timeline is good, but why isn't it interactive? This is another way to help people easily organize "the story."
Again, we have to remember that "the story" is no longer an individual river of text or a specific path through a Web site. Your users will define "the story" by how they meander through all the elements (for me, the story is the e-mails, but for someone else it might be Sanford's political orientation and presidential aspirations dashed, and for yet another person it might be Jenny Sanford and how she has handled this). The more we can do to give them the navigational and interpretive tools, the better.

None of this, however, takes away from the fine job The State has done.

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