David Arkin's blog

Make delicious digital layers part of every story you write

Inline content is where it’s at. I am talking about video, maps, interactives, becoming a large part of the story page content stream.

I am sure you have seen examples of this approach on lots of news sites. And those that don’t have related content with their stories find ways to create that inline experience with things like newsletter and social media promotions.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 2.08.21 PM

GateHouse Media has rolled with this trend on both desktop and mobile web as you can see above and at the link.

The reason for the trend? Content sitting in boxes that’s wrapped around text just doesn’t get the eye balls that an inline experience delivers. It’s why we are seeing advertisements move inline as well, like this example from The Washington Post. Much higher click through rates on ads.

The best experience for inline isn’t a bunch of promotions but, rather, quality related content. In the past, related content was often just stories that a site had produced that were related to that story. Nothing wrong with that approach. There’s value there.

But value also comes from content that offers readers an actual experience. I don’t look at databases, maps and live blogs as a way just to break up the flow of an article. I see those elements as truly adding to the value of the story. They are part of the story, the same way a print map adds context to a story in print.

They are critical in today’s digital world.

Jean Hodges, who is GateHouse Media’s Senior Director of Content, has created this great list of potential layers newsrooms should focus on producing. She shares this as part of our digital transformation training. It’s a long list but a great one. Here it is:

• Bullets to summarize a story
• Videos
• Photos/galleries
• Audio
• Quotes
• Links to previous stories
• Links to related stories
• Quiz
• Poll
• Comments
• Timeline
• Gifs
• Fact box
• Tweets
• Maps
• Graphics
• Calls to action

Some CMS’s work well with some of these features, while others don’t. For those that don’t, you can manually figure out how to make the feature work, like putting lines above and below a pull-out to set it apart. Good technology can help, but it’s not a reason you can’t do layers.

Honestly, the majority of bylined content can and should have some form of layered content. Look at that list above. Why not?

What it takes is making it part of your planning process and ensuring that culturally, reporters are considering every single way layers can become part of their reporting. Sometimes that’s as simple as a map or utilizing Tweets as a way of quoting their sources.

As part of the planning process, here are four steps I would encourage:

1. In your daily budget meetings, ensure that you are doing more than talking about what’s going to be on 1A the next day. Talk about what you are going to cover. Make it a coverage meeting.

2. Have a list of potential layers at that meeting. Tape it on the wall. As you are going through your story lists, stop at each one and discuss what tools could be used.

3. As part of the budget that a reporter fills out, have an area for layers and list those layers. Make it a required field to select a layer.

4. Measure the number of layers that each reporter creates. Develop goals and reward the ones who received the most engagement.

Readers want a great experience as they navigate through an article. And that experience can’t just be narrative text. And it’s not just a digital editor’s job to create this content after the story is written. The best layered content comes from the expert on the topic, and that’s the person writing the story.

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