More details on the ‘hyperinterest’ approach

In my last post, I suggested the idea of hyperinterest — basically topic pages on newspaper Web sites that would aggregate and curate the best of the Web for readers. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this idea, and — in part prompted by your insightful comments — I’ve added some flesh to the bones of my ideas.

I’ll explain this by answering questions — some of which readers actually raised, and others which I came up with. (If you’re new to this blog, you’d be best to read the original post for background.)

Isn’t your idea just another search engine, like Yahoo? No. Absolutely not. I totally agree that newspapers aren’t going to come up with a better search engine, than say Google. My idea is to have a robust search on a newspaper’s Web site, but it would be searching only the content on that site — not the whole Web. Some of that content would be produced by the newspaper’s staff; some would be from elsewhere on the Web and aggregated by savvy reporters and editors.

So what is your idea? I envision a series of topic pages on news Web sites that deal with a variety of interests — from local news tailored to a specific community (the much-touted hyperlocal) to more avocation-oriented interests such as fly-fishing or kayaking. Reporters and/or editors would search the Web for the best stuff that should be part of these topic pages.

Pages might include links to existing virtual communities, Web pages, resources. Or they may contain a feed of local or wire news stories that tie into the topic of that page. The premise would be these topic pages give readers a wealth of information in one place about something in which they are highly interested.

How would people get to these pages? Several ways. First, I envision a Facebook-like question that greets readers in a big box when they enter the news Web site: What do you want to do? Readers could use a pull-down menu of options to navigate to particular topic page or type in their own ideas. They also could get to pages in traditional ways through links from the main Web page, Google searches, typing in a specific URL.

Why wouldn’t people just search for this stuff on their own through Google? Many would, but many people are still intimidated by the Web or don’t have the patience, knowledge, skill to do a search that yields the information they want.

An example might be helpful. Often readers call the newspaper where I work, The Post-Standard, to ask questions they could easily get from a Google search or even just thumbing through the phone book. When I worked on the City Desk, I fielded calls about everything from “What time is the Syracuse University Basketball game on TV?” to “Can you tell me the number of the local radio station?” There were moments, I’ll be honest, when this was  bit annoying.

But it’s a compliment, really. Readers, at least in a small-city community like mine, see the newspaper as the place that knows, the place with answers. Local newspapers should be proud readers see us that way and hope we never lose that trust.  The hyperinterest approach could help answer some of these questions for readers.

What’s the local aspect of your idea? I think hyperinterest won’t work  if it’s not local. When readers reach a topic page, they shouldn’t get a generic list of links. They should get a list curated by editors and reporters who know that community. They may link outside the paper’s Web site when it makes sense, but listings, calendars, resources would have a local priority. And, of course, a feed of  local stories relevant to a particular topic page would be a cornerstone of the idea. In this way, the site could do better than Google, which sometimes isn’t the best for searching for resources in smaller communities.

An example: A reader called me, looking to find Syracuse-area women who make and sell diaper cakes, decorative tiered cakes made out of diapers and often given as a gifts to new moms.  She had tried a Google search, but the most popular sites popped up first — not the ones in our relatively small community.  I asked my blog and print column readers for suggestions on local diaper-cake makers, and I got flooded with responses. I compiled a list and put it on my blog. Now, you can search for “diaper cakes in Central New York, ” and reach a list. That’s just the kind of aggregating I’d envision for a parenting or moms hyperinterest topic page.

Who would pick what topics to cover? I’d crowd source it. Start a blog, pitch the topic page idea and then ask readers to submit their ideas — and what each page would contain. Some of their ideas will fly; some won’t. Be flexible. Start with a few pages, and try it.  When readers see the pages, they likely will complain, “Why don’t you have a page about …” Don’t get defensive; ask them what that page should contain and create it. Fluidity is important. Some pages may morph into other ones, and you may realize after the fact that some topics need to be spun off into separate pages. Some may fail and should just die. That’s fine. Don’t expect it all to work at first. Innovation almost never does.

What role would social media play in this? A large role. Anthony Salveggi mentioned in the comments section of my original post the need to integrate Facebook and Twitter, etc., on these page. He explains: It  should “give readers a reason to consider the Web site a central hub by offering rails that contain particular Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as the ability log in to their accounts from these locations.” Didn’t think of that, but totally agree.

A final note: All day today, I’ve been thinking about this idea and mulling it, and I decided to add one aspect. I think readers should be able to tailor what topics show on their own main page of the news Web site. I was thrilled to find Salveggi suggesting a similar idea in the comments.

The way I see it, I might pick “parenting,” “politics,” “food” and “education” to be on my main page; you might pick “sports,”  “politics,” “gaming” and “kayaking.” Why? I often find when I go to newspaper Web sites, I have to hunt around for the stuff I want. And if I got back, I have to hunt around again. This could eliminate some of the frustration.

I’d also suggest there’s a default option because some people wouldn’t want to go to the trouble of customizing. Plus, you can require that certain features — a breaking news blog; a list of most interactive stories — feeds into all pages.

Gina

5 thoughts on “More details on the ‘hyperinterest’ approach

  1. Pingback:   Bookmarks for May 8th through June 5th by andydickinson.net

  2. Pingback: What role should universities have in reinventing American journalism? » Nieman Journalism Lab

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  4. Wow really good article I think with the newest social networks like twitter and facebook are really good because people are usually always on the phone and they can stay informed. Now a days everyone has a smart phone.

  5. What role will academia play in the realization of the journalist/social media relationship? As more and more journalism and communications programs embrace social media tools and networks, the maturation that you discuss will eliminate the confusion that Ben mentioned above.
    Thanks for links — reading them now.

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