News for Digital Journalists

February 01, 2011

Smart approach to online topics enhances context of breaking news from Egypt

Fast-breaking news like we’re seeing come out of Egypt may be a boon for digital journalism, with its capacity for instant coverage and rapid-fire curation. But amid that flood of information, how do news sites help make sense of developments for those readers who are still playing catch-up? MotherJones.com is trying an interesting approach: an expert-curated topical news page lauded as a “fusion between a liveblog and a Wikipedia entry.” This could offer lessons for other news organizations…

In a detailed writeup of the MoJo Egypt explainer page in a Neiman Journalism Lab blog post, writer Megan Garber makes clear that unlike topical news pages that are automatically aggregated, the Mojo page has a live journalist behind it and a clear-cut design that supplements running news developments with backgrounders and contextual elements often missing from other topics pages.

Writes Garber: “The basic design decision MoJo made in creating its Egypt explainer—breaking it down into categories, encyclopedia-style—imposes an order that more traditional attempts at dynamic coverage (liveblogs, Twitter lists, etc.) often lack. “

Explanatory topic pages are not new, of course. Jane Stevens was writing about such vertical, niche “shells” as long ago as 2002. And Garber notes many sites used a more nascent topics page approach for spot news during the uprising in Iran a couple of years back. Here’s a great list of exemplary topics pages - along with what makes them successful. Among the examples are the hundreds of topics pages found at ChicagoTribune.com.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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