News published through our site often starts life as a press release posted online. Typically it’s a few hundred words accompanied by a photo and calls to action at the bottom telling the reader where to find more information or how to get in touch. These articles have a reasonable half life – linked to from the news website; syndicated across to department websites; sometimes featured on the homepage – and live on in the news archive for search engines to find.
Sometimes, though, we need articles to continue to run and with our old system this involved a bit of a hack – taking an existing article, updating it with the latest details and republishing it to get it to the top of the pile. This never seemed like the best thing to do, but it’s not uncommon for news websites to operate in this way.
Then ITV News broke the mold with their March 2012 redesign. Design agency Made By Many threw away all the preconceived ideas of traditional news websites and moved to a stream of news design – the homepage constantly updating with the latest updates.
What got me interested wasn’t how the homepage implemented the stream idea – unless you’re a regular user I find it a little hard to follow – but how it works with evolving news stories.
Let’s look at one of this morning’s headlines – the news that Morrisons is to begin online delivery via Ocado. On the BBC News website they published a story early morning and I first read a version of their story published at 07:54:
But refreshing the page an hour later adds some new information:
Can you spot the differences?
- Headline swaps “tie-up” for “deal”
- Chart showing share price half way down the page
- Two new paragraphs saying about the Ocado share price inserted at the very bottom of the article
As someone who read the article at 8am I have to scan through the whole thing just to find an extra 30 words.
The ITV News site handles things completely differently. Their stream of news updates clearly show evolving stories. Just like a blog where posts are shown in reverse chronological order we can see the latest news at the very top:#
Just like the BBC News site, the latest take on the story is how the Ocado share price has jumped 40% but this time it’s clearly marked as being updated 42 minutes ago. In this instance they beat the BBC to it – that update was added 36 minutes ahead of Auntie.
This is a really simple example but the approach scales to much bigger stories too where there is scope to show off the story in different ways. Below is parts of their story on Google’s appearance before the Commons Public Accounts Committee:
I’ve included only a selection of types of update from the full story:
- Video: pulled in from a branded Vimeo channel thought they also use YouTube. Often accompanied by some text to put it into context.
- Short update: gives the feel of a live blog without the lack of context that traditionally occurs.
- Tweet: includes a link back to the original tweet – nice to see journalists citing their sources!
- Quotations: formatted so it’s easy to distinguish “expert” opinion and comments from journalist’s reporting.
- Photos: nice and big (that’s not a comment on Vince Cable!)
- Links to “full story”: importantly, ITV still publish the more typical “500 words + image + video + quotes” article written by one of their editors which make use of content already published in the news stream. If you’re looking for everything in one place then this is where you can read it, but if you’re following the stream live you can skip the duplicate content.
“Nice story, but what has this got to do with Edge Hill?”
There appeared to me to be many possibilities for this style of news publishing at Edge Hill and it could solve some problems we have with the old site.
- The hack of resurrecting old articles whenever typically minor changes were made and it needed a renewed lease of life. In these situations there is usually something new that’s happened so adding that information at the top of a story draws attention it.
- Over the last year or so Corporate Comms have commissioned and produced an increasing amount of rich media content such as video, photos and audio interviews. These have been included in articles but their half life is probably less than we might wish for.
- Events often have several phases which previously haven’t linked together. For example, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize comprises (off the top of my head):
- Nominations open
- Long list announced
- Short list announced
- Awards ceremony
- Winner announcement
- Interviews with winner
- Possible follow-up activity such as visits to campus
During the autumn term we discussed the idea with colleagues in Corporate Communications and after mistakenly assuming that the ITV News website was built in WordPress claimed that it would be possible for us to do something similar.
After realising that ITV News isn’t a WordPress site and that no one appears to have done anything similar in WordPress we set about building a proof of concept. This gave us enough to justify migrating the news site to a new platform and has been the key part of the development.
With the site only live for a few weeks, the Press Office are just beginning to make use of WordPress stories, but you can see them in action on pages about the Short Story Prize, Edge Hill’s involvement in Liverpool Sound City and the new £16 million Creative Edge development.
Personally I’m looking forward to seeing, watching, hearing and reading the great stories has to tell over the coming months, whether that’s awards, new buildings or graduation ceremonies.
Next time we’ll go into more detail about how stories were built in WordPress.