Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part III: Archives with permanent URL's

Weblogs have revolutionized web publishing. The act of blogging itself isn’t all that revolutionary. But blog software developers have put powerful weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens. The Pentagon calls this asymmetrical warfare.
One unnoticed aspect of the revolution is that anybody can have searchable archives on their site. As soon as a story is published, it has a permanent URL and it keeps that URL even after it is moved off the home page. Users can follow offsite links to the story, or search the archives to find it on the site. In other words, the site is the archive.
Newspapers make a false distinction between their site and their archive. After a couple of weeks, they remove stories not only from their home page, but from their Web site. The original URL is broken, and readers who followed a link to the story are invited to search the paper’s archives for it and pay money to get a look at it.
Newspapers don’t even understand what URL’s are for. Many of them actively oppose “deep linking” to stories, or tacitly support the link-to-my-homepage-or-don’t-link-to-my-site element by their silence. After all, who even thought we needed a term for “deep linking”? It should be called linking.
They don’t understand that links from interested outsiders add even more value to their news by creating dense and useful meta-information that they couldn’t buy even if they wanted to.
Bloggers add value to old news with commentary, context, community, links, inbound traffic, and Google cred. With online advertising (especially search-related advertising) growing explosively, the value of having stories permanently accessible on your site far outweighs the trivial incremental revenue that comes from selling your archives.

8 thoughts on “Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part III: Archives with permanent URL's

  1. One exception to this problem is your (and my) local, um, newspaper, the Half Moon Bay Review. Their permanent archive is searchable, and includes editorials and letters to the editor. http://hmbreview.com/
    A few months back they started using permanent URLs for their current articles.
    Their archive would be nearly perfect if you could browse it by issue (a TOC, anyway). After all, a newspaper isn’t just a sequence of unrelated articles, but a sequence of issues.

  2. Barry,
    In an earlier part of this entry, you castigate online newspapers for fearing that RSS may cause readers to bypass their index pages. I happen to agree (with what I believe is your position) that the benefits of offering RSS feeds outweigh what might be called their “opportunity costs.”
    However, it is definitely true that if your feed doesn’t somehow “stand out from the crowd”, what you gain from it in terms of a traffic driver may be limited.
    You also argue that newspaper sites would do well to do away with the separation of current articles and older ones moved to archives. I agree that, so far as I know, the revenues from archive retrievals are, as you say, pretty trivial.
    However, the usefulness of such an open archive would be marginal unless, as Jonathan Lundell commented, you also provide the capability to browse it by issue or topic.

  3. The way to stand out from the crowd is by posting stories people want to read. Standing out from the crowd andy other way would violate the spirit of RSS.
    One point I was making is that bloggers can provide a lot of that topical collection. I’m not certain that it’s realistic to expect a news organization to maintain topic guides.

  4. > The way to stand out from the crowd is by posting stories people want to
    > read. Standing out from the crowd andy other way would violate the spirit
    > of RSS.
    For regular news outlets, what people what to read about is what’s going on in the world around them. If they don’t provide that, I suspect they won’t think much of the outlet. If the outlet provides only that, however, it’s just “one of the crowd” of many other competing news sources.
    Most viewers already consider the collection of daily news stories to be pretty much a commodity. Given that RSS (or any other form of headline-based newsfeed) takes away the original news publisher’s capability to set an arguably unique context for the stories (which page, placement on the page, fonts, associated graphics, etc.), providing “garden-variety news” via a newsfeed would seem to, if anything, strengthen the commodity characteristic.
    Not sure what the “spirit of RSS” is, and how being a bit innovative would violate whatever it is. Maybe you’re reading something specific into the notion of “standing out from the crowd?”
    > One point I was making is that bloggers can provide a lot of that topical
    > collection. I’m not certain that it’s realistic to expect a news
    > organization to maintain topic guides.
    Why not? Do you disagree that providing a browse capability would significantly enhance the attractiveness of an archives collection? Maybe you’re suggesting that providing such a feature would involve too much overhead? Or is there some other issue?

  5. I may have misunderstood your comment about standing out from the crowd with your RSS feed, but it seems to me that the whole point of RSS is to give the reader control of how the feed appears, whether it’s on a web page or in a reader, and how it’s formatted. Outside of that, I’m not sure what one could do other than manipulating the words to make them more interesting, which is what editors do. I find writing for RSS to be stimulating because I’m much more focused on writing good headlines and leads than I would be otherwise.
    I don’t think that topical collections are all that important. I can imagine that there will be ongoing issues where a good collection of pieces with some perspective would be very helpful. But ultimately, I think that would generate a really small share of archival accesses. I don’t have any research to back it up, but experience tells me that people don’t read websites or search archives that way. At the same time, the amount of labor required to keep those collections up to date would be surprising large.
    On the other hand, if you provide the archives, bloggers will create a network of metadata that is superior to anything an editor could create because it is deeper and broader.

  6. “I may have misunderstood your comment about standing out from the crowd with your RSS feed, but it seems to me that the whole point of RSS is to give the reader control of how the feed appears, whether it’s on a web page or in a reader, and how it’s formatted. ”
    Terry==>From the RSS feed consumer, that’s correct. From the RSS feed provider, the point is to push headlines out to drive traffic in.
    “Outside of that, I’m not sure what one could do other than manipulating the words to make them more interesting, which is what editors do. I find writing for RSS to be stimulating because I’m much more focused on writing good headlines and leads than I would be otherwise.”
    Terry==>The problem is, for a pure news article, the event being reported is either interesting to a viewer or not. Good headlines for such articles are unambiguous and clear. But beyond that, IMHO there’s not a heck of a lot that editors can do to make news (as opposed to feature) headlines more appealing.
    “I don’t think that topical collections are all that important. I can imagine that there will be ongoing issues where a good collection of pieces with some perspective would be very helpful.”
    Terry==>If the collection was easy to navigate within, sufficiently focused, comprehensive in terms of timeframe covered, and included only relevant, significant articles, I believe it could provide a very attractive means of providing a viewer with a context, a way of putting some current event into a perspective of time and importance.
    “But ultimately, I think that would generate a really small share of archival accesses. I don’t have any research to back it up, but experience tells me that people don’t read websites or search archives that way. At the same time, the amount of labor required to keep those collections up to date would be surprising large.”
    Terry==>Ah; the trick is to automate it.
    “On the other hand, if you provide the archives, bloggers will create a network of metadata that is superior to anything an editor could create because it is deeper and broader.”
    Terry==>Hmm, not exactly sure what you mean here (though it does tweak my interest a bit more). Could you expand just a bit on this?

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