The Inbox: Why run old stories as 'Related' links?
Published: April 24, 2012
One of the beauties of a newspaper website is that it’s easy to provide readers with more background and context by linking from a current story back to previous stories, photos, maps or other supplemental material. It’s a great advantage over newsprint and ink, where papers run out of space for that kind of helpful content.
Sometimes, though, an old headline or story is mistaken as new. That happened last week with a reader who lives at Camp Zama, Japan. From a timely Stripes story looking at how Japan’s continuing post-tsunami nuclear-power shutdown might affect electricity use on U.S. bases this summer, she followed a link to a story about brownouts and power restrictions from last summer. Trouble was, she took it not as background but as the official word on what to expect this summer.
She emailed Terri Barnes, who writes the excellent Spouse Calls blog on the Stripes website, and Terri kindly forwarded the comment to me and to Stripes’ Web editor Joe Gromelski.
By that time, a friend of the Camp Zama reader had already pointed out the May 6, 2011 date on the related story. But she still wondered: Why publish (as she put it) reruns?
I suppose the answer is that the benefits of providing all that additional background and context so outweigh the occasional misunderstanding. And clicking a link is so simple that it’s a fundamental part of reading online.
That’s why those lists of links are fixtures of news websites, well worth the time it takes for editors, reporters or producers to assemble and post them.
Joe tells me that Stripes gets very few comments from readers misled by the archival stories, so perhaps there are not many misunderstandings. The date stamp at the top of the stories is pretty prominent.
Even so, design-wise, it would be good to highlight the archive material in some additional way to differentiate it from current sidebar stories in the “Related” links. Something to make the date stand out more. Or a design element, like a “Stripes Archive” logo. It’s a fair question, though, whether the problem is so uncommon that it doesn’t really need a solution.
So, for now, keep your eye on that date stamp.
Once she saw the date on the 2011 story, the Camp Zama reader suggested that Stripes do a base-by-base update on what power-limiting policies will be in place this summer. Good idea. In fact, it’s a very good bet such a story is already on the list for when those policies come into focus, just as it was a natural news instinct last Thursday to quickly follow up on the Asahi Shimbun story about Japan’s strained power supply. As Stripes’ Seth Robson reported in that follow-up, military officials said some conservation measures are expected this summer but they are waiting for more information from the Japanese power industry.