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04:19

GothamSchools targets loyal and casual users with different content

gothamschools

This post sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

GothamSchools, like most news Web sites, serves multiple audiences: one part loyal readers and insiders and another part casual readers. But does the same kinds of content appeal to both of these audiences?

Regular readers are much more knowledgeable about a beat and some of these readers are even experts. The kind of content that appeals to these people is much different than drive-by readers, who may be new to an issue. These differing audiences with differing expectations and knowledge levels have led editors at GothamSchools to develop different kinds of content to appeal to each audience.

GothamSchools attracts a lot of insiders in the New York City education scene: teachers, principals, parents, education policy makers, other education journalists, etc. This audience is very knowledgeable and they’re coming to GothamSchools for the latest information on New York City schools. These people don’t need to wait until the dust has settled around a story; they’re fine with learning tidbits along the way.

For this segment of the audience, GothamSchools has short blog posts under the heading “Margin notes” that break news, report a story as its unfolding, excerpt another blog, give thoughts from someone in the education community, link to content around the Web and more. These blog posts can either help tell more about a previously reported story or they can help tell tidbits as a story begins to take shape. This is content, however, that most likely won’t appeal to casual readers and may even confuse some.

These posts don’t have to identify everyone because insiders know who the players are. These posts may also crowdsource and solicit user suggestion. GothamSchools’ editors view these blog posts as a place to get users involved with reporting.

“When we’re tapping into our insider pool, that’s a blog post,” writer and editor Elizabeth Green said.

On the other hand, most casual readers would be lost if they just stumbled upon a short blog post that didn’t contain any background information or identify all key players. For this audience, GothamSchools offers longer content that is written much like a newspaper story. These pieces are thoroughly reported, involve talking to lots of sources and never contain information from one side of an issue. These stories are self contained and don’t rely on other GothamSchools content to tell a larger story.

These stories serve regular readers fine, but they’re more aimed at casual and drive-by readers. A parent who may have received a link in her e-mail would benefit much more from a thorough, self-contained piece than from a short blog post that excerpts another blog or just has a tidbit about an issue.

“We’re certainly a niche site, but we have a lot of general readers,” Green said about GothamSchools ability to appeal to casual users.

This may seem like arguing semantics. How do readers even know which content is aimed at them? GothamSchools recently rolled out a new visual design that indents blog posts from the rest of the page and puts a double carrot, >>, next to these posts. By having a visual way of differentiating between stories and blog posts, GothamSchools is making it easier for readers to see which kind of content they are viewing.

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Green believes that it is important to make it clear to readers when GothamSchools is reporting a story versus when it has a completed reporting story. For instance, editors may have information from one side of a story (a principal on budget cuts, for instance) and want to get that out there, but editors don’t want readers thinking that’s the whole story.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put a full story out there with information only from one side,” Green said.

In fact, sources became confused by the different kinds of content that GothamSchools offered and some even accused GothamSchools of being “just some rag,” before they realized that GothamSchools offered in-depth content to go along with short blog posts. Editors and writers were having issues with these sources who didn’t understand the difference between a blog post and a fully-reported story. Editors are hoping this new visual design will help sources realize what’s a fully-reported story and what’s a blog post that may contain only one viewpoint.

Green and other editors debated the merits of this change. There were concerns that users would not get the distinction, but so far users and sources have been receptive to the changes. Editors wrote a blog post detailing this change and others that helped users understand what was happening.

The blog posts and stories work hand in hand though. As a story is unfolding, writers and editors will file blog posts with new tidbits, links to what else has been reported, thoughts from insiders and more. After a story settles and has been thoroughly reported, editors will go back and write a complete story that will sum things up for regular readers, while also telling a complete story for casual readers.

“It’s a balance of giving a good first draft of history and with being rigorous,” Green said.

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