ABC News Needs You

16 10 2011

In previous weeks I have already looked at how ABC News interact with their audience by the use of comments sections on stories, inviting photos from users and social interaction via Facebook and Twitter.  So how else do they engage with their audience?

Social Tools
Firstly, the methods I have already mentioned above consume the majority of avenues where ABC News seek audience interaction.  However I did find a slightly more unusual way they engage with the audience which isn’t connected to gathering information or opinion about a story.
How to Help: Organizations Working to Improve Life at Pine Ridge” follows on from a year spent by Diane Sawyer reporting from the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of America’s poorest counties.  The link to the page is located about halfway down the home page and so receives quite prominent attention by ABC.  The page consists of links to other sites where you can donate money to children from the reservation, help the Wounded Knee School District and also find more information (and make more donations) to other aspects of the American Indian community.  There are also addresses of schools where people can write to the children themselves.
This doesn’t appeal to me personally as a way to interact with the audience but I’m sure there are plenty of people who are interested and grateful for the chance to contribute through ABC.  In saying that it is refreshing to see a news site taking a different approach to audience interaction away from the standard comments and social media approach.
The majority of other opportunities for audience involvement on ABC News didn’t actually come from the news site itself but from areas of the site that focussed on some of ABC’s other related programmes like “What Would You Do?” or “Good Morning America”.  Overall the saturation of comments, photos and social media forms the main way ABC embraces user-generated content.

Podcasts Not Quite As Easy As ABC

9 10 2011

Logging onto ABC News this week it appears they have given their website a mini-makeover.  It does look a bit more polished and visually attractive with regards to design but unfortunately trying to find things on the website remains quite tricky given the same information overload that plagued the previous version.

This particularly hampered my attempts to find evidence of storytelling with sound, audio slideshows or podcasts.  In fact I found ABC News to be mainly dominated by video content with a few slideshows showcasing the more unusual photos taken from around the world in the past week.  To be honest, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if they have the video to accompany a story then I think they should always look to use it, particularly on a news website.  Similarly I prefer slideshows to be silent as photos should be good enough to tell a story without the need for audio.  However I was most surprised in ABC News by their use of podcasts.

For a start, I had to use Google to even find ABC News podcasts because I couldn’t find a link on the news website.  It turns out the podcasts are located in the ABC News Radio website.  I chose to listen to the October 7th edition of the World News with Diane Sawyer podcast.  It became clear from listening to the podcast for just a few minutes that ABC’s idea of a podcast wasn’t quite the same as my own.  I was expecting it to be a supplement of the television version with either extra information that didn’t make it into the original newscast or a more condensed version tailored to an audio environment.

Instead it was just the same as the television programme with the only difference being the stories were placed in a slightly different order.  In effect, this meant the podcast was twenty minutes of TV news reports with just the audio.  This made the whole thing so amateurish as, because the reports were made for television, the emphasis was on the production of the pictures rather than the audio and also at times the reporters referred to bits that you needed to see.  By also changing the order of the stories it led to some extremely questionable edits that appeared to be rushed and led to the audio levels jumping around which is disconcerting for the listener.

World News with Diane Sawyer wasn’t the only podcast offered by ABC News, but considering this just happened to be the one I chose to listen to, and the subsequent pointlessness of listening to a repeat of a news show with no visuals that I could just go on to the ABC News website and watch the repeat with the visuals (that it was made for), why would I even bother exploring the other podcasts if that is the value ABC place on them??

The Myth of the Audio Slideshow

5 10 2011

To be honest I do not like audio slideshows.  In my opinion, a good slideshow of photos should be able to tell the story without audio and similarly a good audio story should be able to immerse the listener into the scenario without the need for pictures (eg – This American Life).

So when I was looking for a good audio slideshow I was looking for one that would work as a photo only slideshow and as an audio only piece.  For this reason I chose the following from the website of The Guardian newspaper.

Tug of War Audio Slideshow

A Good Photo Speaks A Thousand Words

25 09 2011

In Sudipta Shaw’s “The Secrets of Storytelling Photography” it says a photo should contain at least one of mood, narration, emotion, idea and message.  It can be argued that any photo contains at least one of these elements, however that doesn’t always mean those photos are used well.  In the case of ABC News I think their use of photos to complement storytelling is pretty good.

A key photo of a news website is the one accompanying the top news story on the home page.  At the time of writing the top story is of the two U.S. hikers released from Iran arriving back to America.  This photo carries almost all of the elements Shaw described.  Just by looking at the photo you can see that the men look weak, shattered and scruffy but despite that you can also tell they are happy and relieved.  This one image can make you think about the awful time they spent in an Iranian jail wondering about if they were ever going to get out.  On the other hand it can make you think about how happy they are to get home and the excitement of the pending family reunion.  A good photo can make you look at both what happened before and what may happen next.

I also particularly liked the above photo which featured in the story about the Nevada casino shooting which left a Hells Angel leader dead.  As well as having all the key elements like emotion, narrative, etc, there is something quite humorous about the photo in the way supposedly big, tough, fearsome Hells Angels have been reduced to almost like cowering schoolkids by the police.

Another good photo is the above from the plane crash in Nepal that killed 19 people including two Americans.  It highlights so much about the scale of the incident, the location (ie – remoteness) of where it happened, the seemingly helplessness of the people just standing around with hands on their hips.

The one thing about ABC’s photo usage I didn’t like was where they promoted their photo slideshows for the more light-hearted/celebrity stories.  The above example of “Uma Thurman Wears Bizarre Outfit” is part of a slideshow with other “stars” who have worn strange things.  By all means put these in the Entertainment section or Other News section.  ABC though have them in the same list of news as the Nepal Air Crash and the other latest headlines of the day.  What’s worse is alongside the headline “Uma Thurman Wears Bizarre Outfit” it specifies it is a photo section by having “PHOTO” in red letters which immediately grabs your attention over the “proper” news.  Which is a shame if the good storytelling news photos are overshadowed by opportunistic paparazzi pictures with no real significance.

Knoxville Motorists Finally Receive Gas Price Respite

23 09 2011

B-link and You’ll Miss It

18 09 2011

It is easy for online news sites to get carried away with providing too much information on a news story and this is particularly true when considering the use of links in a story.  Sites like CNN and BBC News tend to avoid using links within an article but ABC News do regularly have links within a story, but manage to do so sparingly and with consistency.

Sunday’s story about the investigation into the Nevada Air Race Crash (above) features two links within the story – both which divert you elsewhere on the ABC News website.  The first link is to an almost blog-like piece about whether air races are safe at all and the second link brings up the updated story about what actually happened (ie – the plane crash itself).  Both highly relevant links and both which give good background and good insight into the current story about the investigation.

When ABC News use links they tend to appear very early in the article which I think is good, as if you are reading a story you need more background information on, then it is better this is provided early on so you can seek out what you don’t already know before you get too far into the story.  This provides greater understanding as you proceed further into the current story.  Links that appear too far into a story can be frustrating as it can disrupt the flow of the article especially if it contains information that may have been useful earlier on.  Although an exception to this may be if there is a link to statistics or other numerical facts which may support a certain part of an article.

Many of the links ABC News use direct the user to elsewhere on that website.  They also make good use of links to websites of their own locally operated stations.  A good example of this is the story about the discovery of remains in the search for missing student Michelle Le.  The ABC version of the story is written for a national audience but there is a link in the story to KGO-TV – a San Francisco based station – where the story originates.  So if the reader wants more of a local perspective then they can find it by heading to related stories on the KGO website.  On this story ABC also make use of an external link to the San Francisco Chronicle, but this is probably because they attribute the story to the newspaper.

ABC News also backs up Mark Briggs’ idea of “Word of Link” with the prominence of the recommend and share icons located alongside the opening paragraph of their news stories.  At the same time as reading the lead to a story on ABC News you can be sharing it through Facebook, Twitter or email with one simple click.

The Web Writing’s on the Wall

11 09 2011

With the focus this week being on web writing and editing I was planning to see how ABC News approached this aspect of their website.  Well I’ve been having a look through today’s news and so far I haven’t actually got as far as the lead of any of their stories!!  There are two main reasons for this.

The above screenshot sums up the issues.  Firstly, the headline – “One Electrical Worker Blamed for Leaving Millions Without Power in California, Arizona and Mexico” – is so long it pretty much sums up as much about the story as I want to know.  If I maybe was thinking, “How did this happen?”, I would be tempted to scroll down and read the story.  But hang on, ABC have been so kind and placed a video from their news bulletin of this exact story right underneath the headline so Mr Terry Moran can stare out from my screen and tell me how it happened.  No need to read the story.  So 17 paragraphs of a story summed up before I even got as far as the first word of the lead.

This approach is used for the majority of US stories and for the major international stories that ABC have covered themselves (ie – not lifted directly from Associated Press).  The disappointing thing is on the ABC News page, above, the headline teasers are quite good and give enough information to catch your eye but not enough so you don’t want to explore further.  Since the headline-video-story structure is used for the main stories it is possible that someone just going for a quick look at the news may not even need to read a story to be informed.  Since I have a bit more time I thought I should look for stories on the website that do rely heavily on the actual writing.

There are clearly two different styles of writing found on  The stories written by members of the Associated Press follow a more traditional news style of the inverted pyramid.  The stories written by ABC News writers tend to either be really long (eg – Obama Jobs Plan Address) or humorous (eg – Woman Stalker Makes 65,000 Calls).  The reason for ABC using this approach with their writers may be caused by the use of video reports directly underneath the headline of their own stories.  This does lead to inconsistency as when you are moving between various stories it sometimes feels as though you are moving between different websites.

Solely looking at the stories by ABC writers, at times they work but at other times it doesn’t.  The approach works well with stories about 9/11 since so much has been written about it that new, fresh angles are definitely required.  However in some instances it backfires.

  “It seems everyone in Libya has a gun these days.”

An opening line about looters taking weapons in Libya.  See if you think this story is appropriate for that almost sarcastic opening.