An almost new way of organizing news

December 8, 2009 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

The way a news organization arranges its content — news, business, sports, editorial, etc. — has been a standardized and unquestioned mantra of journalism for many decades.

The front page, or in the digital age the “home page,” had a mix of stories and subjects, but each section such as sports had stories that could specifically classified as belonging to that section.

But is this how the readers really want their news?

What if there’s a topic you’re especially interested in and you want everything a news organization has on that topic in one place? And, if it’s breaking news, you want those stories updated the moment new information comes in. And you don’t want to wade through a lot of other stuff.

That kind of organization — one by news topic rather than section heading — may be on the way. GoogleLabs has teamed up with the Washington Post and New York Times to experiment with something they call Living Story Pages. These pages take a topic and group everything the news organization has about that topic together.

You can see the results of the experiment at this GoogleLabs page.

The Post has three pages, one each on health-care reform, D.C. schools and the Washington Redskins. The Times has five: Afghanistan, executive compensation, global warming, swine flu and health care. These are topics the news organizations are paying a lot of attention to and to which they are continually generating new information.

This is a departure from the standardized news site organization, but it isn’t totally new. Newspapers did this years ago when they would group all of their stories about a big news event together on a page or in a special section.

The news here, however, isn’t the idea so much as that fact that the news organizations are working with Google — not going to war with the search engine behemoth as Rupert Murdoch apparently is determined to do.

And there is yet another departure from the traditional thinking: the Living Story Page mixes news and opinion together. That’s a bigger break from the past than most people realize.

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