Posted by: structureofnews | April 8, 2017

Navigating The News

HuffPoHow do you find the news? Or, more to the point, how do you navigate the news?

It’s one thing to be alerted to breaking news or interesting stories – there are recommendations from friends via social media, news alerts on your phone, and other systems that let you know when something interesting is happening.  But what if you want to explore the news, tracking down threads from one story to the next, or pieces that contradict the one you just read, or simply content that’s related?

There are recommendation engines, of course, and some of them even work reasonably well.  But as I noted in a piece way back in 2011, most of them come to you in the form of lists.  Which are great as a means of sorting information, but certainly aren’t the only way to help you understand how stories might be related or how to explore particular trains of thought.

So a new navigation page from the Huffington Post – the Flipside – is an interesting experiment in seeing how people will take to a non-list form of exploring the news.   It’s built around the idea that you can navigate stories by topic and news organization, laid out on a matrix that sites them based on how liberal or conservative they are, and how trustworthy or untrustworthy they are.

As the HuffPo notes in a blog post introducing the idea,

The idea is simple: Use this tool to explore the diversity of stories trending on Twitter at any given time on a handful of topics. We’ve chosen to follow links from 14 publications, some mainstream, some from the edges of the political spectrum.

To be sure, while it’s a smart, innovative design, there aren’t a lot of surprises built into the current implementation of the page: Most of the mainstream news organizations it carries are clustered in the trusthworthy/liberal end of the scale, with Breitbart occupying the untrustworthy/conservative world by its lonesome.  The value is in the headlines that pop up on the side when you click on a news organization, in the form of a – yes – list.  And to be fair, the point was really to make readers aware of the spread of stories from a range of media on some key topics, and in that regard it works well.

But there are clearly many other uses for such a layout, including organizing stories by, say, national/local interest, or over time (which could help drive readership of an organization’s archives), and so on.  Or integrating both, as I mentioned in that 2011 post:

In some ways this is simply a variant on one visual representation we’re already very familiar with – the timeline. But we could tweak that as well, for example, to have stories about national issues higher on the chart and ones about local issues lower on the chart.

How well will it work?  That’s an open question.  When the New York Times laid out comments about the death of Osama bin Laden in a great, innovative matrix form in 2011, not everyone understood how to use it or read it.  But maybe audiences have changed since then, and we can open up a new front in the way we navigate and find news.

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