Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Archives have great potential for traffic, debate, manipulation

A news story from the 2005 archives in which a psychology professor called homosexuality a disease recently rocketed to the top of the most-read list of El Pais, one of Spain's leading newspapers.

The strange incident demonstrated several things: what you produce on the Internet never goes away; in social networks the readers, not the editors, choose what's interesting; ruthless political operatives can manipulate these popularity measures for their own use; and newspapers themselves should more actively control and promote archived stories.

The 2005 story was about how the rightist People's Party had brought an expert to the Senate to urge medical treatment for homosexuals. Some readers suspected that El Pais itself, which leans to the left, had somehow manipulated the most-read results to embarrass the party and influence imminent elections. 

The newspaper 's reader representative investigated the "strange resurrection of a news story" because readers' were challenging the daily's credibility. The original story had been viewed 2,500 times, but because of 124,000 recent recommendations in Facebook and others on Twitter, it had been viewed 312,000 times. 

A group of determined political activists had presented the 2005 headline in the social networks as current in 2011. Were netizens smart enough to detect the manipulation?

Take a positive approach

The incident shows just how powerful readers have become as a source of readership, engagement and interest for online media. How could editors harness the information in their archives in a positive way?
Here are some ways:

  • Use the top stories of the day themselves as a source of ideas for promoting archived stories.
  • For obituaries of newsmakers, provide links to archived profiles and news. 
  • On the eve of matches between historic sport rivals, include links to some memorable contests.
  • Create a graphic of quotes over time by a longtime political figure, with links to the articles from which they are taken.
  • For timelines of ongoing stories, link to the relevant headline stories of the day.
  • For profiles of business people, promote archived articles where the profile subject described long-term goals and strategies. How effective were they?
Your ideas: What are some other possibilities for promoting archives' use? Which newspapers do you know of that are already doing this? Share your comments. 

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