It’s been about a month since my last post, so I’ll do several over the next week to make up for it.
At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, we run three hyperlocal news websites: Mission Local, Oakland North and Richmond Confidential. Mission Local has a ton of traffic and content, but for my first project there are just too many content streams I would have to consider. Richmond Confidential has the smallest amount of traffic and content, since it is one of the newest sites. Oakland North seemed like a good middle ground to create/tweak my mobile site with.
Then, there was the roadblock.
For the geolocation portion of the mobile site, I really wanted to create a database of health inspection scores from local restaurants and also tag articles we had written about them. This fits because Oakland, particularly the north Oakland and Temescal areas, are becoming quite the foodie neighborhoods. If there was no article, then just the basic information about the restaurant, the distance from where you were and probably the Yelp rating would show up.
I strongly believe in creating usable features on news sites, in addition to having great content. Give people reasons to see your news organization as an authority, the place to go to find what information you want/need. It’ll give you an edge over slower-moving news sites. Besides, any reason to get people to come back to your site is a good one. (Before anyone makes cracks about fluffy kittens and porn, it’s obvious that I mean appropriate content).
Oakland North was convinced that I was trying to force it to write up content on restaurants. It also wanted to switch to bar reviews, which they do a few of. I feel like there are a lot of bar apps out there already, so we wouldn’t be adding anything to our users’ experience.
This new feature wouldn’t create work for the editors or writers. It would add functionality to the news site. This is information that we (journalists) have access to that our audience might find interesting and useful, especially on mobile devices.
The other feature I wanted to add was an event calendar. The idea is that you would be in Oakland and want something to do. The events would show up that were happening soon and you would be able to see where they were, how to get there and some basic information about the event. Oakland North, which currently publishes a weekend event calendar, said feeding this kind of event calendar, even if they just used the events they already put in their event section, would be too much work.
I can understand the hesitation from the Oakland North editors. We expect them to do a lot already, and I can see how the thought of doing ANYTHING more could be overwhelming. And I admire and respect how the priority of the news site is to be a teaching tool to the j-school students. I remember last year they fought against writing up a small post on “the adoptable animal of the week” because even though it was a traffic booster, it didn’t serve a purpose to the student reporters. At the same time, it’s not clear if the Ford Foundation grants for these hyperlocals will be renewed, and the j-school wouldn’t have hired Dave Cohen, aka DigiDave from Spot.us, if it wasn’t interested in these sites becoming at least somewhat sustainable.
Though I still plan to roll out a better, more readable mobile site for the hyperlocals, I’ve decided to go with Richmond Confidential. I am pretty happy with this change for several reasons. One of them being that Bob Calo, the head honcho of the news site, is willing to let me do anything. He is kind of awesome like that.
Richmond is a traditionally underserved and underrepresented community. There isn’t really a news service that covers Richmond, meaning that the few times the city does get covered, it’s not in a good way. Richmond Confidential is really the only news organization that covers the city. Though it’s true that Richmond has its share of problems, Richmond Confidential tries to cover the good that’s happening in the community as well. Take a look yourself.
Richmond, as you may not be surprised to hear, is NOT a foodie town. So my health inspection scores idea didn’t seem to fit with this hyperlocal. It’s important not to make cool toys for the sake of having cool toys; they have to be useful too. It took me a while to think about what would fit with Richmond Confidential’s mission (to show the positives going on in Richmond [not that it doesn’t also report the negatives]). After talking to the editors and reporters, we have decided to go with a “best of” location-based functionality. Reporters will be getting community input on the best things in Richmond: the best food, the best trails, the best parks, etc. They planned to write up articles on this anyway. Since these things are location based, instead of just writing an article or three that would get lost in the stream, we’re going to geo-tag things. When you’re in Richmond and you want something fun to do, you’ll go to this HTML 5 webapge, which will show you what activities and landmarks are close to you. You’ll be able to sort by category and send feedback to Richmond Confidential if you feel like they’ve missed the best thing about Richmond. We’re still integrating the event calendar, and I’ll throw some mock-ups of the content side of the news site redesigned for mobile.
Lastly, I’m hiring a UI designer/developer to make this responsive design. That way, if I have time, I can just code up some CSS for tablet sizes and have the site work not only on mobile, but tablet as well.
More to come soon, promise.