Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Would You (Did You) See This Story Online?

When Plunking Down $2.50 for The New York Times Can Make a Difference

The lead story (at least in print) for today's New York Times is a compelling yarn from Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery about how collection agencies use the courts to sue unwitting debtors, but can legally block those debtors from challenging them in court.
Instead, they must resort to arbitration, a tactic few pursue because it's a process that's too expensive or one they don't understand.
Since my dinosaur-esque tendencies compel me to hold the Times in my hand each morning, I read the piece with my coffee and coffee yogurt (totally spontaneous and unrehearsed). Mind you, I do check in frequently on the Times later in the day on the PC or assorted mobile devices. Which led me to wonder how the top article on A-1 was being played when I went to about noon ET.
Not very well, as it turns out.
I had to scroll down to the Business Day tab lower on the home page. The article--assuming it had been there once--was no longer one of the three visible headlines. Instead, I clicked on the section and found the piece under the DealBook moniker as part of a recurring series. Maybe the night before it had received more prominent play.
Why does this matter?
More people now have digital Times subscriptions than print. Given the trove of content that's being pumped out, it's easy for stories to get shuffled down the screen or hidden entirely. The Times also has a tendency to post stories that may not make it into the paper until a day or two later. That's even more so the case on Wednesday, when the cover story for the Sunday magazine will appear online (If you need a head start on this year's edition of "The Lives They Lived," have at it). It's a journalistic feast, but we may pay a price for all of that gorging.
In other words, there's a need for editors to align the priorities of digital and print more closely. If an article is the top item above the fold on A-1, then it should be prominent for longer on the home page. Think of readers on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii who are getting to later in the news cycle. The debt collection story is one worthy of their time, but they may not get to see it if they don't know to look for it in the first place.
Given that the reporters conducted hundreds of interviews for this series, more readers should be able to reap the fruits of their labors and the Times can justify the expense of backing this commendable project.

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