Many newspapers have created space on their homepages to highlight news that is breaking or new. Often these columns or sections are given a headline of “Breaking News,” “News Updates” or “Latest Headline.” Readers, I believe, expect to find just that — current news of some significance, be that crime, political or weather-related stories, etc. If that’s what they expect, what are we actually giving them?
When I looked around at newspaper sites this morning, I found the following items:
State of the Union Address Tonight (Breaking News)
Alpaca farms on the rise in NJ (News Updates)
February Family Calendar (Latest Headlines)
Mostly Sunny and breezy (Breaking News)
Elizabeth Arden teams with Italian designer (Breaking News)
Now to me, these don’t seem like breaking news or even a latest headline or news update. To be fair there were other items that legitimately did fit in those categories, but my concern is that by including these types of stories we are essentially crying wolf — telling readers to look here for important, current news and then failing to follow through. This treatment, I would argue, ultimately impacts our credibility.
I recognize that sometimes news isn’t “breaking” or that possibly there is nothing that has been “updated.” So don’t call a story something that it’s not and don’t try to make your site appear to be producing something it is not. Highlight you real strengths, readers, are not stupid or so easily fooled. Keeping claiming that you’re providing something that you’re not and readers will look elsewhere.
A simple solution is changing your header and leaving, for example, breaking news for specific stories. The more difficult approach, but one that I think is worth considering is deciding what are your sites true strengths and leveraging those. Maybe you’re not a breaking news machine, but rather the undisputed master of local high school sports. If that is the case, then that is what you should be highlighting on your homepage.
This is clearly a site-specific issue and as such, there’s no right answer. But trying to be something you’re not, is clearly the wrong one.