Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Expansion of Topics Pages

I think something great that has come out of several news organizations is the idea of a topics page for their online editions. A topics page typically contains a brief background of more general topics, such as The Debt Crisis, The Board of Education, the War on Iraq, and archives of stories, articles and links related to that topic. I think this is an amazing reference tool for current readers and an introduction to new, young readers who might not be familiar with certain topics, such as the Texas Ethics Commission or the history of abortion.

I first was introduced to Topics pages last year when I stumbled on the Texas Tribune's site when it first started. As its progressed, the Tribune has amassed an impressive list of topics related to state agencies, political races, current issues, and so much more. Even better, it has a list of editor's picks that link to hot topics.

The New York Times's topic page has a "most popular" feature which I think is great because it's based on other users. The Times's page is phenomenal because its archives date back to the 1981, and covers over 14,000 topics! And for each of the topics, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for updates. This treasure trove of information is a researcher's dream.

CNN and USA Today also boast their own topics pages, but none as comprehensive as the NY Times or as visually appealing as the Tribune's. CNN's is more of hot topics page for current events, while USA Today is a smaller scale version of the Times'.

I think this is the most wonderful idea introduced to online journalism. For stories that span months or years (like the War in Iraq or the Stimulus Package), it's incredibly difficult to fully understand the complexity of some issues when you begin paying attention halfway. Related stories and linking have definitely helped solve that problem, but a topics page is much more comprehensive. I love that there is a wealth of reliable, updated information available on just about anything. It is a glorified and improved Wikipedia-- and best of all, it's all free! I'm crossing my fingers that more local news sites will begin to do it also.

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