The Catalina Fire: Blogging vs. Traditional News at the LA Times

As a Southern California fellow, I’m taking particular interest in the wildfire currently raging on Catalina Island. But beyond the normal fascination with a natural disaster, I found that there’s an interesting comparison between “blog coverage” of the story and “real news coverage” to be had on the LA Times web site.
The LAT has the same reporter, Louis Sahagun, posting updates to their breaking news blog and writing the “real” news stories on the fire.
The “real” news story is clearly out-of-date; it appears to have been fiinalized late last night. The blog, on the other hand, is highly current, packed with detail on what’s happening, and to me seems a nearly perfect way to cover a breaking story like this. Particularly given that they corrected the one flaw of the blog format, the lack of an overall summary for those not following the story closely, by putting a nice summary box at the top with the key facts as of now.
Why is the blog coverage so much more appealing for a story like this? The problem is with the traditional form of a news article — the “pyramid” structure that dictates putting the most important information at the top and then working your way onward to the less relevant details. This format makes perfect sense when you are publishing one story on a given event or topic per day (i.e., in a daily newspaper). But the traditional news form fails miserably when you are trying to convey updated information on an ongoing story repeatedly throughout the day, because it forces the readers who are paying attention to wade through the same basic facts that they already knew to find the small nuggets of updated information hidden in the story.
The blog form, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite: rather than organize the content strictly by importance (the pyramid structure), it organizes it by time: the most recent updates at the top with previous postings scrolling downwards. The blog form guarantees that when a reader who is following a story reads the blog coverage, they are immediately presented with new information that they haven’t seen before.
The ideal strategy for a breaking story like this, I think, is to do more or less what the LAT is doing: provide a “traditional” news piece that is updated a couple of times a day that provides the casual reader a full summary of the event and assumes no prior knowledge, while at the same time also posting a frequently-updated blog that allows the more focused reader to mainline the latest new information without wading through the same stuff they already knew.
It will be interesting to see whether the LAT uses this approach more frequently in the future, and if other mainstream media outlets follow the example…

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