Digital Journalism Exercises
Copyright © 1998 Elizabeth Osder


Producing Web Sites




A depth of well-developed content working in concert with technology makes the best web sites.Just like the best story packages, the best sites are tightly edited collaborative efforts of skilled journalists and technologists (reporters, photographers, artists, editors and programmers).The more compelling the topic and the applications that support it, the more successful the site will be.


Building a successful Web site takes planning and commitment. Whatever the resource, as the producer of a web site you should follow the same content development steps and see the creation of a site in clearly defined stages.


EXERCISE:You are now a Web producer.... create your fantasy site...


Buildings on our study of on-line journalism conceive of a story or site youíd like to build.Follow the steps below and outline the elements of the site and what you might do at each phase.Use your imagination and work together if you can. Our goal is to have you begin to understand the collaborative nature of producing web sites and the essential stages of production and creation.


** You donít have to build this site.Just take a few moments to envision a site and the following stages. This is tricky; itís about developing process. Try to answer a few of the questions in each phase and hand in your notes (email and on paper).



1. Brainstorm:Clever concepts get the best mileage on the Internet.Good sites need a high concept or strong theme.Bring together as many people (designers, researchers, reporters, editors, programmers, etc.) for an initial creative meeting to develop a theme to direct the entire site.For our Issues Ď96 package we wanted to create a space for voters to focus on the key issues of the election and platform.Our desire was to provide context for thoughtful conversation.What is your web concept?


Questions:What is your topic?Why are you exploring it?What will you learn from the topic?how will you use interactive media to enhance it?


Define the Site Topic:≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠________________________________________


2. Research:†† Once you establish a concept, you have to be diligent and gather all the information in support of your idea.Itís essential to know what else is on the Internet and identify all your potential content sources.You canít rely on links.Study your archives, read, and research and get ready to tell a story.A site is nothing without a depth of content.For Issues Ď96 we explored all the politics sites on the web and identified partner content that would help us better tell the story (National Public Radio, Vote Smart and Public Agenda).


Questions:Where else has this topic been explored?Who set the bar?What can you steal from other media sources?Where will you look for models and what do you have to invent yourself?


3. Editorial Direction: Once youíve thoroughly researched a topic, you have to create sections and topic areas and make them relate in intelligent ways.You can now assign writer, artist and programmers the necessary tasks that craft an interactive story.


Question:What will the sections and content of the site be?Who will you need to produce this piece?Can you write, edit, design and program it yourself?Do you need to hire or bring in people with other skills?What are those skills?Where will you find the talent?How much might it cost?


4. Story Boarding and Site Map:

After you gather and define your content, you should storyboard all the site pages.This is where you think through links and functions like searching, forums, and defining the content, sections and navigation for each page.Never underestimate the value of clear concise navigation.Navigation is an integral part of a site narrative.The focal point of what has been called non-linear storytelling.My goal is to encourage the user to navigate and to interact:users should never be more than two clicks from another section or the ability to search, sound off in a forums, or to the home page.


Question:Can you draw a basic site map?What are the areas of content vs. the areas of function?What are the central elements of navigation and the major content buckets?Donít worry about being fancy; you can draw it by hand.Just begin to try to visualize sitesí architecture and logic.


5. Copy and Design:

Once the site map and the contents are defined, a writer can bring consistent voice and weight to the sections of the site and the designer can create a graphical look and feel for the site.††† Sites are complex and have numerous layers and it is best to clearly define the site map before venturing into this phase.


Question:Who will do this work?What will you give them?How will you explain their task?What will you pay them?How will you manage them?


6. HTML Markup and Programming:After final copy and design have been approved a production person can build outstanding sections and bring all the elements of the site together.Once the final HTML is complete a programmer can make simple applications such as forms, forums, search, etc. work.†† For technology intensive sites get your programmers involved early, listen and work with them to make your site the best and most functional.


Question:How much time will the site take to build or code?What tools can you use to automate site development?Did you build a template?


7. Testing:

Once the site is complete you should test all the links and programs on numerous platforms.Remember not everyone has high-speed access to the Internet.Design with the lowest common denominator user in mind.Make sites smart and remember the basics:Make every page worth the wait; Always put time estimates and files sizes with large downloads; Create fast and slow paths for graphically intense sites.


Question:What are your criteria for the site working well?How fast does it load?Does it work in different browsers?




Question:How will you publicize your site?How will it link to the rest of your site?Your archive, etc.