Foraging for News

Friday, February 26, 2016 - 17:00
Mon, 02/22/2016 to Mon, 02/29/2016

Most modern news websites have a choice about how to draw in consumers. One option is to focus on one-off readers who find the website through search engines and social media links, but rarely return to the website. Another option is to focus on building a strong following of dedicated readers who specifically come back to the site over and over again. In practice, most news websites practice both of these options to some extent.

For this week's essay, choose a news website. For that website, use the ideas from the theory of Information Foraging to analyze the website. To what extent does that website provide information scent? (Consider the scent found on other websites, like Google or Facebook, that leads people to the news. Also consider the scent inside the website, to other parts of the site.) Does the site support a diet of easy-to-catch information snacks or nutritious-meals?

To analyze the design, don't focus on any specific story or webpage. Instead, look at the patterns across the website. Is the website designed to be entered via Google/Facebook links? Or do they expect people to come through the front page? Are the headlines and titles and URLs short and sweet or long and descriptive? Is the interface cluttered?

Decide what you think the goal for this website is. Is the site focusing on quick, easy-to-read news snacks? Or is the site focusing on providing long, nutritious information meals? Is the site focused on drawing in quick users via Google/Facebook? Or does the site encourage grazing and consuming multiple news stories during each visit?

Finally, evaluate whether you think this website is doing a good job at its intended goal. DON'T evaluate whether you think that goal itself is good; rather, take the site's goal at face value and decide whether they are achieving that goal.

Your essay must be entered into the system by next Friday (2/26) at 5pm. Clearly indicate which topic you have chosen in your essay. It should be in the neighborhood of 300-500 words, and include a relevant image at the top of the article.

Over the weekend or on Monday, be sure to log into the class system. Try to read all of the stories from your fellow students, and (optionally) leave comments to the author about the essay. You will be assigned as a "Discussant" for one of the essays. Read that essay carefully; you will be asked to present that essay on Monday to the rest of the class. You will also "discuss" it by describing whether you agree with the argument in the essay or not, and why you think this example is interesting to think about (or not). Try to include both praise and criticism in your discussion.

Karen Hopper

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