Rethinking how we organize news, especially local

Rethinking how we organize news, especially local
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar / Unsplash

In all sorts of ways, Forth is unique when it comes to news platforms.  Our aim is to be your single destination to be updated about any topic you may be interested in – that brings many challenges, not the least of which is how we organize the reporting, especially when it comes to local news.  How we categorize stories has a direct effect on how we get relevant reporting to you.

Every time you load your feed, we look at what you follow, and where you are located.  We can then find news that fits those categories in that area.  But that is only half the equation – we need to also make it easily taggable from the journalist’s perspective.

A “coverage area”, simply, refers to the area that a news outlet covers.  A local newspaper tends to be specific about  which municipalities – or even neighborhoods – they cover.   TV stations usually abide by their Designated Market Area (DMA) – which divides the United States up into 210 distinct areas. Some journalists, including those working for chains of outlets, may think of their audience as being in a particular state.  Still, many outlets have a national audience, and there is even the rare outlet that finds its audience across the globe.

Every day, journalists think about these coverage areas when reporting, deciding if the story, or even individual elements of the story, would be of interest to their audience.  And for the most part, that coverage area is the same for every story filed at that outlet.

Audiences, too, know what to expect.  When a TV station in Boston talks politics, viewers know it probably won’t be about a race in Idaho.  The campaign in Boise would probably be covered under a "Politics" banner by a local outlet, but Boston and Boise outlets see that topic through different lenses.

Those differences cause some challenges for Forth, since our goal is to cover everything – down the block or around the world.  Journalists on Forth cover topics that might appeal to users all over the US – like Space News or US Politics.  We also have journalists working at outlets that cover news in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Saint Cloud, Minn.  And we have outlets that define their local coverage areas in ways that can be subsets of each other's, or overlap.

How do we define and maintain coverage areas that can be so different?

Thinking in layers

I live in Santa Monica, Calif., a small city of about eight square miles straddling the Pacific Coast, on the westside of Los Angeles.  What would I deem "local news" for this area?  News specific to Santa Monica City Hall, or to a specific event that occurred within the municipal boundaries?  What about an issue affecting the Los Angeles area?  Might I be interested in news from the California Statehouse in Sacramento – nearly 400 miles away?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Yes to all of that.

Our solution involves thinking of all of those different areas – Santa Monica proper, California, Los Angeles metro area – and placing them all on a map.  When a user selects a single municipality (in this case, Santa Monica, Calif.) we pull in news from all of those other areas that overlap.

This helps journalists on Forth, too.  A reporter in Sacramento can now select "California" as an area, and reach both a user in Oakland, Calif., and me, at the same time.  

What’s changing?

For most users, the change should be seamless.  You may notice more local reporting in your feed, and in the verticals’ pages.  You can follow very specific, localized categories, like “Business in Austin.”  And we will be leveraging these categories to bring new innovations in the near future, so keep watching that news feed!

For journalists, you will be prompted to review your coverage area and beats.  As always, please reach out if you have any questions.

Forth is a news feed for trusted journalism.  Start following individual journalists or topics with a free account.  Journalists, join us, and feature your reporting on a platform built for news.