Friday, October 1, 2010

Getting to the source documents

It started out as the easiest "web extra."  That's what our bosses used to call it in the ol' days of the 1990s. What can you put on the news web site that increased the value of the print story?

Links and source documents, of course. Links to relevant material and .pdfs of research documents to show people we just weren't making all this up. The links caught on. People made careers of compiling links.

The docs?  Not so much. Just last year, our web team was saying no one clicked on the .pdfs. And who could blame them?  They're a good way to cut down on the paper on your desk (see previous post), but kind of clunky to share.

That changed recently, when I started using Scribd. It's among the growing document sharing sites popping up. There's Docstoc and DocShare and the old standby, Google Docs. They're communities based around documents, and some like Scribd allow you to embed your documents in the story, as you would a video.

When I signed up for Scribd, it allowed me to connect to my Facebook page. My Facebook friends who were already on Scribd immediately found me, and I ended up with a dozen or so followers before I'd uploaded anything to read.

Frankly, following me on only Scribd may be a bit of a disappointment, unless you're a legal geek.  What I'm posting now are legal documents from stories I'm covering on the courts beat.

But something happened when we started embedding those documents on the page with stories -- people started reading them. I've only been using this for about a month, so traffic isn't great, but it compares to some of our video views.

This is important, because it allows people to connect with our sources. The reporting process becomes more accessible, and that's crucial in a time where public confidence in the news media is at an all-time low.

My next step is contacting, Document Cloud, made especially for journalists. It boasts extra reporting tools, allowing you to make annotations, lists and time lines from dates in the documents. I'm still waiting for approval. Because it's restricted to journalists and researchers, they say they need a note from my editor that I'm really who I say I am.

Kind of like being back at school, and the teacher aksing for a note for my mom.

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