Bigger role for authors in articles, search

Which is the more important aspect of a story — the article headline or the byline?

The answer would have been a easy a few years ago: the headline, of course. It’s the link people click on and the words they search for. But as social media becomes more integrated with content, the author is becoming a more important part of a web page.

Forbes.com announced last week a re-designed article page that displays an author’s bio, social media presence and past posts much more prominently. It also introduced a so-called Comment Strip below the headline that “more deeply integrates the content creator’s community on the page” by showing thumbnails of commenters’ avatars.

Take a look at this article by Meghan Casserly. The  author’s name and a brief bio are above the headline — a rare thing for a news publication. The right-hand sidebar contains an extended bio of Casserly and highlights from her recent discussions with commenters.

Forbes is betting that the future of digital journalism lies in transactions with readers and that those discussions will lead to better journalism. Mathew Ingram made the same point yesterday in his post Memo to newspapers: The future of media is a two-way street.

Is the Casserly page more about her or her story on interview questions? The answer isn’t obvious.

Forbes is, in essence, moving away from the concept of a standalone story on its site and toward the idea of a story being part of the author’s ongoing stream of content.

Google had a related idea with its Living Stories experiment that ended last year — but it completely missed the social media aspect to journalism. Its partnership with the Washington Post and the New York Times attempted to create topic pages that were updated automatically with new developments. But the new content was created only by journalists.

Two years later, leading-edge publishers are trusting that reporters — and their audience — can supply content that is at least as important as the original story itself.

Google began displaying author names in search results in 2009. Last month it released authorship markup tools that aim to link related content to individual authors. The next step would be to link social media discussions to the same authors.

The path itself leads toward a future of the author as brand — a brand perhaps at least as important as the publication itself.

 

 

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