On Feb. 24, two items in my inbox made me suspicious:
First, an email from a student in Ohio:
…I’d actually especially like to put in a specific complement (sic) to your coverage of the clubs at Carmel HS – specifically the My Little Pony Club (MLPC). With all the negative press around, it’s good to know that you guys covered it so well.
The second was an online response to our comment forms:
When I was placing a comment on a recent article about MLPC, I had trouble with low responsiveness with the site and the later double posting of my comment. I’m not sure if this is something that needs to be fixed or incompetence on my part, but I felt it needed to be brought to attention.
Some background: We published a story the day before, on Feb. 23, about “obscure” clubs at Carmel High School, including a story about the My Little Pony Club, an organization that regularly watches episodes of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”
The warning lights in my head started going off: “Why would we get two comments in such a short period of time on such a relatively mundane article?
So I did some investigation. First, I checked the comment queue on our website, which is where comments go to be moderated before they show up online. In addition to the two comments I had already received, there were two more comments awaiting moderation about the same MLPC story. Next, I clicked over to our home page. At the top right, we have a tabbed area that lists or “most recent” articles and our “most popular” articles. I clicked on “most popular” and I gasped; while most stories in that list showed anywhere from about 20 to 60 views, the MLPC story had an astounding 1,200+ views (and counting). Even when the stories we post are particularly newsworthy (like a couple of years ago when members of our school’s basketball team were accused of hazing), we rarely see numbers like that.
I continued to investigate. One of the nice features embedded into the WordPress content management system is a tool to see your site stats. I clicked on that area and scrolled to the “referrers” area where I noticed that we had received more than 900 referrals from a website called www.equestriadaily.com, which turns out to be a site for fans of “My Little Pony.” They had included a small link to our story in their “Nightly Roundup” article.
The bottom line is this: I have no idea how many fans Equestria Daily has, but it must be significant. After all, more than 900 of their fans clicked on the link they provided to our article.
I used this example as a teaching moment for my students. We looked at all of the evidence (the comments, the huge number of views, the link from the Equestria Daily website) and then talked about the scope of online news. We discussed how you never know what stories will make an impact on reader, which means we need to take care to be accurate and thorough with every story we write, no matter how mundane or run-of-the-mill it may seem – it’s important to someone out there.
And then we talked about the web and social interaction and Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Twitter and, in this case, links from fan sites. Nowhere was that more obvious to me than with this particular story about a small club at our school. The news is changing. As we go online, we reach a far wider audience. We need to recognize that reach and then we need to learn to harness that energy to get our stories on the screens of those who would most likely benefit from the information we provide.