ESPN Article Gives Hope for the Future of Digital Journalism

People are getting the bulk of their news from the Web, and many traditional news outlets are nervous about the future of print journalism. But should they be as worried as they are?

This article from inspired me, not only as an athlete but also as someone who studied mass communications.

The piece is a riveting account of two strangers overcoming the same tragedy – the first fatal shark attack in the San Diego area in a half-century. Instead of a typical online article that is brief and straight-to-the-point, this one is detailed and personal, and fairly lengthy. Usually, I can’t finish longer articles because even the most interesting topics can seem monotonous on a computer screen with long blocks of text, bolded subheadings, and static pictures.

Tom Friend’s “Back into the Water” held my attention, and it wasn’t only because of the unexpected story. Friend’s writing was excellent, but the ESPN designers did a great job laying out the piece. The title and heading resembled those found in magazines. Large pictures and short videos made the story even more personal, and simple elements such as detailed subheadings (not just the standard bolding and large font size used on most sites) helped break up the large blocks of text.

It’s one of the first online articles I’ve seen that seemed more like a print magazine piece. I’m sure I’ve missed others, but I hope this is the beginning of a new trend for journalism on the Web.


5 thoughts on “ESPN Article Gives Hope for the Future of Digital Journalism

  1. @Meg – I was also a collegiate athlete. What sport did you play?

    Also, I agree. It’s rare an article online can hold my attention when it’s long (that includes my own, which I’m prone to do), but ESPN has (at least of late) always done a great job laying out their feature pieces in a way that makes them seem like a print magazine piece with various ways to engage the content.

    Bill Simmons (and possibly just because he’s my favorite sports writer) does a phenomenal job. I almost read the entire Manny post straight through, and I feel like it was 15 pages in microsoft word or so…

    Glad to see you back on a roll!

  2. Ryan,

    I was a track and field athlete for 5 years – sprinter, middle distance, and a pole vaulter. I’m also a professional college football aficionado, if that counts. 😉

    As for the article, I’m glad you agree. ESPN has shifted gears in terms of its online content, and I think it’s been very beneficial to the company. I’d like to see more news outlets make these changes. Imagine if Fortune had similar layouts for its feature pieces or if the New York Times could mix up its design without losing the integrity of the pieces…

    Regardless of what the naysayers are saying about the future of journalism in a digital world, I think there is a lot of potential in this space.

  3. I really agree with you, I think the future is journalism is really on the web. Of course because the financial crisis will rise the cost of capital but also because the web enables a full extent of journalist job.
    I mean journalist must verify his “sources” and offer his own “lecture” of an event. With the web he can share his “sources” with everyboby with simple links, give others opinion, precise his own analyse and continue the discussion with his readers…
    That model is pretty well done with the NYT site.

  4. Meg – loved reading your article. ESPN is one of my favourite sources for sports news but I also find it to be one of the top sites I know of for the way in which they present their journalism. I’m glad you highlighted this. I think that their contributions to online journalism are sometimes taken less seriously because they report on sports news and not “hard news” (whatever that is, these days), so it was great to see someone recognizing “the Worldwide Leader” for their prowess in this area. Great post.
    And you’re right – shorts and t-shirts on Christmas is ridiculous.

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