Geographic (and Other Types) of Metadata in the Newsroom

By Adena Schutzberg

_Despite the growth of the Web and the maturation of search engines, somehow word is not trickling down to the news media about geographic and other types of metadata.I'm seeing just as many stories, especially on local newspaper websites, which convey no information regarding the location of the events in question.I often see "The county council voted last night..." or "town residents held a memorial" but there is no mention of the county or town name, and if there is, sometimes there's no state listed! Looking around the webpage, the best clue sometimes is the advertisers: they understand that they need to include the town and state from which they sell cars or real estate.Far too often the copyright notice at the bottom of the page includes just the name of the paper, but no geographic information: "Copyright Freemont Star Herald, 2005."

Why is this still a problem? I'll suggest that in the good old days the paper was only delivered in print.It was distributed by mail subscriptions and sold only in the town in question and a few neighboring ones.Or at least that's how things worked with my first hometown paper, the Winchester Star.When such papers move to the Web, and its great that they do, they take for granted that the only people who might be interested in their news are local.Not true. I know that in garnering tidbits for this publication, I'm often reading about tiny towns and counties I've never heard of, getting up to speed on GIS.

The good news is that one of the two Winchester Star websites, the one in Virginia, has the metadata on every page.On the Winchester (Virginia) Star website, right next to Winchester's Online News Source, it says, Winchester, Virginia.Further confirmation, the Winchester, VA, weather is in the right column.Those items seem to appear on every page (though most are only accessible with a free registration).Over in Winchester, Massachusetts, the Winchester Star fares poorly.The fact that the Boston Herald is a sister publication might help, but there's little else of geographic value on the front page or any other page.Interestingly, in the website metadata is this information: "Town Online - Your Eastern Massachuseets [sic] Community Newspapers." The search engine showed me that, but the text is not visible on the main website.I leave in the spelling error simply to point out that misspelled metadata can be big problem!

There's other metadata missing on newspaper and news websites.On newspaper websites, it can be difficult to tell the nature of the articles, especially when you swoop in from a search engine, as so many of us do these days.Is it a press release? An editorial? A letter to the editor? What? A recent post on a journalism blog revealed that what appeared to be a "story" (it said, "story last updated...") was in fact a letter to the editor.Makes a big difference, right?

And what about dates? This crops up in press releases now and then when a vendor forwards a press release from a few weeks or months ago.What date to put on it? Today's date (which makes the publisher look up-to-date) or the date it was actually released (which I'd argue is "the truth")?

As Web search tools mature and expectations of users rise, those who publish news are going to have to get in line regarding metadata.I'm confident the many websites that try to "map the news" (such as Topix.net and Google News Map) suffer from limited metadata.

What to do? There are certainly many schemes to locationally tag and search webpages, ( for example, see GeoURL, or local searches provided by the main search engines,) though to my knowledge none has risen to the top.At one time a whole top level Web domain was proposed (.GEO) but it was not approved/implemented.For now, it seems, the easiest way forward is to simply include full geographic (and temporal, and type) references on the webpages themselves.It's not that difficult and is in fact a good chunk of the "5 W's and one H" of journalism - who, what, where, when, why and how.


Published Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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