The Public Sector Takes a (Web) Page from Journalists

Picture 11Since when is the public sector ahead of the curve when it comes to website design? Well it may still be somewhat behind given this latest effort.

The Obama Administration literally pulled a virtual page from The New York Times with its new gun control page “Now is the Time”. The page, extremely similar of the Times’ “Snow Fall” project, is already winning accolades online and yet I don’t agree with most of the excitement.

Sure the page contains multimedia as videos breathe a bit of life into transcribed sound bites, but it’s reminiscent of my school field trips to rooms filled with animatronic historical figures. Those voices always clicked on just as you approached, a step up from having to press a button to hear the recorded speech.

On this page the chosen videos are just as lifeless, making me feel disconnected from the message, removed from history rather than closer to it. It’s hard to imagine that from all of the clips available, the creators of this page could not find more compelling content.

If that were my only concern with the site, I would say it was a nice attempt and that I look forward to the next try, however there was a more glaring issue — storytelling. As one author wrote: “A good story beats a good lecture.

Unfortunately, for all of the videos, this page tells more than it shows. I don’t know if the creators felt that the emotional pull of recent shootings would carry the reader through the call to action or if they felt rushed to produce a page to guarantee the rapt attention of a concerned nation in the midst of debate. In my case it left me wanting. I was looking for something more, a deeper dive into the issue of gun control rather than what felt like hastily aggregated re-hashings from our 24-hour news cycle.

Jon Lax wrote a great piece here on Medium about the “Snow Fall” feature called Subcompact Publishing meet Epic Storytelling in which he tackled a similar matter only from the viewpoint of a job well done. Lax described the differences between stories that have been stripped of cruft and those possessing attributes that aid in the consumption of that story. He concluded that moving forward, the more successful publications will possess the ability to do both well.

To accomplish this goal one aspect of a story must compliment the other. Each piece has to build upon or move forward the narrative. At no point should one part of the story impede another or slow the pace of the reader.

This is where the public sector frequently falls flat, away from the podium. Our leaders can grab us with their rhetoric, hold us with their conviction, and make us believe through their fist pounding, but without that emotional connection we are left uninspired. Government websites are rarely intuitive, full of dated information, and frequently left to die slowly when limited resources are needed elsewhere.

This page had potential. It needed to be a marriage of the senses where each piece could stand on its own while drawing the reader in with complimentary offerings. In the end it appears to be a paper version of what could have been. At a time when it should lead us forward it made me halfheartedly sign up because it was the right thing to do, from a feeling of obligation and not from a place of inspiration.


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