News Track, Oct. 7: Vice News and Ebola

Vice News has very specific beats. When they follow a story, it holds weight on the page – there is no Africa beat; there’s an Ebola crisis beat until the crisis subsides. Important news stories take up page space in the form of multiple stories and tabs.

At the top of the page, an option bar includes “featured topics,” this week’s including the Islamic State, Ferguson, Ebola and Ukraine. Ebola takes up most of the page today at Vice News, including the above-the-fold story: The third installment of their series, “The Fight Against Ebola.” No text touches the page before scrolling; instead, an aid worker looks down, in obvious anguish, from a red hasmat suit.

Upon clicking through, you see the photo was, in fact a video – Vice is known for their rogue journalism, and in this particular video, a journalist enters a treatment center and a hospital in Monrovia. The interviews are compelling, and the conversational style of the journalist adds a comforting contrast to the hard-news style of the accompanying text. The faces of the victims add a human component to the story that has been missing from much of the sheer number coverage by the New York Times, for example.

In the text, most of the content is a summary and history, which includes important numbers and facts missing from the videos themselves. Keeping the text short was a wise choice, though the lack of internal links feels odd. A link to an accompanying story might have added important context missing from the piece itself. Instead, the story ends with the generic “like us on Facebook” links, which feel particularly tacky after such an emotionally raw story.

Kayla Ruble’s story, though lacking in multimedia elements, was stronger than the third installment of The Fight Against Ebola simply because it included a number of related internal links and incorporated both factual context and background along with a raw interview. Ruble’s piece, “‘The Tone on the Ground was Sheer Terror and Panic: Looking Back at the First Ebola Outbreak” appears first in the list of Ebola coverage. If a reader clicks on the Ebola tab, an infinite scroll of stories appears with the usual righthand column of ads and recommended stories. The lack of excitement or inventiveness on the tab was a letdown. If Vice wants to go through the effort of including in-depth coverage tabs, they might as well deliver something exciting.

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