Location Is Your Brand: Don’t Hide It

Maryn McKenna writes at Poynter.org: Where in the world is the Twin Tiers? And why should I have to drill through multiple pages of a Web site to find out?
No, these are not Zen koans. They’re the expression of my frustration with (mostly) smaller media outlets that don’t seem to have yet noticed that the Internet makes it possible for the world to read what they write. And also that the world, when it visits their pages, might actually be curious about who — and especially where — they are.

Background: In addition to being a magazine and Web journalist, I am writing a book, due perilously soon, about drug-resistant staph. (That’s methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA — aka the bug that bedevils the National Football League and causes devastating pneumonia that can kill a child in a day.) For multiple reasons (research leads, future marketing pitches and my own inexpert stab at disease surveillance), I keep a Google alert running for any stories published anywhere about MRSA.

Every day, Google returns at least 10 hits. And every single day, one of those hits turns out to be something like this: “Two Cases of MRSA in Steuben County.”

Take a look at that page. You’ll see a header mentioning those “Twin Tiers.” You’ll see a dateline: Hornell. But … Steuben County where? Hornell where? There’s no further location information on the story page, or on the index page. There are hints: buttons for the New York State and Pennsylvania lottery results, a weather map on which I can dimly discern “Corning.” Those all suggest New York State. On the other hand, there’s a Steuben County, Ind., as well. I have to go back to Google to find out that WENY-TV is a news channel in New York, which isn’t common knowledge.

WENY has abundant company in this odd denial-of-locality. The High Point Enterprise is a community newspaper in North Carolina, but nothing on its Web site says so. If you recognize the datelines on the stories on the index page, you might be able to guess. And WATE-TV is in Knox County, Tenn. — but finding that out requires a trip to the index page, and either an interpretation of the linked headlines or a click-through to a second page to confirm it.

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