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Ben, the cofounder of the Sacramento Press gets asked this question about 20 times a day, so below is the answer that he gave for this question:
Let me start with a different question: what is an article? In printed newspapers articles are the basic unit of content, it is how a newspaper tells a story. An article can only be a certain length because there is only so much room on the page. And if a writer wants to post a history of the topic covered, link to older news items, or follow up the progress of the story? Well, tough luck. Traditional papers are constrained by space and time and try to tell the whole story in any given article. So if you want to start an online newspaper, you could start with that same basic unit, the article.
But when we first designed The Sacramento Press, Geoff and I wanted to start from scratch. We wanted to enable writers to tell stories without the constraints of space or time. We wanted to establish a conversation with readers. So we came up with a new basic unit, the storyline.
We ask our writers to cover a topic and follow the progress of the story. We ask writers to find the history of the story, and cover developments over time. Each post can be treated like a separate article, but if you click the green "storyline " button on the right you will see other parts of the story like histories and updates. Now you can more easily get the whole story over time and drill down to greater depth about a topic.
We also took a different approach with comments. Geoff and I noticed that comments on small blog sites tended to be more civil than on large sites like newspapers. We believe that writers must be active and responsive to the conversation about their story. If comments are disconnected then people have little incentive to be civil, but if the comments represent a true conversation with a writer, the the quality of the comments improve. Better yet, the audience for local stories often knows more collectively than the writer. Our contributors want to learn from you and let the audience guide their next article. People love to tell stories and we love to have conversations. Commenting is a way of joining these great conversations and when writers are responsive and inclusive, the conversation will drive better and better reporting.
We wanted our initial product to look a lot like a traditional newspaper to the casual reader, so we scaled back on some of our more fanciful ideas about how storylines might look and act, but by clicking on the green "storyline" button you will get a peek at the power of thinking outside the box and creating a new basic unit of content for The Sacramento Press.
So that's it! On to another question and remember you can always comment below and continue the conversation if you still don't quite get what a storyline is.