February 18, 2014

If you’ve seen an Winter Olympics medal count on your local newspapers’ homepage, there’s a good chance it was built by the Associated Press Digital News Experience program team.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch links to its version of the AP Olympics microsite in its mobile app.

For the last two years, the AP has been providing its members with white-label microsites for sporting events, including the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Around 600 news organizations — mostly newspapers but also radio and TV stations — are taking advantage of customizable, AP-hosted web content for the Olympics.

Here’s how it works: Each news outlet with an AP membership can add AP widgets to its homepage or sports page, and those widgets link to an individually branded microsite containing AP content. The microsite itself is customizable through a simple dashboard, and AP sells ads for the microsites and shares revenue with members — many of which might not be able to provide comprehensive Olympics coverage otherwise.

“To maintain a really robust section about the Olympics is a pretty big undertaking,” said Paul Caluori, global director of digital services at the AP. “But we’re managing the resources to do it.”

The AP kept the sites and widgets simple, allowing sites the flexibility to implement AP content in various ways, depending on the capabilities of their content management systems:

  • Some of the headlines on the Orange County Register’s sports page point directly to its AP-hosted microsite, while others direct readers to stories hosted by the newspaper itself.
  • Boston.com has customized the CSS on its Olympics microsite, matching fonts and color schemes with its own website.
  • Readers of the Providence Journal see lots of AP-provided Olympics features about halfway down the homepage.
  • The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times has placed a schedule prominently near the top of its homepage.

About six editors involved in the AP’s interactive graphics manage the Drupal-powered microsites throughout the day, but much of the content is automated, removing much of the manual labor of creating a comprehensive web package. Through a dashboard, news organizations upload their logos and can add their own RSS feeds for localized content.

Most news sites are offering a mix of Olympics content — some of it hosted themselves and some of it hosted by the AP. That makes for a little navigational confusion as readers are taken off-site by some links but not by others.

For now, the AP is offering the widgets and white-label microsites just for sporting events — with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 coming up soon, AP members can emphasize the auto racing microsite, and with March Madness approaching, members can add college basketball content like AP Top 25 rankings and tournament schedules.

“We built these things to be complimentary to what a newspaper is already doing,” Caluori said. “A major paper will be covering their professional football team or local college basketball teams really well, but if a reader wants to see more about who their team is going to play, or more from around the league, we’re providing that.”

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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