Some free advice to Boston.com

Should a news site label the disappearance and death of an 11-year-old girl a “Hot Topic”?

Frankly, it’s not something I had given any thought to until yesterday, when I heard from a “Beat the Press” viewer who complained that Boston.com had included “Celina Cass” in its “Hot Topics” menu bar near the top of the page. The story is still there as I write this, along with “Debt limit,” “TSA,” “Cash WinFall,” “Boston public schools” and “Red Sox.”

My caller told me that including such a tragic story involving a child as a “Hot Topic” was offensive, and said she had complained to Boston.com in the past over similar matters. I instantly understood what she meant, though I wasn’t sure whether I agreed.

Last night I ran it by Mrs. Media Nation, who agreed with the caller: “Hot Topics” was just the wrong phrase for a catch-all category that includes everything from sports and politics to heartbreaking tragedies. So here’s some free advice to Boston.com — call it something else, like “Top News,” “Headlines” or whatever phrase you like that’s succinct but also neutral.

Oh, and when you click on “Celina Cass,” it would also be nice if you didn’t encounter a story labeled “Our Pick.”

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5 thoughts on “Some free advice to Boston.com

  1. Stephen Stein

    I agree with your criticism of their word choice. But “Top News” or “Headlines” doesn’t quite convey what they’re trying to describe, which is “a story that is generating a lot of interest or comments” (hence, “hot”).

    Some news sites use things like “most shared” or other slightly awkward phrases. I can’t easily come up with one that captures what I think they’re trying to say.

  2. Adam Gaffin

    A related topic for folks who scrutinize these sorts of things far more than I think the average reader does:

    Currently, on the Globe’s breaking-news page (carefully hidden so as to minimize readership), there’s a fairly prominent box in the upper right:

    “Reporter Martine Powers is covering the investigation into the death of 11-year-old Celina Cass in northern New Hampshire.”

    Accompanied by a photo of a smiling Marine Powers. Obviously, it’s just a standard head shot, no offense meant to anybody involved in that sad case, but somebody who’d be upset by “Hot Topics” probably wouldn’t like that, either.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Adam: Though it’s true that you can’t find MetroDesk on the home page, it’s the most prominent item at boston.com/news. Not sure I would call that “carefully hidden.”

  3. Mike Rice

    It bothers me that Boston.com, in the past, has posted the category “Notable Deaths.” I find it degrading and tacky.

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