The Portal is the primary Web destination for NASA, http://www.nasa.gov.The Portal aims to inform the public about NASA missions, news and events through compelling feature writing and interactive multimedia. While we post news releases and other resources for the media and serve other audiences, it's important to remember that the Portal gives us a chance to get our message out directly to the public without a media "filter."
So far this year, the Portal has over 16 billion hits and more than 1.5 billion page views.
The top-level page, www.nasa.gov/home/index.html, has been downloaded more than 20 million times this year.
The top-level page has more than a dozen spots in which to place content. Users who go there looking for one story are exposed to the broad range of NASA programs. During the Mars landings in January, the bulk of the portal traffic was to the Mars content, but readership in all other areas was up 5 or 6 times over the 2003 average.
Depending on the time of (school) year, 50% to 65% or our audience is K-12 students and teachers. Another 30% to 40% identify themselves as "general public."
The reason we differentiate between Web stories and press releases, rather than simply posting press releases and considering ourselves finished, is that press releases don't appear to be of interest to general audiences. Our numbers show the public largely ignores press releases on the Web, which make up less than 2% of total page views.
We want to reflect how the public sees NASA, not how the agency sees itself. Therefore, Portal features and multimedia productions should avoid heavy use of acronyms and jargon -- anything you could define as "NASAspeak." In other words, a Portal feature shouldn't say "translate to an aft position during the extravehicular activity," when "move to the back during the spacewalk" will do. The Portal Editorial Board is doing a good job on this, but PAOs can help by keeping this in mind when they vet stories.
Dropping a couple of photos in a press release doesn't suddenly turn the release into publicly accessible Web story.
Example: http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/mshelenslidar.html. This story about Mt. St. Helens has great images and great potential for user interest, but unfortunately doesn't really describe the key element, LIDAR, until near the end of the story. And then it does it in technical terms.
We are currently migrating all of the Center Web sites into the Portal and will eventually be bringing in other sites as well. Editorially, this is crucial to the "One NASA" approach. Anything that's produced for broad external audiences about the agency for the Web ultimately needs to be on nasa.gov. It benefits everyone to have a central repository for the public to find the latest information on a particular mission, project or event. We’ve already shown this by building mission sections like www.nasa.gov/cassini, which serves as a one-stop shop for that high-profile mission and establishes a single, easy-to-remember Web address for both the public and the news media. The top-level pages carry news updates, general information and multimedia. Then they link to the "deeper", more technical content.
The content on the Portal is managed by an Editorial Board, with representatives at Headquarters and all the centers. HQ compiles a weekly "rundown" of upcoming stories and coordinates coverage with the centers. HQ is responsible for the homepage and several other sections of the site, while "section editors" handle the "Vision areas" – Life on Earth, Humans in Space, and Exploring the Universe.
The PAO role in the process has been in vetting material and occasionally suggesting or even writing stories. We could also use your help in looking for the "NASAspeak" mentioned above. You can also serve as a bridge between scientists and managers who may insist on using certain quotes or terminology and a writer who wants to take a more creative, user-friendly approach.
You can also help greatly with coordination. First, if someone at your center or in your directorate is working on a Portal feature, please make sure they have let Headquarters (Jim Wilson or Brian Dunbar) know about it. We still have too many stories that pop up out of nowhere, which can lead to duplication of effort. Second, if you're doing a release that includes a link to a Portal URL, please coordinate closely with the appropriate Portal person to make sure the link is "live" before the release goes out. This has become a serious problem lately. Just because someone gives you a Web address, that doesn't mean it's a "live link." And, again, please ask them to let Jim or Brian know.
At the same time, we'd like to avoid creating duplicative review cycles, for us and for you. We have been given a little more freedom in the way we write for the Web. We've been able to use that to our advantage, and it has helped that we don't have to run everything through the NASA text grinder. While you're welcome to review any material in your area before it goes out – including running it through program offices if you think its necessary –we don't want to subject Web stories to the same level of treaty negotiations that some releases go through.
You can't "hide" a release on the Web -- many more people will see it there than will get the release in email. Web stories have a "shelf life" of up to 160,000 page views. Also, if a story isn't good enough to be a release, it probably isn't worth doing a Web feature on. There are exceptions to this, like a personality profile that isn't really "national news" but makes a good Web feature.
We shouldn't be duplicating press releases just to add photos. Please coordinate with the Editorial Board if you have a release that will have images. We should either be adding those images to releases or turning the releases in to full-fledged Web features, with a different writing approach.
Please be aware of context when you give out links to portal content. For a general "more about NASA" or a big story of the day that will definitely be on the homepage, by all means use http://www.nasa.gov. But it's obviously impossible for everything to be on that single page. "For more on climate change go to nasa.gov" is only likely to alienate users if there's not an obvious climate change story there. Consider using some of our many "redirects" to get users to a specific place. (e.g. http://www.nasa.gov/genesis or http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight. And if the press releases really are written for the media, don't send them to the flash presentation that sits on http://www.nasa.gov, which will likely leave them frustrated and annoyed. Instead, send them to http://www.nasa.gov/formedia or a specific URL that has additional information.
Portal Editorial Board Contacts
Brian Dunbar, HQ (202) 358-0873
Jim Wilson, HQ (202) 358-1752
Ames: Pia Navarro (650) 604-4034
Dryden: Gray Creech (661) 276-2662
Glenn: David DeFelice (216) 433-6186
Goddard: Lynn Jenner (301) 286-0045
Education: Flint Wild (913) 851-4295
JPL: Susan Watanabe (818) 393-4132
JSC: John Ira Petty (281) 483-2530
KSC: Dennis Armstrong (321) 867-4493
LaRC: Bob Allen (757) 864-6176
MSFC: Brooke Burns (256) 544-0994
SSC: Paul Foerman (228) 688-1880