Wednesday, October 10, 2012

At Gannett website design is an exercise in reader torture

The morning following a big win for my team I, like many other fans, like to read the coverage in the local paper. But being a newsy, I also like to go onto the website of the opponent to read what the local press has to say about their team's effort. (If my team loses, of course, I just move on and don't like to read anything.)

One thing I am always aware of, however, is how owns the local newspaper in the town of my team's opponent. A 49er victory over the Cowboys, for instance, means lots of articles from the Dallas Morning News, a Belo newspaper. That paper's sports coverage has always been good, and their website is very adequate.
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But an opponent that is from a town served by Gannett, well, that's another story. While the sports coverage may vary from paper to paper, the website is usually a mess.

Yesterday, for instance, the Giants were able to beat the Reds – though how that happened is still a mystery. That means the paper in question is The Enquirer which owns the Cincinnati.com URL.

Reading the stories on this Gannett website is like navigating a maze. Pop ups and everywhere and the story itself weaves its way through the web page. I'd like to imagine what the editors would feel about their design if it appeared in print. Someone would lose their job in production if it looked like this. But for some reason, this kind of insanity is OK if it is the web.

(Then there is the constant reminder that their paywall is about to kick in. Don't worry guys, I won't be back.)

The problem for most newspapers is that they are slaves to their content management systems. It is why most papers have one story at the top of their home page followed by a string of one line headlines.

Take a look at the new design for USA Today. Many media observers have praised the look as particularly modern. Their definition of modern must be the RSS feed.
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There is no doubt, though, that the article layouts are a vast improvement. In fact, I should go further, they are fantastic. But there is still a bit of a problem: the actual user experience is not so good in the real world when your home page is taken over by an ad.

Go through the clicks yourself: you land on the home page and must immediately close an ad. OK, this isn't abnormal. Then click on a story, up appears the article in a nice new design. Close the story and return to the home page, up comes that damn ad. And on and on.

Worse, while the home page only has that one ad, sometimes the mechanism will take over the page but not load the actual ad.

But again, I think the problem I have with the new USA Today website is that string of headlines. In print, editors know that the headline is what draws the reader in. But in print, a headline is often accompanied by a subhead, an illustration, a pull quote – lots of things are available to the editor to attract the reader to the story.

This basic principal is lacking from far too many newspaper web properties and I think I know why this is.

Having been involved in numerous web site launches I know that their quickly comes a point in the early discussions when one points to another site and say "I really like that, can we do that?" That question is usually followed by a "no" and a vague explanation about why the CMS won't allow it.

What inevitably follows is compromise upon compromise. The end result looks like the RSS feed with new logos.

The new USA Today site certainly has some good elements to it, but I would love to hear how the editors really feel about the site. I bet the ultimate answer one would get would be something like "it was out of our hands."

1 Comment:

Brandon McBride said...

I hate it when ads overtake my content, placing themselves on top. I'll avoid those websites solely for that reason no matter how cool or interactive the ad seems.