Newspapers Still Have Much to Learn About the Web

I’ve written previously on how the print newspaper is a dying breed, and how web clips are worth far more than print clips. Today I’d like to go into why traditional newspaper operations still have much to learn about the web and why they will have to adapt in order to survive.

Anyone reading this is already well aware newspapers are making the (slow) transition to digital, and just like the preferred format of music has moved from CD to mp3, newspapers will eventually move from print to entirely web-based/RSS operations. It’s just so much better and more efficient way of receiving information. Print is still hanging around but it won’t last.

Unfortunately newspaper Web sites, on the whole, are still playing by the old rules of the Web and are not nearly as nice as professional blogs to read and follow. A few things I’ve noticed from this perspective that are especially frustrating:

Taking down stories/changing link structure
Some papers get it and don’t change links on us or take down old stories, but I’ve seen plenty of sites take down stories after 30 days or so, or change the link structure to archive a story somewhere. The Internet is not the same as print media, it is not a broadcast medium, it is a communications medium. A story shouldn’t disappear after 30 days, it should remain up there as bloggers and social media types love to do research, piece things together and remix news as they see fit. Linking to a story only to find a few weeks later it’s down is about the most frustrating thing a news site can do, and will ensure I don’t like to that site again.

Not linking to external sources to reference things
Newspapers are still clinging to the old way of things. They still have the attitude of “if we print, it, it’s true and doesn’t need to be sourced.” That’s actually false – if you have a source on something, link it for us to check it out. It makes a site far more credible. A side note, The New York Times is one of the few sites that actually gets the web, does tons of external linking and is even developing a brand new API. Should be neat to see what this looks like, they could set a good example for the industry.

Forcing users to login to view stories
Don’t news sites want more readers and subscribers? The easiest way to discourage this is to force users to create a username/password, fill out a profile, then check their email address to activate that profile before they can view a story. It leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths, and they are losing readership by doing this. If you’re going to play by the new rules, go in all the way and don’t cling to forcing people to fill out forms before they can access content.

Relegating comments to separate pages
If you’re going to have comments on your site, make it quick and easy for users to add comments and list them directly below the story. Having them on another page entirely just proves you aren’t fully embracing having conversation and discussion on your site.

Ease of use, search, RSS subscriptions by section, etc.
Why is it I visit my favorite webzines and blogs and it’s so easy to search for articles, find articles by topic, author or date, and everything is so simple and streamlined. Yet your daily newspaper Web site mimics the complexity and disorganization of its print counterpart. There are such amazing sorting, searching and tagging options now available for publications, yet newspapers barely embrace the depth and usability features now available to them.

Newspaper Web sites to me still suffer from superfluous content and bloat. They are trying to do too much not well enough and are failing. For example, why would I ever need to read the technology section in my local online newspaper site when I can read better, deeper reporting on technology from hundreds of other sites whose main focus is technology. Same goes with book reviews – do we really need local book reviewers when people are reading the same books and posting those reviews nationally? There seems to be plenty of overlap occurring.

A focus on local news/people stories and things not already covered by the Internet seems like the best way to go. Do we really need to see the same AP story we already read earlier today published word for word on our local newspaper site? I think not.

Related posts:
Ubiquitous Internet

Old vs. New

Target To The Blogosphere: You’re Irrelevant