My own thoughts on newspapers, at this stage in my blog/career/life, may not hold much gravitas against some of the big opinions out there, but with my impending trip to New Zealand in May, I thought it’s about time I started actively collecting some thoughts on online journalism.
Over the next few months, I’ll be posting some ideas that I hope will make up a big part of what I can teach when I get over there. As ever, I appreciate everyone’s feedback. I’m toying with calling a new category ‘Dave Lee Down Under’ … but that might be a little, excuse me, shit. But who knows.
Tonight (or rather, this morning… my sleep patterns have been manic ever since that poxy Ricky Hatton fight…), I want to just simply lay down five things that I feel make newspaper sites great. Not all newspaper sites do these things. In fact, only a couple manage them all, so I guess it will give me something to aim towards when I get stuck in out in NZ.
Some of these are probably strikingly obvious; but then I think if there aren’t many sites doing it, then maybe it’s worth being reminded of them.
So here we go…
Five things that can make a newspaper website absolutely postively wonderfully great
1. Embedded video. It’s the broadband age. You don’t need to ask me if I want Windows Media Player, or Realplayer… or anything. Stick it in my browser. Make it load quickly. Make it load the rest of it while I’m watching the start of it. And, for crying out loud, give me a volume adjuster that goes beyond ‘on’ and ‘mute’.
2. A special way of telling us something BIG is happening. Odd one, this, but there’s something really brilliant about how the BBC homepage transforms when a big story is breaking. When there’s a big, single headline on the newspage, you know something has really kicked off. I’ll come clean here and admit I’m not sure how the UK papers handle big stories breaking on their sites. My natural instinct is to go straight to the BBC. I think we all do, no? Sky News have great presentation on their site, but the ‘Top Story’ graphic seems to be the same whether it’s a story on a missing dog or a missing serial killer. There’s an element of ‘boy who cried wolf’ about it.
3. Comments comments comments, and NO, I don’t want to sign up… or even sign in. Laziness? Maybe. News is quick. Blogs are quick. Everything about newspaper websites should be quick, and yet, for some reason, I’m forced to sign up in order to add my own view on proceedings. Yes, Daily Telegraph, I’m pointing at YOU. I don’t want to sign up to My Telegraph. If I want to save stories, I’ll use del.icio.us, which does it much better.
4. YES… get blogging, but please, be serious about it. I don’t think it’s essential that newspaper sites have blogs. I really don’t. So newspapers shouldn’t feel obliged to just blog because it’s the “thing to do” these days. Come up with a good angle. A solid background to which you can build. Local papers are god awful at this, when really, local press is perhaps in the best position to fully utilise the blogging world. Take my local paper, The Hunts Post. I learnt an awful lot there in the short placement I had, and it’s a fantastic paper. One of the best local campaigning rags I’ve ever come across. But then there’s the blogs. Urgh. The one I linked to there was the first I came across — but I need not go further. A look at his latest posts brings up such gems as:
First of all, let me congratulate you. By clicking on the links you have, you have put yourself among the elite few who read this blog.
And unfortunately I think the emphasis there should be on few – in the six weeks or so this blog has been online, it has been viewed a total of 14 times. I suspect around half of those are either by me or by people I know, so if you don’t fall into that category you can consider yourself even more special. Well done.
Ouch. Kill it, Archant. KILL IT!
5. Show me who you are. Another fairly random one, but I think this is quite important. In TV, each report is signed off by the reporter: “This is Bob McBobstein, BBC News, Baghdad.” Good. Each newspaper article — give or take the odd one — is given some credit to its reporter. Even better, I find is when we get to see the person. A little photo. It’s strange, but I prefer reading articles on Comment is Free when I can see the person’s face. I’m sure I’m not alone in this… otherwise I guess they wouldn’t bother putting a picture on there.
In local news, this is very important. Although on an entirely different scale, I was stopped at university the other day by someone who said “Hey… you edit the newspaper, don’t you? Have you done something on this…?”. As it turns out, we hadn’t. But now we will. They wouldn’t have known who I was had my picture not been in the newspaper. A small headshot of a reporter speaks volumes to me. It says: “This is me. I’m passing this information to you, and I’m so confident in it, that I’m prepared to put my name and face to it.”
A good example of this? Andrew Gilligan’s latest triumph.*
And that’s it. Easy. Of course, this list is not exhaustive — I could have written about having navigation menus that are too bloody long, or adverts that wobble in from the right hand side and refuse to go away without making lots of noise. But those five seem to strike a chord with me. Maybe they do for you too.
* We think, maybe, not sure yet… perhaps. Probably.