My last post about the local press was a bit of a rant. Anyone can do that. It takes a better mind to offer some practical advice. So I will attempt that now.
Abandon the ‘one size fits all’ attitude to online – NOW!
Frustrating, aren’t they? Regional news websites, I mean. They all look the same. ThisisLincolnshire. ThisisGloucestershire. ThisisBORING. What’s wrong with LincolnshireEcho.co.uk? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. By giving seperate name and feel, you’re distancing it from the print product.
Sam Shepherd made this comment on my blog earlier this week:
Great idea Dave… but to make those sites LOOK different will take much more than individual papers grasping the nettle. At least two of those groups (probably all but I’ve only worked for two of them) have designed awful, counter-intuituive templates that leave no room for creativity at a regional level.
Newsquest ‘bans’ embedding of iframes or widgets, so the only way you can use sites like Flickr or apps like Cover it Live is to cheat and hope the big bosses don’t notice. We have a maximum display window of 310 pixels so even when we do sneakily embed google maps or dipity timelines you can’t read them.
In your Basildon Echo example, they don’t have access to that second column of white space except to use preset Newsquest panels – on our site, I’d love to have a Twitter widget and a Flickr panel but we can’t.
You don’t expect all regional newspapers to look identical – so why can’t the groups loosen up a bit, let each site work on developing its own version of the basic template that does allow for a bit of design flexibility, proper display of pictures – and most importantly lets us use some of the great tools that are out there? When you read the comments to our site, lots of them complain about how all the newspapers look the same online. It just contributes to the ‘it’s not a local paper, they don;t really care about us’ feeling that many of our readers have.
This goes hand in hand with a comment I remember the editor of the Hull Daily Mail saying in a guest lecture once. A student asked him how he manages to stand out from the crowd and innovate when all the websites in the Northcliffe group look the same. His answer? “With great difficulty.”
Incredible, isn’t it? They really are making it harder for themselves. Worth pointing out the URL for the Hull Daily Mail is, wait for it: thisishullandeastriding.co.uk . Holy crap.
Each of these regionals should have an on-site webmaster. They should be allowed to edit the content, use widgets…. do whatever they please. Adverts may be shifted, yes, but you can bet that more advertisers will want to be on your site when it’s the most popular for local news.
It doesn’t break the budget. All the things Sam mentioned in her comment can be done for free. They only thing stopping them is bigwigs higher up the train who insist that the the right hand column must permanently say “Hundreds of jobs!”.
Perhaps they’re making it easier for all the journalists they’re sacking to find other work.