Mainstream Media! I Await Your Call!

B-Dub has some interesting thoughts about how the mainstream media is slowly changing to accommodate bloggers and the blogging aesthetic.  He’s got good meaty stuff to say, but I want to focus on the fact that, like it or not, audience expectations have changed.


People do a great deal of reading on-line and they expect things to be easily available for them online.  I think if you look at the Scene‘s website*, it’s fairly easy to find your way around.  As much as they rag on bloggers, the folks over there do seem to understand that your online presence should be a compliment to your dead tree presence, but useable in its own right.


On the other hand, the Tennessean is a barely useable mess.  Their designer would do well to sit down in front of the New York Times online and steal as many good ideas from them as he or she can.


And I think that affects my opinion of the Tennessean, the fact that it’s hard to navigate and you can’t find everything you’d like to find and you can’t be sure you’ve read everything you might want to read.  Shoot, they could improve their site by leaps and bound by hiring a blogger to highlight the day’s top stories and point readers to them, someone who had enough sense of the paper to point you back into the archives to old stories for needed context, and who can watch stories come off the wire and understand how they affect things here.


In other words, I hope the mainstream media will come to see bloggers not only as producers of content, but as folks who have a knack for distilling content into reader-friendly chunks, and making use of that talent as well.


 


 


*Shocking, I know.  I’m mentioning the Scene in a complimentary way.  I guess I’m getting soft in my old age.

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24 thoughts on “Mainstream Media! I Await Your Call!

  1. I personally find The Scene’s website to just as bad as the Tennesseean’s. The Scene’s site, like its paper counterpart, is visually cluttered and lacks any sense of logic. They just throw everything up and hope you notice something out of the mess. Everything The Scene does makes me think their layout people are so in love with fonts that they just don’t care about anything else. I like their content, so I put up with their continual lack of ability to make anything look coherent, but they massively suck at presentation, imo.Not that The Tennesseean’s site is any great thing, either, though. Their content is often very weak. And the breaking stories section fluctuates in an odd way throughout the day. A story can be up there at 10am, gone at noon, and back again at 3pm. But they’re also dealing with a ton more content. They have more stories per paper than the Scene, they’re daily, not weekly, and they update it throughout the day. It’s a different animal in a lot of ways.Of course, I don’t really consider the Scene a newspaper, persay. Those sorts of tabloid weeklies are more newsprint magazines, in my mind. Which is in no way a put down. It’s just a different product from a newspaper, with different priorities, limitations, and opportunities.

  2. It’s funny to see mainstream media try to fit internet stuff into their world. I was thinking about this this morning when I was reading an article in the NYTimes Arts & Leisure section (from Sunday) that was about a YouTube video done by this anonymous guy playing some amazing rock version of Pachelbel’s Canon. The story was placed in their "Television" section.Dr. J

  3. Good points all. But I still find the Scene easier to read. I don’t think it’s a great design and it’s as close as one can get to too busy without actually being so. I can read it, though, and that counts for a lot.Because the Tennessean? I can’t read it. It’s just way too busy. I’m no designer, but I think they could improve the look of the front page 100% if they just took a lesson from how the individual stories look. You have a generous two-column design with the most important thing (the story) given the most space and the less important things over there on the right.There’s room for an ad to break up the text, which is okay, I guess. And the print is slightly oversized with a serif font. The headlines in san-serif. Nothing fancy but it tells you what each thing is by how it looks.Now, imagine the front page of the online edition (and subsequent front pages of each section) also being two column with the most important things being large."Tennessean.com" would stand out in some way that really branded the page (Right now the banner ad looks more important than the name of the paper). The two outside columns of small crap? Get rid of those. The photo could then be larger so that it’s really striking, not just slapped up there with 8 million other things to look at.And the teasers that lead you into a story could be a little longer, and should be in the serif font.Also, why is the accent color of the paper that creamy butter color? Creamy butter and blue? I don’t know why I find that so wishy-washy, but I do.Whew! Who knew I had so much to say about the design of the Tennessean’s website? But I swear, every time I go there, the whole thing just says to me–this is a paper that does not give a shit about actually conveying information to me.That’s a terrible impression to give your online readers.

  4. The only thing worse than the Scene’s layout, IMO, is the Rage’s. For me, at least, The Tennessean is slightly easier to use than the Scene’s. I guess overall The City Paper has the cleanest design.

  5. I agree with B. The Tennessean online layout swims with copy and bad design. It is in no way attractive, and barely intuitive. The Scene, at least, has tabs that are somewhat useful.The Tennessean may catch onto the blog era sometime around 2007, I’m guessing.

  6. I don’t like either the Tennessean’s website or the Scene’s. But I don’t understand is why a print paper would bother with a fancy site. I mean, I understand that if you don’t have a website at all you (corporately) look like a dork. And if you have a messy, hard-to-navigate website you (corporately again) look incompetent. But if you have a good one, people don’t pay for your paper, and your circulation drops, so you can’t charge your advertisers as much, so your revenue drops, and all the while you are paying someone(s) to get that content up there and make it look good. Can you possibly get enough revenue from web ads to offset what you lose on print ads?

  7. NM, papers need websites because there are lots of readers who won’t pick up the print version. And if papers want to exist past the last baby boomer’s death, then we’ve got to address tech-savvy readers. The advertising revenue for the web will pick up as websites become more valuable and offer something that the print version can’t. Which is why Aunt B’s complaint about papers’ sites is so important. I’m no web designer, but I imagine it’s got to be a monumentally frustrating thing to have to figure out a clean and concise way to get all that buried content out there without cluttering the space to all to hell. Not a lot of papers have mastered that yet, and to be honest, not a lot are trying that hard, and not just because they’re distracted; it take a hell of a good web staff to make a daily paper’s site sing and I imagine most papers would rather spend that money on reporters. Most papers still think old-school in this way, and you almost can’t blame them. The Tennessean’s site is a clusterfuck, for sure, but I think it reflects their print design. The philosophy: Take everything we’ve got and shove it out there, even at the peril of info overload and elements that are impossible to navigate.From what I’ve been told by the people in charge there, they’re not much worried about design — web or print — right now, because they’re slaying content dragons for the time being. So you’re probably not going to see tennessean.com look nice and clean for a long time to come.

  8. Lindsey: "The advertising revenue for the web will pick up as websites become more valuable and offer something that the print version can’t."I know that everyone makes this assumption. I just don’t know how anyone can be sure that it’s true. With so many of the obvious advertisers hardly needing to advertise any more (if you’re house hunting, for instance, you can go right to the MLS listings, for free), and with people developing a remarkable ability just to ignore banner ads and stuff, I’m not sure that the conventional wisdom is right. I mean, I love the NY Times website, and it does have stuff (both content and doodads) that the print edition doesn’t, but I’ve heard that they’re losing money from it faster than you can imagine.And I know it’s completely off-topic, but as far as I can figure out, the Tennessean has already killed off every last bit of content, dragons or no dragons.

  9. <i>But I swear, every time I go there, the whole thing just says to me–this is a paper that does not give a shit about actually conveying information to me.</i>Which is why I don’t read the print version, either, and haven’t for a long time. The content is so saccharine, generic and corporatized that there’s rarely a local feel or any writerly flair.BTW, the website design is apparently a Gannett template that papers can twink around with if they want. Most don’t. It shows. Ew. As long as the Scene doesn’t ever put that bloody kitten ad up again, I’ll stumble around and find Garrigan and Jowers somehow. That shows up again, though, and I’m boycotting the whole thing. Good lord. Gruesome.

  10. I’m with you on the advertising logic, nm. I just don’t see web advertising as ever having any relevence. I think that the best way to make money from the web is to have it be a loss-leader that increases your "shelf space", i.e. public awareness of your brand and product. Expecting the web to generate real dollars on its own from anything other than retail sales is a pipe-dream at best. As far as who has the better website between the local papers, I’m going to have to go with "no one." The Scene’s is more visually appealing, but their flowchart for finding anything is abysmal. Especially when dealing with archives. While the Tennessean’s isn’t as au courant with the HTML design, at least they’ve got a much more easily navigable presentation. In my opinion.In either case–barring a few exceptions, Lindsey–neither outlet seems to hire writers capable of writing FOR the web. That’s a blogger strong suit. We know how to grab and keep an internet audience.

  11. You’re right — it is a major assumption to say that web advertising will be reliable and profitable in the future. I’ve read analyses of why it’s possible, but they’re as reliable as any other BS conjecture, I guess. I’ll cop to wishful thinking on that front.

  12. Oh, hell. Lindsey, you were supposed to tell me some web-based-advertising-in-the-future secret that would make me more optimistic about the whole question. Beause print news is dying for lack of revenues, no question about it. And much though I love blogs, I don’t think they’re all that as a replacement. So if newspapers can’t make their websites profitable, what’s left? Maybe some of the really-strong-in-content papers can start selling web subscriptions? The Times has been trying that but I don’t get the feeling that it’s working for them. Maybe they need to take Katherine’s suggestion and get some proprietary bloggers included.

  13. The Scene just needs to tighten up their CSS, that’s all. I’m not a big proponent of the drop down tab, though. They (we?) should go with left side nav. Nobody axe me though.As far as B-Dub’s assertions of the Scene bringing "non-traditional" talent in being evidence of changing pallets . . . Big eye roll. They’ve done that many times in the past. Neither Barry (I think), Abramson, or myself are "traditional" journalists. I’d wager that newspapers do it all the time. Blogging may well make it easier for print media (and now TV media) to find these talents, however it isn’t a result of the damn blogosphere. More irrational exuberance. Next: blogosphere cures cancer!

  14. Folks have certainly been hopeful for years that papers would be able to adapt to the internet age if they just wanted to. But as I understand it, the reality has been that websites kill the bottom line of most daily newspapers.The basic problem is that websites throw a major wrench in the basic business model. The market is still in enough a state of flux in terms of the number of people devoted to physical papers as opposed to those who prefer reading online that making major paradigm changes in the way papers structure their finances is like hitting a moving target.Advertisers are used to getting concrete numbers from newspapers-x number of subscriptions means guaranteed "eyes" on their ads. Or so they like to think (they’re assuming everyone reads every page, which isn’t true). Web ads are sold on more of a broadcast model-we estimate that x people will see your ads, based on the number of hits we’ve had in the past. Except you can’t ask as much for a web ad as you can for a broadcast one. People have the ability to pick and choose what stories they’ll look at, as opposed to being able to feel fairly certain that if they’re interested in the weather they’ll hold on through the ad break that comes right before the forecast.And there’s a loss of the very basic revenue stream on which newspaper budgets are built.All things combined, papers have to show an awful lot of flexibility to make websites worth it financially. And most just haven’t been able to do that so far. Those who haven’t find safety in protecting the print content to a certain degree. Thus the breaking news stories on the Tennnessean’s site, which are usually just the who, what and when, with a line about reading more (why and how) in the next day’s paper.Weeklies…I don’t know how well they’re doing. But they have different odds. Many of them are given away for free anyway, so there’s not that major line item on the budget that keeps dropping, dropping, dropping. And if they want to add content between publication dates, they’ve got more time to make it content-rich and polished, simply because there is more time between publications.

  15. Yeah, but the free weeklies used to live on real estate ads. And that’s a revenue stream that’s disappearing. All they have left is personals/escort services/sex phone line ads, which is kind of scuzzy. And for all I know, that’s all moving on-line anyway.

  16. You know, one thing I find interesting is that we’re all kind of operating on the unspoken assumption that newspapers are in decline because of the twin forces of declining circulation (perhaps in part to people reading online instead of in print) and declining ad revenue (because advertisers have other ways of reaching prospective buyers) AND therefore online versions of newspapers are detrimental to the newspaper as a whole because online versions don’t generate ad revenue and getting accurate counts of how many people read them is hard.But physical newspapers don’t generate ad revenue and getting people to read them is hard.I think the problem is that we all assume that the newspapers are right when they whine about their online edition somehow competing for the same audience as their paper edition. They act as if there’s some group of readers–we’ll call them R–which is shrinking at a set pace, but is still fairly substantial and deliverable to advertisers, but, if the online version of the paper is too handy, R will shrink at a faster rate.When really, some of R will move online and some new readers might stop by.Can online publications bring in ad revenue? That I don’t know. I think that remains to be seen.

  17. I think it’s more that a newspaper can generate more revenue per reader in print than on-line. So you have to gain a lot more print readers to make up for the revenue loss associated with a few print readers moving to reading on-line.

  18. Sorry, I can’t bust out with any hopeful studies that say web ads are the way of the future newspaper, but I can offer this link — a list of nine ways for newspapers to improve their sites. I’m splitting the URL because it’s going to bust the frams, I’m sure of it.http://www.bivingsreport.com/2006/ 9-ways-for-newspapers-to-improve-their-websites

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