Montreal Tech Watch has a poll running about what you would do if you were running a media outlet and had to decide what to do about its online presence.
None of the answers given satisfied me, so I wrote my own response:
None of the above.
The things you have listed here are exactly what’s wrong with current media thinking. They have no clue what they’re doing online, so they figure they’ll just sprinkle some Web 2.0-ness onto their crappy web properties as if that’ll magically attract more readers and advertising dollars.
Here’s some other suggestions:
- Stop crippling websites out of fear that your subscription rates will go down. For $20 a month, very few people will make their subscription decisions based on what stories are free online vs. what needs subscriber access.
- Learn Web 1.0 before Web 2.0. Hire people at more than $8 an hour to put print stories online. Link related stories together. When documents or websites are mentioned in stories, link to them. Spend more than three seconds on the formatting to ensure that hard and soft returns are fixed, or that tables don’t look like garbage.
- Focus on the content. People go to newspaper websites for articles, not all the gimmicks, badly-produced videos, audio slide-shows and other stuff you throw at us on the homepage. Make the articles prominent in your design, and make finding them easier.
- Allow moderated comments on all articles. Approve those that add anything useful to the article, like clarifications, corrections, responses, different points of view.
- Get a real domain name and use it. Of the Montreal newspapers, only Le Devoir actually hosts its articles on a website with its domain name. Using canada.com, cyberpresse.ca and canoe.ca might make the corporate bosses happy, but it just confuses your readers and makes them take longer to find you.
- Shorten your URLs, or at least have them make sense:
These are the homepages of these blogs. Individual post links will be even longer. I’m sure both have cute shortcuts that only their authors really use. But shouldn’t that in itself be an indication that there’s a problem to fix here? (At least Canoe got it right with their redesign: Dominic Arpin’s blog URL is the short (though redundant) http://doa.blogue.canoe.com/dominicarpin)
- Put online advertisers on a leash. I have to close web pages with newspaper articles because my CPU time is being gobbled up with dozens of overly-complicated ads desperate to get my attention. Stop these automatically-playing videos, whether they have audio or not. Stop these ads that assume because you swiped your cursor over them to get to the close button that this is permission to take over your computer and block the editorial content. Limit ads on the homepage so people can find their way to inside content (would newspapers put this many ads on their page one?)
- Pick a layout and stick to it. I want a simple homepage with links to individual sections. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes while my computer figures out how the 30 sections of this homepage, each with its individual layout logic, are put together on a page that scrolls down for eternity.
- Use blogs better. Put beat writers on blogs. Have blogs by experts, not laypeople. Encourage people to visit and comment. Don’t force people to go through your 20-page registration process before they can comment on a blog or story.
- Hire professionals if you’re branching out. I don’t want badly-lit videos of talking heads shot by writers.
- Encourage, but do not rely on, user-generated content. Yeah, finding people who have been screwed over by companies or the government will be easy. But crowdsourcing is not going to make you money. You still need qualified professionals with the time and skills to do quality work.
- Put your archives online. You have huge databases of content that just sits there for some unknown reason. Blogs stay online forever, and you’re just losing ad money and reputation when someone following a link comes to a page that says “this article is no longer available.”
- Don’t hire newspaper people to do online work. Hire web professionals and listen to what they have to say. Make them work alongside real newspaper people who can concern themselves with putting out a quality pulp product instead of trying to figure out your online content management system.
- Hire me as a consultant