Constructive criticism for old media online

Kate posted a comment to my post last week about newspapers’ online mistakes, pointing me to some tips on another blog.

They’re really good, so I feel the need to repeat them here with some commentary:

  1. Forget linear comments. This is one thing that’s always bugged me about most online forums. Slashdot solved this problem almost a decade ago with threaded comments and user moderation. YouTube has only recently introduced a similar system. Why is this still so complicated for most content management systems to replicate?
  2. Don’t treat podcasts like radio. The suggestion to not edit podcasts is perhaps a bit extreme, but there are some solid ideas behind this. If someone is listening to a podcast, they probably have plenty of time on their hands anyway, so there’s no need to rush. (One of my complaints about A Comicbook Orange — the video podcast by Montrealers Casey McKinnon and Rudy Jahchan — is that Casey talks too fast as if she’s trying to keep up with a nonexistent clock. Hopefully as the show evolves she’ll relax a bit more.) It’s a good form for long discussions on specialized topics, and shouldn’t be interspersed with cheesy sound effects or cut down into news-style packages. The Habs Inside/Out podcasts are a good example: they sit seasoned reporters at a table and have them discuss issues related to the team. The most important thing about a podcast though is that there needs to be a reason to use technology over text. Raw interviews are a good reason.
  3. Aggregate. Newspapers fear each other. Some are actually under the impression that if they speak another’s name it will cause a decrease in subscriptions. Newspaper bloggers seem to be getting over this somewhat, but there’s still very little good aggregation out there. (I blame the technology, as WordPress and its ilk are designed more for long posts than short links.) is crazy-successful as a simple news aggregator. Many of my posts (and my “From my feeds” sidebar links) are inspired from other blogs and news sources.
  4. Put more detail online. Newspapers like to make crappy online videos that have a talking head repeat the main points of a feature article. Some put second-rate stories online. But what people want are resources. Links to original documents, previous articles on a subject, technical specifications, analysis from others. Much of this is easy to compile and put online for those who want to see it.
  5. More editors, fewer writers. I can’t really comment on this objectively since I’m an editor. I must admit it was surprising to read, since blogs don’t have editors and that’s considered a factor behind their success. (Meanwhile, one of the big complaints about newspapers these days is the sloppy editing.) This item seems to be more about having experts write articles instead of having journalists quote them. I’m not sure if I necessarily agree with that entirely, but it’s a good idea for certain occasions (science articles especially).
  6. Offer tailored feeds. My biggest beef with Le Devoir is that there’s only a single RSS feed for their entire website, and that produces about 60 items a day. If I just want news and letters, I should be able to get that. Nobody here offers RSS feeds tailored per author, which would be a big improvement as well.
  7. No registration barriers. I really don’t need to explain this do I?
  8. Make content work on mobile devices. A simpler explanation might be “make content simple.” Bloggers link to “print-friendly” pages as it is. Reading some of these websites on small devices must be damn-near impossible. While I haven’t tested this blog on a phone yet, I imagine it’s somewhat simpler.
  9. No Flash. I would edit this to “do not use Flash unnecessarily.” It’s needed for video or interactive maps or audio slideshows, but don’t use it for navigation or to wow us with intro pages. It’s just an obstacle to us getting what we’re looking for.
  10. Don’t put effort into online video. This is the exact opposite of my advice and one I strongly disagree with. While I don’t think you should be hiring TV crews to do your online video, there does need to be some minimum standard for clear audio, proper lighting and editing. I don’t need flashy animated credits, but I want to be able to hear what people are saying and understand what’s going on without too many time-wasting awkward pauses.
  11. Link directly to your sources. Yes. This is done on blogs all the time, why not in newspapers? Link to previous articles when you’re doing a follow-up. Link letters to the pieces they’re responding to. Link to CRTC decisions when you’re talking about them. Let people research stuff on their own to get more information.
  12. Pay bloggers for their content when you want to use it. I’m not sure how widespread it is to lift bloggers’ content wholesale without attribution. I had a comment lifted once by a newspaper, but they attributed it (incorrectly) and kept the quote somewhat brief. I certainly think bloggers should be hired if their content is good enough for newspapers, and that nobody should be expected to work for the media for free. But … does that mean I should pay for this blog post?

3 thoughts on “Constructive criticism for old media online

  1. Fagstein Post author

    I have, though I still think you need to breathe more between sentences. I’m very concerned about the possibility of you passing out in the middle of an extended voice-over. That would be bad.

    Also, go to bed. You shouldn’t be commenting at 3:30 in the morning like that.


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