If you talk to newspaper journalists about their employers’ websites (privately), one of their chief gripes is that the site is designed by corporate management and even the newspaper’s own management has little control over its website.
Above, you see the websites for Le Droit in Ottawa and Le Soleil in Quebec City. Both are Gesca papers, and part of the Cyberpresse portal. Aside from the newspapers’ logos, the design is identical. (I would have used La Presse as an example here, but La Presse doesn’t really have a website. Instead, people are directed toward the “Montreal” section of Cyberpresse.)
It’s the same case at Quebecor, where websites for the Journal de Québec and 24 Heures are identical, worrying the Journal de Montréal union who think the same would happen once a JdM website launches.
Whether it’s Canwest’s Canada.com portal (which, as a Gazette editor, I’ve worked with on the back end), Sun Media’s canoe.ca or Transcontinental Media’s community weekly newspaper sites, each newspaper chain sets up a massive content management system and gives only bits of control to the individual papers.
The obvious reason for doing this is to save money and avoid the needless duplication of work. Stories can be more easily shared across the network when they’re all on the same system. New features like blogs can be introduced across the chain simultaneously. And there’s certainly something to be said for consistency.
On the other hand, this cookie-cutter web design removes whatever individuality the individual media outlet might have. It creates a tug of war between the paper and the chain, which can be manifested in something as simple as having to send an email or make a phone call to head office in Montreal or Toronto to get something changed on your website. The worst part is that if there’s a bug or other problem, it affects everyone.
So what’s the alternative? How do you keep individuality alive in individual media outlets while keeping those websites from degenerating into utter pieces of crap?
Beats me. But allowing individual newspapers more freedom over their site designs (while keeping the underlying structure the same) would be a good start.
Or am I being silly here? Do readers care that all these websites look and function alike?