Is individuality overrated?

Le Droit (left) and Le Soleil (right): Can you spot the difference?

Le Droit (left) and Le Soleil (right): Can you spot the difference?

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?

4 thoughts on “Is individuality overrated?

  1. Jesse L.

    I personnaly don’t think that people care about this as long as they have their info. Bottom line except for research or specific subject, do you know a lot of people going cross paper to get informed? Deep down I think as long as the reader find what they are looking for they could all be the same.

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  2. Kate M.

    Since the last Cyberpresse redesign I’m finding it less Montreal-oriented. Montreal (as in the Quebec provincial schema generally) is just a “region”. Bleah.

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  3. Guillaume Theoret

    Looks like a case of lazy programmers to me. CSS Zen Garden has been showing for years how you can make vastly different designs from the exact same static page content ( http://www.csszengarden.com/ ) so there’s really no excuse.

    Whoever was in charge of designing the new website simply didn’t take basic output with a heavy stylesheet as a guideline so it’s probably really hard and error prone for them to make changes to each site now.

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  4. Edna

    Though my household checks news outlet home pages every day, apparently most readers come in through search engines. More attention should be directed at how the stories are displayed once you click the link. The Gazette does this poorly (not uber-ugly, but links are lost, art is tiny …); CBC does it really nicely (related links are Right There, users have the option to comment or recommend stories, blah blah blah).

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