Tag Archives: newspaper websites

Posted in Media, Web design

Star redesign: I don’t hate it

After inexplicably hyping it for weeks, the Toronto Star finally unveiled its website redesign last week. I took one look at it and was unimpressed, but figured I’d return for a closer look.

Toronto Star's thestar.com

Toronto Star's thestar.com

Colour me more impressed.

I’m still not crazy about the visual design, which is filled with rounded corners, blue-grey gradients and just about every other Web 2.0 cliché in the books, but some of the functionality is worth noting.

One is the topic pages. News organizations have to get used to the fact that the Internet provides them with a different way to present information. Background doesn’t have to be repeated in every newspaper article to re-educate the reader. Instead, you can simply link to a previous article in a series, or better yet to a summary of the topic so far (kind of like what you’d see on a Wikipedia page). Many topics have short introductions followed by a list of articles on that topic. It’s simple, but very useful. The best part is the “hot topics” banner at the top of the page, which allows quick links to the big issues of the day.

Another is the timeline view, which translates as “everything published on this website, in reverse chronological order.” If you don’t know what you want to read, go here and just read whatever is new. There are other views like the “visual news” view, which presents stories as a series of pictures, but that’s only useful if all stories lend themselves to good pictures. Many don’t and are illustrated with boring file art instead, lessening the usefulness of this page.

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

More from teehan+lax, Torontoist and the Star itself.

Posted in Media, Web design

Globeandmail.com redesigned, broken

The new Globe and Mail website

The new Globe and Mail website

In case you haven’t noticed already, the Globe and Mail redesigned its website this week.

The site is excessively slow right now, which I assume is only temporary, but still quite embarrassing.

As if to underscore how little has actually changed, the video introduction by Edward Greenspon (which I can’t embed here but looks like it was shot in a basement in the 80s) talks a lot about how great the website has been doing but very little about what’s actually changing, beyond the “new nav bar” (exciting!)

The old globeandmail.com

The old globeandmail.com

Among the changes from the old site:

  • URLs lose their /servlet/story/RTGAM…/BNStory/home nonsense, replaced by search-engine-friendly URLs like this one that are based on the headline. This change will probably make the most difference for traffic reaching the site.
  • After going overboard on the grey in their last layout, it’s much less prominent here in favour of black and red (making it look a bit Maclean’s-ish).
  • Speaking of colours, each major section is colour-coordinated, including a rather garish purple for Globe Life.
  • Gone is Trebuchet MS, replaced by serifed Georgia for headlines.
  • The story pages are much cleaner and less cluttered, but for some reason photos are limited to 360 pixels wide.
  • No more page showing articles that were in that day’s print edition, supposedly because they’re all found in their respective sections now and don’t need their own page.

But the most pretentious change is the name: It’s being rebranded from “globeandmail.com” to “The Globe and Mail”, because, Greenspon says, “it is the Globe and Mail and everything is integrated”. I can see the point (even if every newspaper says that and subsequently ignores it by spending 90% of its effort on the print edition’s front page), except Greenspon keeps referring to it as “globeandmail.com” and the video ends with the old brand.

Overall, I think it’s a positive change, if a bit over-hyped.

Posted in Media, Slow News Day, Video, Web design

Cyberpresse is hit-and-miss for video

We’re in the middle of a revolution in the newspaper industry, and even though I’m caught up in the middle of it, it’s kind of fun to watch everyone try to muddle their way through.

Photographers are learning how to shoot and edit video. Reporters are learning how to blog. Editors are learning how to link. And managers are desperately trying to come up with new ideas that will help save their industry and their jobs.

At Cyberpresse, they’re pumping out videos. Newspapers are jumping on the multimedia train, creating videos, audio slideshows, photo galleries, podcasts and other things they couldn’t do on paper.

Part of me doesn’t quite understand why newspapers are trying to compete with television and radio on their own turf. TV has been producing three-minute packages much longer than newspapers have, and it shows.

On the other hand, some videos I’ve seen demonstrate that newspapers are capable of reaching a level of depth you won’t get on television outside of PBS or the occasional NFB documentary.

Cyberpresse and its producing partner Top Multimédias offer some good examples for newspaper videos, but unfortunately a lot of examples of what not to do.

Bad: Rudy LeCours

Bad: Rudy Le Cours

In the latter category, you’ll find this sleeper from La Presse business columnist Rudy Le Cours. He’s standing in front of a bright window (which is one of the first things you learn in photography school not to do because it makes the subject dark) and for three minutes and 27 seconds talks into the camera about … I think it’s unemployment or something. I had to be resuscitated a few times while watching it and I don’t remember much. There are no graphics, no charts, no pictures, no numbers. Nothing to make it worth setting up the equipment to have this guy speak text into a camera.

This video from Mali Ilse Paquin in Italy is also a head-scratcher. The audio is clearly taken over the phone or a really bad voice recorder. And the video is just a series of pictures. A blog post or story with the pictures attached would have made much more sense.

Good: Marie-Christine Blais

Good: Marie-Christine Blais

On the other hand we have Marie-Christine Blais and her “Week-end chaud” entertainment preview. She too is talking to the camera, but it’s clear she and her camera operator are having fun (something I’ve long argued is sorely lacking in a lot of news media these days). Not only is she adorable, but she piques my interest enough that I’ll click on that play button when her face comes up. The videos also put up web addresses of bands that she mentions (although displaying show times would be useful).

Cyberpresse still has a long way to go. There’s no way to add comments to videos or embed videos on other pages. And there’s no related links on any of the videos like you can find in YouTube video descriptions. All you can do is go to this page and navigate your way through the various videos in a giant Flash application.

Here’s hoping Cyberpresse (and others) move quickly toward having more fun (if not effort) and way less talking heads standing in front of windows.

Posted in Media, Montreal, Public transit

Gazette launches transit webpage

The Gazette, Feb. 17, Page A1

The Gazette, Feb. 17, Page A1

My beloved paper today made a pretty big deal of their new Daily Commuter “one-stop guide” website. Really, it’s just a page with links to transit stories that have appeared in the paper (including Max Harrold’s Squeaky Wheels weekly column), Transport Quebec traffic cameras, and public transit agencies.

Of course, with the stories we’ve been seeing lately from the local news media (ahem), calling it the “Daily Complainer” might be more accurate.

What’s more interesting is that this isn’t the last topic page you’ll be seeing on news websites. Not only does this make it easier to find articles of a certain type, it makes it look like there’s an entirely new section even if it’s just a grouping of articles that have already been written (some even going back a few years).

Posted in In the news, Media, On the Net

Post-election thoughts

Three election nights in as many months. I’m starting to get the hang of this.

The biggest surprise of the night was Mario Dumont’s decision to leave his party leadership. The obvious question that comes up now is: Who the heck is going to lead the ADQ? Can you even name another ADQ MNA?

Amir who?

The biggest electoral surprise is clearly Amir Khadir winning the Plateau riding of Mercier for Québec solidaire. Not only did he unseat the PQ’s Daniel Turp, but he surprised a lot of news outlets who hadn’t planned for one of the “autres” to get a seat in this election. (Our front page needed a last-minute redesign to add a fourth box for QS’s seat total.)

In the early stages of returns, the seat seesawed between Khadir and Turp, but another riding way off near Quebec City was also showing a QS lead (with one poll reporting), reminding everyone that these results were still early. That other candidate ended up dead last with 1,000 votes.

But as the night wore on, the lead became more constant, and slowly started to grow. Cynicism that Khadir’s lead would vanish when more conservative mainstream votes came in slowly started to vanish. As the party’s co-leaders (they’re really going to have to get rid of that co-leadership system) gave their news conference, the networks called the seat for Khadir, and another political party officially entered relevance.

Now, does this mean QS will be invited to leaders’ debates?

They almost got it wrong

CTV Montreal is very proud of the fact that they called a majority government first, just after 8:30pm. This means they’re cool and their penis is larger than everyone else’s, I think. The seats certainly looked to be going to a solid majority early on.

But around 9pm, the number of leading and elected Liberal seats started holding steady at 63-64. This was right on the razor’s edge. All it would take is a couple of Liberal-leading seats to shift to another party and Charest loses his majority. Part of me wanted exactly that to happen so that overeager news directors would have to explain why they got it wrong.

In the end, though, the Liberals got 66 seats, pending recounts, and their majority isn’t in doubt. Only a couple of ridings in the Montérégie area were close enough (the lead in votes is significantly less than the number of spoiled ballots) that a recount might change something.

Media analysis

I didn’t watch any of the live TV coverage (beyond glancing at the changing numbers on the screen), so I’ll leave commenting on that to you, or Richard Therrien, or Mike Boone, or Paul Cauchon.

There were liveblogs from Lagacé/Ouimet at Cyberpresse (you can cut the metrosexual tension with a knife) and Philippe Gohier at Maclean’s in case you want to re-live the night in real-time.

Here’s how the main news sources handled their online results:

  • CTV had its own custom election system which failed in a very important way: It couldn’t process a win by a candidate outside the three main parties. Seat totals don’t include Québec solidaire, and Amir Khadir is not listed as elected in Mercier, nor is QS or the Green Party listed under “party leaders”. It also doesn’t list incumbents.
  • Canoe (TVA/Journal) had a very basic, non-Flash elections page. A table of results by party, and individual tables of results for each riding. Québec solidaire was listed under “Autres”.
  • CBC, which has been at online election results longer than everyone else, had an interactive election map with colour-coded ridings. The map format made it easier to find ridings visually, but it also meant if you wanted a Montreal riding you had to “zoom in” three times. It also had a separate page with results tables by region (and links to tables by riding). No indication of incumbency here either, which surprised me.
  • Radio-Canada had a different online election setup (do these people not talk to each other? Surely it’s easier to translate existing software than create an entirely new system?). It’s not much to look at.
  • Cyberpresse, Le Devoir and The Globe and Mail used a flash widget provided by Canadian Press/Presse Canadienne. The interface was slick, with square tiles representing each riding. When you click on them, they jump out and form a staacked bar graph. But it was also incredibly basic. It didn’t even provide percentage totals for each candidate. The tile system also made it more difficult to find ridings visually, compared to a real map.
  • The website of the director general of elections (which The Gazette pointed to for results) had the advantages of being official and fast. But around 8:45pm, it stopped updating (while CP and CBC’s feeds kept going), panicking reporters and editors who were using it for results. It came back around 9:15 and stayed reliable for the rest of the night. The table system is simple, which is good, but because it’s an official site it doesn’t declare candidates elected like the news networks do, and it also doesn’t note incumbents or incumbent parties.
Posted in Media, Navel-gazing, Web design

New montrealgazette.com now live

Take a look, take the tour, read the note from the editor.

The biggest change is that it’s wider (setup for 1024px instead of 800px) and it uses its own domain and branding. There’s also a lot of technology behind it that dates from this millennium, which allows you to comment on each article and see which articles are popular.

Feel free to comment there (or here, and I’ll pass them along) about the redesign, which took about seven months to complete, and is chain-wide (the Vancouver Sun site is also up, and the first review is positive).

UPDATE: See similar comment threads on redesigned Canwest newspaper sites:

UPDATE (Dec. 3): And if you need it in marketingese, that can be arranged. Nothing is more hip and in touch with young people of today than a press release quoting the general manager and senior vice-president of digital media saying that “Each execution will be customized and branded to reflect the values and personality of each local newspaper.”

Posted in Media, Opinion, Web design

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?

Posted in Media, Opinion, Technology

Newspaper letter credibility scores one at the Star

Last month, the Toronto Star made an interesting decision concerning so-called “user-generated content”: It decided it would no longer be publishing anonymous or pseudonymous web comments on its letters-to-the-editor page. Such “reverse publishing” is being used by a lot of newspapers who want to appear all hip and cool and stuff, and are desperate to increase traffic to their horrible websites.

The main argument, which was also expressed by many people inside the Star’s newsroom (they even circulated a petition about it), is that printing these comments alongside letters to the editor essentially creates a double standard: Letters to the editor must be signed and verified if submitted by email or mail, but don’t have to be if they’re posted in an online forum.

It’s a valid argument, but it ignores the big secret about letters to the editor: The verification process for “real” letters isn’t much of a verification process at all.

Many newspapers, especially smaller ones, don’t even check that the person whose name appears at the bottom of the letter is in fact the person who wrote it. They just copy and paste from their email inbox and assume that if there’s a full name that doesn’t read “Anita Bath”, it’s probably legitimate.

Larger newspapers, like the Star, require readers to send their phone number, and an editor or secretary calls them up and verifies their name and whether they wrote the letter. There’s no exchange of ID, no looking names up in a database, just a phone call. It works mainly because very few people are going to go through that kind of trouble just to get a fake letter into the newspaper.

Still, I think the change is a good one, if only because seeing online handles like “geeko79″, “No McCain fries for John McCain” and “Fagstein” attached to grammatically-incorrect texts in a supposedly respectable newspaper looks ridiculous.

The policy change doesn’t affect the website; people will still be able to post with silly pseudonyms there, though that’s not what public editor Kathy English would have decided:

I would prefer the Star demand real names of those who comment online. I’ve been told that’s a near-impossible expectation in the online environment. I don’t buy that.

Of course, online faces the same problem. Restrict it to verified names, and you cut off most discussion and spent lots of time verifying IDs. The more moderation controls you have, the less commentary you have and the less active the forum becomes.

(via J-Source)

Posted in Media, Opinion

Missing links

You know, the fact that a website considering linking to other websites is news… that’s one of the many many things that’s wrong with corporate media’s approach to the Internet.

I hope that, for the sake of their continued existence, a major strategy overhaul takes place among the higher-ups at certain traditional media organizations. But I expect that it won’t happen, and that corporate media will continue to be half a decade behind the rest of the world in understanding how to exploit new technology.

Posted in Blogosphere, Media, Opinion, Web design

Cyberpresse redesigned

Cyberpresse today went live with a redesign of its entire site, ditching the old coloured box motif in favour of a grey, white and red OMGWEB2.0 deal that seems to be in vogue with media sites recently.

The first thing you notice, as you do with all these new news websites, is that it goes on forever. You see, some web marketing genius decreed that users no longer care about vertical scrolling (which is true) and some web designer at an important media outlet decided this meant the homepage should be infinitely long vertically. And now everyone is mindlessly copying each other with these layouts that have no structure and look absolutely haphazard as far as placement of stories on the homepage:

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Cyberpresse homepage goes on and on and on and on and on...

Still with me? Good. Since the page is so freaking long, I had to shrink it down considerably, so let’s take a zoomed-in look here:

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

Top of the Cyberpresse homepage

It’s a very boring, unoriginal layout. Some account-specific links at the top, then a horizontal bar for links to individual sections. Oh wait, it’s actually two horizontal bars. One is for sections, the other is for “websites” that Cyberpresse owns for sections special enough to get their own domain. If you’re not familiar with that system, you’ll probably get confused here and have to read the entire thing a couple of times to figure out which link is the best one to click on. Below that are main stories on the left, a search box on the right and some editor’s picks. Looks OK so far.

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Middle part of Cyberpresse homepage

Here’s the meat below. It goes on like this for about four or five screens worth, and they’re all basically the same. Can you tell the logic behind what goes in which columns?

If you answered anything coherent to that question, then you’re wrong. The first column has sections like news and business, except for fluff sections like home, auto, environment, movies that are in the second column, except for arts, technology and lifestyles which are back in the first column.

Oh, and they have names like “Automobile” and “Maison” even though their names are “Mon Volant” and “Mon Toit” elsewhere. Whatever, consistency is for losers.

The third column at least has some consistency. It’s where all the interactive stuff goes. The polls, the “most emailed stories,” the user-generated content, etc. In fact, you’re encouraged to submit your own content (click on “Soumettre une nouvelle,” a page I can’t link to directly), which requires you fill out a form and agree to an 800-word terms of service (which I also can’t link to directly) with gems like these:

  • Lorsque vous soumettez Votre contenu à Cyberpresse, vous concédez à Cyberpresse une licence mondiale illimitée, irrévocable, non exclusive, perpétuelle et à titre gratuit : i) d’utilisation, de reproduction, de stockage, d’adaptation, de traduction, de modification, de création d’œuvres dérivés, de transmission, de distribution, d’exécution publique ou de mise à la disposition du public de Votre contenu à quelque fin; et ii) de concession en sous licence à des tiers du droit illimité d’exercer l’un ou l’autre des droits précités. Outre la concession de la licence susmentionnée, par les présentes, vous i) convenez de renoncer à l’ensemble des droits moraux dans Votre contenu en faveur de Cyberpresse; ii) reconnaissez et convenez que Cyberpresse ne saurait être tenue responsable de quelque perte, endommagement ou corruption de Votre Contenu; et iii) reconnaissez et convenez que Votre Contenu sera considéré comme non confidentiel.
  • Vous devez être âgés de 14 ans ou plus afin de pouvoir soumettre Votre Contenu à Cyberpresse.
  • Les Règles de Contributions des Utilisateurs peuvent être modifiées en tout temps par Cyberpresse à son entière discrétion.
  • Vous vous engagez à coopérer avec nous dans la contestation de toute réclamation.

Well, when you put it that way…

One thing the website emphasizes is its Dossiers, in which stories on a single topic are packaged together, like the U.S. presidential election. Organizing stories by topic instead of more broadly by section is something you’d think media web types would have concluded long ago was boneheadedly obvious, but the news sites are only now really picking up on that. And there are plenty of important, recent topics that don’t have their own pages yet and really should.

Cyberpresse’s launch article also mentions a more powerful (i.e. less crappy) search engine that better finds what you’re looking for. I typed in “Patrick Lagacé” and was pleasantly surprised to see a photo, biography and even email link. Except nowhere do I find a link to his blog. I tried again with “Patrick Lagacé blogue” and the response was “Aucun résultat.” Bravo.

Putting in other search terms for important stories of the past few weeks, I become even less impressed with the search engine.

The blogs also got a redesign. The authors’ pictures are moved to the side, leaving a big space for “le blogue de X”in stylized letters. (Though it seems poor Sophie Cousineau and Nelson Dumais got left behind.) These designs range from the obvious clichés to the we-don’t-know-who-this-is-or-what-she-writes-about generic.

Finally, there’s the RSS page, which has lots more feeds for specific topics. This is good, though the wording on many of these feeds is strange and confusing (what does “ctrl::dossiers cbp” mean?). I managed to decode a few of them which have been added to my Google Reader.

And now, the really bad intro videos

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Patrick Lagacé gives us a tour of Cyberpresse

Oh, and I just noticed there’s a video tour of the new website (honestly folks, if you have to give a video demonstration of how your website works so people understand it, then you didn’t design it properly in the first place). I say “just noticed” because the article announcing the new website has no link to the videos nor does it even mention them.

The videos star some tech dude or blogger I’ve never heard of. His intro video is unintentionally hilarious, as he invites people to see another video “en cliquant ici” (clicking on the video per his instruction does nothing), and then sits there and does nothing but stare at the computer screen for a minute and a half while we make up our minds.

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

Lagacé does his best blogger imitation on camera

In fact, it goes on for so long that he twice looks off camera wondering if he can stop yet:

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

Lagacé telepathically pleads with the director for permission to leave

The content of the video is basically him repeating the same thing that was in the introductory article, although he strokes his ego by using himself as a search example. Even though he got the same result I did (i.e. a picture of himself but no link to his blog), he pretends that it works.

Other than all that the site is great. I mean, it’s got gradients and JavaScript-controlled content tabs, so how could it not be?

P.S. WTF?

UPDATE: Michel Dumais has a positive review of the new Cyberpresse. Steph looks at it from a Web 2.0 perspective.

Posted in Media, Opinion, Technology

Just use YouTube

Bruno Guglielminetti, seen above giving a video update from what appears to be an airport bathroom stall, has become the latest journalist to discover that it’s easier to simply upload videos to YouTube than deal with his company’s complicated proprietary system.

The advantages of YouTube are pretty astounding:

  • Free storage space, which means you don’t have to worry about server maintenance, technical support or web programming
  • Familiar interface to web users, instead of the Windows Media, RealVideo or Quicktime systems that half the audience might not have the proper plugin for
  • A much, much, much larger audience of millions of web surfers who might stumble upon your video through search, instead of the few dozen people who might reach it through a direct link from the media outlet’s website
  • The ability to share advertising revenue with Google, a company that understands Internet advertising a heck of a lot better than those kids you have trying to sell print ads.

Given that, why don’t more non-television media outlets mothball their video systems and just switch to YouTube?

The main reason is control: They want 100% of all that ad revenue they’re not getting. They think they can do everything because they did everything in print. They don’t trust some outside company to handle this for them. And they don’t want to throw away something they spent thousands of dollars getting the CEO’s nephew to develop over the weekend.

On the other hand, many of these same websites use Google Ads, Google Analytics and Feedburner.

When it comes to video, I think they’ve hit the wrong side of this equation.

The evidence can be seen on their own blogs. Look at how many of them embed YouTube videos, or even unofficially upload their own videos to YouTube because they can’t figure out their company’s proprietary system.

Bruno’s step makes sense. Let’s hope others follow. And not just with YouTube. They should have channels on Vimeo, Blip.tv, Metacafe and others. Their business shouldn’t be in distribution, it should be in content.

Posted in Media, Opinion, Sports, Web design

Beijing Games online coverage analysis

As the halfway mark of the Beijing Games passes, here’s some thoughts on how the major news websites are covering the Olympics with their special Olympics sections. Some have improved on their “road to Beijing” sites since I looked at them a month ago. By now they should have ironed out any kinks.

(Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail provides an analysis of CBC commentators at the games)

CBC

The CBC website is a class above all the others, as well it should be since they have the broadcast rights.

Naturally, there’s plenty of video, including most importantly live video feeds from various events. Unfortunately, they’ve Windows Media and never worked for me properly, making them kind of useless. The schedule is tied to broadcasts, which means you don’t get the schedule for individual events and races. Items in the schedule also aren’t linked to more information about them or lists of Canadians who will be participating.

The “Higher Faster Stronger” page has video profiles of athletes, but they’re not sorted in any useful way. The videos themselves are also pretty uninteresting. The athletes give one-liners saying where they’re from and what sport they play, and then finish off with meaningless inspirational statements like “I refuse to let fear dictate my actions”

Medal standings page allows you to sort by G/S/B and total medals. Each country also links to pages showing who won medals for that country.

There’s also a blogs page with blogs from both Olympic athletes and CBC personalities.

What’s unique: Mandarin-language video highlights for each day of competition, special iPhone-friendly page.

Bottom line: This is everyone’s first destination for Olympics news. It does what it’s supposed to do well, but there’s definite room for improvement.

The Gazette/Canada.com

(Disclaimer: I work for The Gazette, though I had nothing to do with its Beijing website)

Canwest Interactive created a Beijing Games portal which has been copied for reuse by all Canwest papers. Stories are updated automatically on all websites without individual papers having to deal with them. With the exception of some local pointers to paper-specific pieces, all the websites are identical.

The design is visually appealing. The main feature is a “photo of the moment,” which cycles between four recent photos. While it looks good, it also pushes the main story downpage, so visitors have to scroll down to find out the biggest story. The photos are also not linked to the Olympic events they feature, so even though the main photo might be of a Canadian athlete winning a gold medal, clicking on it won’t get you the story of how awesome that was. You have to scroll down to find it.

URLs are unfortunately excessively long. Though the papers provide shortcuts, they disappear the moment you put them in, which doesn’t aid in memory retention. The Gazette’s Olympic homepage is at http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/beijing2008/index.html.

The stories almost all originate from Canwest News Service. On one hand this is good, because you want to promote your own stories (the wires have hundreds of Olympic stories running every day). On the other hand, it means every story has a Canadian angle. Unless a columnist writes a story about Michael Phelps or other non-Canadian athletes, the stories won’t appear here.

There are separate sections for each sport, which include stories, (some) athlete profiles, schedules and results, all copied from the Beijing database.

Though Canwest has been making a big effort online for these Games (even sending an online editor to Beijing), a lot of the content clearly seems to have been destined more for newspapers than websites. This list of Canadians to watch, for example, is horribly formatted, includes no times and no links for more information on these athletes or their events.

There are news videos and animations of event rules, but both are provided pre-packaged by Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Same with things like medal standings.

There are some mistakes that make a perfectionist cringe. “Mens” and “Womens” aren’t words, for example. And clicking on “schedule” gives the schedule for Day 1 instead of the current day (and unless you remember that it’s Day 11 you have to guess at what the current schedule is).

Finally, it includes a trivia “game” with questions such as this:

Why not just say "Please select answer C"?

Why not just say "Please select answer C"?

What’s unique: Little separates the sites from other similar ones, but the stories, which are the most important, are Canwest-produced.

Bottom Line: All in all, a good effort, and good copy from Canwest’s journalists, but a bit too reliant on repackaging non-story information from other sources.

Globe and Mail

Homepage looks good, with a main story and matching main photo (like most websites, you’ll notice their layout requires horizontal photos). Design for medal counts/results is also sleek, with circular cropped flags (rectangles are so 2004).

A proper schedule page (with times and everything), but no indication there what events feature Canadians, which is what we want to know.

It includes a podcast page, which apparently nobody at the Globe looked at because the thumbnail images next to audio links are actually 6 megapixel images (over a megabyte in size) that the browser has to download in order to shrink to 1,000th of the size. The latest podcast is now four days old, and is just a series of interviews with Globe writers in Beijing. No interviews with athletes or audio of anything even remotely interesting. (There are athlete interviews like this one, but those are linked to from different pages

URLs are simple, short and sensical. globeandmail.com/beijing2008 for the main page. The boxing page is at globeandmail.com/beijing2008/boxing, as you would expect. URLs for individual stories, however, follow the standard Globe template and are far too long.

Stories are provided from eight Globe journalists in Beijing, but most comes from Canadian Press/Associated Press, and little to no time is spent formatting stories for the web.

What’s unique: “Games on the Box“, a blog about TV coverage (mainly from the CBC and NBC).

Bottom Line: In many ways, the Globe has led Canadian media in its approach to online, in terms of design and ideas. Audio interviews, podcasts and blogs certainly shows that. But this website is a pretty big disappointment from Canada’s national newspaper. I expected better.

CTV

A repackaging of Canadian Press content along with some videos produced for CTV National News and Canada AM. A joke of a website that I won’t dignify with a review. This is from the people who are going to bring our TV coverage of the 2010 games in Vancouver?

Toronto Star

A nice homepage with a simple URL (olympics.thestar.com). You have to dig a bit to get pages for individual sports, and results pages for those sports are nothing but (badly) rebranded pre-packaged pages from The Sports Network. Medals page (from CP) allows you to sort by total (ascending and descending), but in order to sort by gold you have to click on “POS”.

There’s a videos page with a mix of Torstar and CP-produced videos (sadly you don’t find out which is which until the video starts). Instead of simply being embedded on the page, clicking on a video brings a video browser in a pop-up window (and then doesn’t show the browser part). It’s more hoops than should be necessary here.

Schedule page provides a list of what sports are on what days, and clicking those sports gives a schedule for that sport on that day. Very good. But no hints at sports with Canadians in them, and there’s no general page with a schedule for all sports on a certain day.

What’s unique: There’s a Star-produced Olympic history timeline, and an interesting “in Chinese” page, with content provided by Sing Tao newspapers. The best part is probably the Athletes page, which lists all the athletes and provides pages for each one. Those pages include the standard CP biography plus links to stories that mention the athlete. It’s simple yet elegant.

Bottom line: It’s not perfect, but a very impressive effort from a single newspaper without the mega Canwest or Sun Media empires behind it.

Canoe.ca (Quebecor/Sun Media)

URL is simple but needlessly repetitive: http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Olympics/2008Beijing/home.html

The events page is called “Events”, “Disciplines” or “Sports”, depending on whether you look at the URL, the navigation bar or the page title. The individual pages there are needlessly gray, and the content provided entirely by AFP. (The country flags, where used, look like they were designed by three-year-olds using MS Paint).

Schedule page (also provided by AFP) distinguishes between competition and finals, but otherwise provides no details.

Athletes page sorts by publication date, not by name or sport, which kind of makes it useless.

What’s unique: a “comments” page, where people can give their opinion on controversial Olympics issues, like whether Quebec flags should be allowed there.

Bottom line: Far too reliant on AFP and other wire copy. No reason to choose this site over any other.

Cyberpresse (La Presse)

Page is the kind of boxy layout you come to expect from Cyberpresse. Main difference is that it includes a bunch of Flash-based widgets from Presse Canadienne which slow down page loading.

The URL is short but non-intuitive (like all Cyberpresse pages), with sections called “CPPEKIN01″, “CPPEKIN02″, etc.

Athletes page doesn’t include a list of athletes, but a list of profiles sorted by publication date.

There are separate sections for athletics, “acquatic sports”, gynmastics and “other” instead of having one for each discipline. (The “other” page includes “team sports” “racquet sports” “combat sports” and “other” — how insulting is it to be on the “other” “other” page?)

Schedule page is very basic, with times but no other information

What’s unique: A photo album from La Presse photographer Bernard Brault.

Bottom line: Not much to write home about. There are good stories here republished from the paper, but the website design is severely lacking.

Le Devoir

No Olympics website to speak of. A single page includes wire stories that were printed in the paper. Epic fail.

Posted in Media, Sports

Gazette starting Olympics page, photographer blog

As editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips explains in a blog post, The Gazette is jumping on the bandwagon and has launched an Olympics website to cover the Beijing Games that start next week, at www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/beijing2008/index.html. Most of the web content is provided by Canwest, which has a similar page (as does the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun, etc.)

Other media outlets have already launched Olympics pages, which I have almost universally panned. That said, it’s clear the news media is making a much bigger effort toward these games in terms of online coverage. (It remains to be seen which of these websites will have better live coverage of the Games.)

As part of local coverage of the Games (and to justify the oodles of money spent sending him there), The Gazette is also starting a blog for photographer John Mahoney, who will accompany reporter Dave Stubbs to Beijing (Stubbs already has a blog up with funny little stories leading up to the Games). Mahoney has a first post relating Beijing to his first Olympics in Lake Placid in 1980.

The paper, of course, will also have special coverage. Mahoney has photo profiles of different athletes each day starting Saturday, there will be a special Olympics preview section on Wednesday, and each day of the Games will have special Olympics sections with pages of coverage (some of which will be edited by yours truly).