Looking back a year for my media year in review, I stumbled on some forward-looking posts about 2008. Let’s see how things turned out.
What I wanted: Clean up your online layouts
What happened: Layouts got more complex.
Even though mobile use is growing, media outlets respond not by simplifying their websites but by creating separate iPhone sites. Pages are optimized for 1024×768, and each redesign copies the previous one, so they all look the same. All are cluttered with far too many links on the homepage and far too little structure to their layouts.
What I wanted: Use video right
What happened: More junk videos
Experimentation is painful, I know. A lot of talking-head videos were tried and failed, but far too many are still doing this and assuming someone wants to watch it.
Forcing your reporters to shoot video isn’t going to help you unless that reporter knows how to do a good job. But reporters aren’t given the time, training or equipment to do so. Their videos are about the quality of cellphone videos, and are about as useful.
What I wanted: Stop trying to get random people to replace journalists
What happened: User-generated content doesn’t go far beyond comments and pictures of cats
Fortunately, nobody has seriously tried to replace journalists with free Internet labour, though I’m sure they’d jump at the chance if they could. News outlets have learned that you can get the public involved in sharing information and news tips, offering comments on news stories and providing pictures of snow, pets or other uninteresting things. But journalists are the ones you actually assign to produce news.
What I wanted: Setup RSS feeds by category and tag
What happened: Some movement, but not enough
Le Devoir introduced more specific RSS feeds this year, but there wasn’t much other movement in this regard. People who want feeds on specific topics from various media outlets are more likely to decide to rely on Google Alerts instead.
What I wanted: Add more tags to stories
What happened: Tagging introduced, but not exploited
Website redesigns, including the one at The Gazette, allow some form of keyword tagging. But we haven’t seen this truly exploited yet. Most systems are still automated, so getting related stories to link to each other is still hit-and-miss in a lot of plaes.
What I wanted: Larger photos
What happened: Slightly larger photos
Website redesigns understood that with faster Internet connections and larger screens, people can accept photos that are larger than 200 pixels wide. But we’re still far from where we could be. Many still max out around 500 pixels, even though their websites are designed for screens 1024-pixels wide.
What I wanted: Fixed search engines
What happened: Better search engines, but still frustratingly inadequate
The Gazette’s redesign brought in a search engine that works properly, though it’s still pretty basic. Cyberpresse brought in what it thought was a more full-featured search software. If you search for Patrick Lagacé, for example, you get his picture, his bio and a link to email him. Unfortunately, you don’t get a link to his blog, which is what people searching for him might be looking for.
What I wanted: Deportalization
What happened: Uberportalization
You’d think media ubercompanies would learn from successful websites like Google, whose homepage is very simple. Instead, their redesigns shove even more content on their homepages, making them almost infinitely long (five, six, seven screens’ worth). I have no idea who’s going to scan all the way down there for what they want.
Individual section pages help a bit, but they’re still part of a massive system that’s difficult to navigate due to its sheer size.
What I wanted: Give local outlets more control
What happened: Some get more, some get less
Canwest finally gave its daily newspapers their own websites with proper URLs. The Gazette’s website became montrealgazette.com instead of canada.com/montrealgazette. La Presse and the Journal de Montréal still don’t have their own websites, instead being hidden inside the Cyberpresse and Canoe portals.
What I wanted: Less reliance on wire services
What happened: More focus on locally-produced content
Fortunately, local media is more likely to promote its own productions over stuff it syndicates from other sources. Sections like health and technology, however, and especially sports tend to be filled with automatically-generated wire content.
What I wanted: Setup internal blogs to communicate with readers
What happened: Blogs started, forgotten
La Presse and The Gazette started blogs about themselves, but neither is updated very often now. No major news organizations communicate with readers on a regular basis about themselves through blogs, which is a shame because they need all the help they can get in these times.
What I wanted: Niche blogs
What happened: Columnist blogs
Lots of columnists started blogs about their beats, though many holes are still evident and not enough effort is being made keeping those blogs updated and publicizing them.
Worse, when the columnist goes on vacation (or just doesn’t feel like updating), the blog goes dead. No effort is made to bring in guest bloggers for those times. These niche blogs are about the people, not the subject, and most people don’t care where they get their soccer/TV/food/environment news from.
What I wanted: Static content
What happened: Disappearing content
I pointed to CBC’s “In Depth” section as an example of stuff that news agencies should look at doing. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of it. Feature stories go up and disappear within days as new content is uploaded. Archives have to be searched for instead of being browsed.
We still have an article-based mentality, where journalists summarize past events of a story instead of linking to a static article with all the information so far.
So when bloggers, for example, want to point to a page that explains a person, place or issue, they point to Wikipedia, even if the Wikipedia page is about three sentences long.
What I wanted: Solving article duplication
What happened: More article duplication
This is a problem a lot of newspapers experience: A story is written for the paper, uploaded to the web the night before, and then uploaded again automatically with all of the newspaper’s content. The result is two copies of the same article, though often with different headlines, photos or formatting.
No significant moves have been made to solve this problem that I can see.
What I wanted: Stop splitting stories across multiple pages
What happened: Users given “all on one page” option
With the speeds our computers operate at and all the Flash ads, videos and other junk that need to be downloaded on every page, it seems ridiculous that newspaper websites split text articles up on different pages. It’s obviously not to reduce page load times, it’s to increase ad impressions by forcing people to load multiple pages.
Increasingly, “all on one page” is being offered as an option, but this isn’t the default. I have no idea why anyone would want only part of a story to load when they click on it.
In January, Le Devoir pondered what the media’s going to have to deal with this year.
- What do we do with TQS? Well, we gave it to Remstar and they promptly fired everyone. Their ratings are crap, but they don’t have many expenses.
- How do we finance television? The CRTC said no to cable providers handing money to conventional TV broadcasters, so it looks like advertising is still the way to go.
- How long will the Journal de Québec situation go on? Just when some people thought it would last forever, a deal was reached in June and the employees were back to work in August. Now we wonder if the same will happen at the Journal de Montréal.
- How do we handle journalist multitasking? La Presse dealt with job classification in a way that its union was happy with. The Journal de Québec did it in a way the union could live with. Others are still trying to figure it out. But besides dealing with union roadblocks, the media needs to figure out whether it’s worth it for reporters to take crappy videos and photos instead of relying on professional photographers.
- How will online distribution royalties be handled? The U.S. writers strike ended in a way that still hasn’t resolved that issue. Royalties won’t really be resolved until someone starts making money online.
- Will we have Internet CanCon? The CRTC decided it would not regulate the Internet, and media companies were happy with that. Net neutrality is still a problem we have to deal with though.