Tag Archives: newspaper websites

Use YouTube, not your crappy clone of it

Buzz Machine’s Jeff Jarvis has a piece about how newspaper companies suck at a lot of the technical stuff they do, and should consider outsourcing that to companies like Google who know what they’re doing.

Though I don’t agree with the sentiment that newspapers should get out of the printing business (yes it’s expensive, but newspapers are highly qualified to do it), I can’t help but agree about the technology stuff. A quick comparison of any media website’s proprietary hacked-together, flash-based video viewing system and something simple like YouTube and you wonder why they even bother.

So why don’t media companies take advantage of sites like YouTube and Flickr? They’re cheaper, they function better, and they provide a much wider audience for content.

The answer is, sadly, that it represents a loss of control. Newspaper websites want 100% of the ad revenue, even if they’re bleeding through the nose on IT staff to keep their own video portals running. They don’t trust YouTube and Flickr (even if some of their own journalists make liberal use of those sites when management isn’t looking).

That’s a mentality that needs to change. Either news websites’ content management systems need to improve drastically, or they should abandon them and use off-the-shelf systems that have proven popular.

Believe me, I had to deal for years with a hacked-together CMS (that I myself chose and installed) at a student newspaper. Killing all that work is painful, but it needs to be done.

West Island Chronicle starts online-only weekend edition

This weekend, the Chronicle launched its much-touted (by itself) online-only weekend edition, which seeks to continue the age-old tradition of … whatever it is the West Island Chronicle is known for.

I don’t notice anything particularly new with this weekend edition, but perhaps it’s new for people used to getting a physical paper at home every week. It seems to be filled mainly with pixellated non-expert columnists talking about gaming, parenting, sales, exercise and … miscellaneous, I guess.

Cyberpresse launches widget, fails

Cyberpresse editors are really excited about this new widget they’ve launched. There are versions for Windows XP, Apple Dashboard and Google Desktop. I tried the Dashboard version and I was rather disappointed:

  • They say it’s “really easy to configure,” which is true because there are only two configuration options: category and refresh time
  • Oh, and that “category” thing? You can only choose one. So if you want breaking news and health news, you’re out of luck
  • And the category list isn’t very extensive. It has hockey, for example, but no other sport. So if you want the latest Alouettes headlines, better try something else.
  • All of this could be made irrelevant by La Presse merely improving their RSS feeds and allowing people to choose the reader of their choice. Right now the feeds are limited to some very general categories and the blogs.

I know all the know-it-alls are saying widgets are the future of media online, but I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind.

This is 90s-era Pointcast technology, with a mindset to match.

Steep learning curve

Dear La Presse,

Maybe you should get out of the video business. Your people are great writers, but they’re not equipped to do standups in the street about business stories. It’s just embarrassing.

By all means, put up videos of things that require video to properly understand. But if the video is a talking head surrounded by B-roll, why bother?

(I’d provide a link, but Cyberpresse seems to have something against people linking to its videos)

Olympics blogs ahoy!

La Presse unveiled its Beijing Olympics blog, noting that it’s sending a team of reporters, including columnist Pierre Foglia, to China next month. (Ten years ago, a newspaper sending reporters to the Olympics wouldn’t be news, but with the industry suffocating and cutting back, every plane ticket and hotel room has to be justified as a Newspaper Reporting Event.)

The Star, meanwhile, is putting links to its Olympics website on every page, including a logo next to its flag. Sadly, the website from Canada’s largest newspaper has about the same design finesse you’d expect from a YMCA bulletin board.

The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs, meanwhile, is still milking the Chinese news sources for weird stories relating to the Games on his Five-Ring Circus blog, which contrasts with Canwest’s matter-of-fact topic page.

The Globe and Mail hilariously has its Olympics coverage in a section called “Others“. Their Olympics blog is better, at least, though I’m not sure what “Wb” stands for in the URL.

The best Canadian Olympics news website unsurprisingly goes to the CBC, which not only has a general Olympics website, but has separate related sites for each major sport at the Games, each filled with stories. These will be the last Olympics the CBC has broadcast rights for.

And for completeness sake, Quebecor’s Canoe portal has yawnable websites in French and English for the Games with stories from its newspapers and wire services.

But even that’s better than CTV’s Olympics website, which doesn’t exist. (CTV has rights to 2010 and beyond, so you’d think they’d take advantage of the opportunity to get some practice online)

Le Devoir works its feeds

Le Devoir, whose RSS feed I had to unsubscribe to a while back because it was a monolithic feed that had 60 articles a day, has overhauled their feed system and now offers multiple feeds. Not only do they have feeds for different sections (their media news feed has a welcome new home back in my feed reader), but they have feeds for individual journalists, which is something I’d like to see other websites copy.

The next step will be having feeds for each individual keyword (they’ve been tagging articles with keywords for quite a while now, but haven’t done anything useful with it online yet)

WestIslandGazette.com launches

WestIslandGazette.com, The Gazette’s “hyper-local” website serving West Island and western off-island communities, officially launches today. Page A2 in today’s paper has an article from editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips discussing the new site.

The site is pretty well unchanged since last time I mentioned it, except it has fewer bugs and more updated stories. (No changes based on Craig Silverman’s comments, for example.)

Phillips’s article also mentions upcoming changes to the editorial page, which will reduce space given to editorials and increase space given to letters to the editor (a change I think most people will welcome). There will also be more web-only opinion content, and Phillips’s blog, which I mentioned last week. The changes all go live on Monday.

Gazette creating West Island hyper-local website

I was sworn to secrecy, but Roberto let the cat out of the bag so he can take the flack if it’s still supposed to be a secret.

West Island Plus

The Gazette has been working on a West Island portal (called “West Island +” though its address is westislandgazette.com), a mix of newspaper stories and user-submitted content that pretty much fits that “hyper-local” mold that everyone’s talking about these days.

Its key feature is that stories are categorized based on location, allowing you to search for all things that take place in Pierrefonds (for example). The locations fall pretty well along the same borders as the former municipalities (though the 40 people who live in Ile Dorval might get ticked off at being lumped in with the bigger city). It also includes Ile Perrot and Vaudreuil-Dorion/St. Lazare/Hudson, which are also included in the Gazette’s West Island delivery area.

The site is still not quite ready for its official launch, which is expected later this month.


I think there are a lot of good things about it, and a lot that can be improved (it’s a bit wide for me, forcing a horizontal scroll bar for those dozen or so pixels off the side).

The big question, of course, is whether user-generated content will turn this into the online destination for thousands of West Islanders, or whether the signal-to-noise ratio will be too low for people to wade through it all.

There’s only one way to find out.

UPDATE: Craig Silverman, a freelancer and blogger, takes issue with the terms of service, which he accuses of “bad faith” because it demands you waive moral rights (i.e. the right not to have your work distorted to say the opposite of what you mean, or the right to not have your name and image used to endorse a product without your permission), it demands free reign to publish and sell your content to others (“in perpetuity throughout the world”) and it demands that you waive the right to sue them for defamation or anything else no matter what they do to you.

It’s the kind of clauses you’ll find on just about any big corporate website, whose administrators throw it on there without thinking about it (or even probably reading it). But that doesn’t make it right.

Conventional wisdom is crap

This article says so many good things about how newspapers have no idea how to run websites, I feel I should quote it all. But some brief points I wish I could spraypaint on a local overpass:

  • “Conventional wisdom says that newspapers are caught in a business model which doesn’t support the changes to digital media, and despite huge efforts, the newspaper industry is in decline. Maybe there’s no longer a place for traditional newspapers. That’s what the Register’s publisher seems to be saying. The conventional wisdom is crap.”
  • “Most digital operations are seriously under-staffed and under-resourced. They don’t employ even the basic traffic-building strategies that independents are using with great success.”
  • “Digg, Reddit, Newsvine and others are experimenting with community selection of news, while newspapers pay little more than lip service to reader involvement.”
  • Social networking has changed the way young people interact, yet newspapers have failed to meaningfully take the plunge.”
  • The back end digital news production structure at most newspapers is a mess.”
  • ” Reporters and editors are pressed to add digital duties – blogs, podcasts etc – as add-ons to their “regular” jobs instead of incorporating the digital world as essential tools that should make their ability to gather and tell stories and interact with their communities easier.” (I would add: They’re expected to add these duties without extra pay, which means they’re absolutely unmotivated to do so.)
  • “So I want to advertise on the website of my local paper. How about those 2.2 million P-I readers? I go to the website. Look for how to do it. Not easy. I have to call someone, negotiate a deal.” (Small, niche advertisers should be able to buy online ads in minutes with a credit card, and without having to call anyone.)

Makes sense, no?

My 2008 media website wishlist

Lots of people are talking about what changes we’re going to see for big media news websites in 2008:

Having been a consumer of online journalism for quite a while now, I’ve become an expert — no, a god — in how these websites should be run. So below, in no particular order, are some of my suggestions to newspaper and other big media news websites on how to improve for 2008:

Continue reading

Cyberpresse putting up 360 photos

Cyberpresse (which just started playing music on my laptop without permission) is putting up 360-degree photos on its website: already one of a snowy Gilford St. shovelling on de Mentana St., and a truck accident on Cremazie Blvd.

It’s just another example of how big media companies like Cyberpresse understand the Internet and are prepared to use cutting-edge 1994 technology* to bring things that are cool but uninformative to users. (The last picture is particularly apt at showing the weaknesses of the technology: a truck accident is shown from only one angle — it’s great that I can see out in different directions, but I can’t see the other side of the truck.)

*Actually, it’s a Flash-based emulator of cutting-edge 1994 technology, but otherwise indistinguishable from Quicktime VR (right down to the unintuitive navigation).

Media websites all Flash, no accessibility

Last week, a group called AccessibilitéWeb released a report that evaluated major websites for accessibility to the disabled. The Gazette described it as “scathing” for its exposure of the very poor performance of certain websites.

Canadian government websites, unsurprisingly, rated very high.

The other end of the scale will come as no surprise for those who read this blog regularly:

Media websites scored the worst, with an average rating of 5.48.

Later, the article explains one of the reasons for this:

To François Aubin, an expert at usability and ergonomics firm Cognitive Group, the numbers are not surprising. He goes as far to say that half of websites aren’t even accessible to able-bodied people.

Many times the text is too small for normal standards and the information is badly organized, he said.

“There’s a big paradox in Web accessibility,” he said. “Sometimes you make sites accessible, but not for the everyman.” As an example, the city of Montreal created a good accessible version of its portal, but the regular site remains confusing for the layperson.

“You can follow all the technical norms, but it’s more important for people to find info they’re looking for,” Aubin said.

Their table listing the top 200 websites accessible to Quebecers gives some more details on how the sites ranked. Only government websites received their top rating.

Here’s how the mainstream Canadian media sites did:


  • Ranked: 27th (C or “good”)
  • Accessibility problems: An over-reliance on JavaScript, missing or redundant/useless ALT text, unnecessary Flash, text in images, and a fixed, graphical-based layout.
  • My pet peeve: They have plenty of audio and video clips online, but make it almost impossible to link to them directly, assuming trying to view them doesn’t crash my browser.


  • Ranked: 109th (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Missing ALT text, links with the same text, tables used for layout, pop-up windows
  • My pet peeve: Archaic pixel-measured three-column layout. 275 links on the homepage is way too much. And is that MS Comic Sans as the photo caption font?


  • Ranked: 141st (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Over-reliance on Flash and JavaScript, broken links, missing ALT text, linkes with the same text, pop-up windows, tables used for layout
  • My pet peeve: The only thing worse than an 800-pixel fixed layout is a 1024-pixel fixed layout. Homepage is a mess, and almost completely unusable without its style sheet. Over 300 links on the homepage.


  • Ranked: 146th (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Navigation by JavaScript, broken links, too much Flash
  • My pet peeve: Videos that play without you asking them to, >300 links, 1024-pixel fixed-width messy layout similar to TQS, text is way too small.


  • Ranked: 155th (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Navigation by JavaScript, tables used or layout, very difficult to navigate without stylesheets, iframes, missing ALT text
  • My pet peeve: Links open in new window, lots of images, video requires Windows Media Player

Toronto Star

  • Ranked: 158th (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Missing ALT text, tables used for layout, lots of JavaScript
  • My pet peeve: Fixed-pixel layout, bottom half of homepage is a complete mess, can’t make heads or tails without stylesheet

Global TV

  • Ranked: 169th (E or “very poor”)
  • Accessibility problems: Missing ALT text, tables used for layout
  • My pet peeve: Video plays (with audio) without permission, a lot of things that should be links aren’t

If you’re thinking this list is incomplete, you’re not the only one. Le Devoir and The Gazette are notably absent. The list is based on the top 200 websites in Quebec according to ComScore, which I guess is an unbiased enough criteria. But you’d think exceptions could be made. Tetesaclaques.tv and Heavy.com are on there. Do we really care about those more than two major media sources in Montreal?

The other problem I have with the survey is its methodology: It seems to rely on a quantitative measure of the number of errors in the code rather than putting someone in front of a computer and seeing how well they cope finding information with each site. They just ran an online accessibility checker they created on each site and summarized the results.

I can live with that, even though it provides an inaccurate accounting of how accessible each site really is, but I’m not going to pay $500 for each site’s report. The only people who are going to do that are the owners of the largest sites, who can scan the report and make some recommendations to their code lackeys like “we should have ALT text for all images” that they should already know.

They’re still not learning

Automatically-playing audio, distracting animation, overcrowded homepages and bad JavaScript links are problems that have existed since the dawn of the WWW in one form or another. It’s shocking that these problems still exist.

But as Patrick Tanguay points out, the people who evaluate websites look at the wow factor rather than the ability to find information you’re looking for. Winners of the Infopresse Boomerang prizes show this very obviously: They’re all Flash-based, very inaccessible, and turn navigation into a frustrating game rather than an intuitive process.

One of their grand prize winners, Montréal en 12 lieux, is a perfect example. It has a lot of great content. Videos, pictures, stories. It’s really cool. But it’s also unnecessarily difficult to navigate. One level of navigation actually involves chasing after pictures that are spinning around at variable speeds. I had to stop watching the videos at one point because the strain on my poor computer’s CPU and memory became too much to bear.

At some point, people are going to have to learn that “cool” and “good-looking” aren’t synonyms for “good” when dealing with web design. Craigslist and Google should have proven that by now.

UPDATE (Dec. 12): A defence of the Boomerangs (basically about how they’ve honoured non-Flash sites in the past, which is a rather silly argument), and an idea for a competing competition, decided by users. And Patrick responds to responses of his criticisms of the awards.