Newspaper websites lack for love; you can help

Are you happy with the way your city’s daily newspaper presents news on the Web?

If not, I’ve got a hunch you might like it briefer and more current.

That’s the germ of an idea that’s sprouted in the past few days as I’ve stumbled upon (and sought out) what bloggers have to say about newspaper websites. Spoiler warning: It’s not all good. But there are a lot of good points.

First, we ought to be more direct on the Web. The Journalist Iconoclast is dead-on when he notes that the written report on many newspaper websites is often bloated and indirect.

This complaint is, I think often deserved, especially when you factor in some empirical evidence about how little of our stories site visitors actually read.

But while the era of shovelware is thankfully mostly over, some of its habits remain. My newspaper, for instance, republishes its entire daily report on the Web for the benefit of print subscribers. Paring these down would be pointless.

We are more active with breaking news, which is, by necessity, often much briefer and more direct. But sometimes this “breaking news” is a complete story slated for publication the next day. Should we be boiling these versions down? What about for special packages that run upwards of 40 column inches? How do we present this idea diplomatically to our writers?

(Pixar’s Brad Bird has some broad agreement-fostering suggestions, which I found via Teaching Online Journalism via Journerdism via GigaOM.)

Keeping news brief and direct could be easier if we think of the Web as the primary product – not in terms of revenue, of course, but order of publication. Mindy McAdams riffs on this theme, pointing out that some newspapers have taken this approach. The Spokesman-Review is among them, but we may only see three to four “Web first” stories on a given weekday. A lot of sports and weekend stories fall through the cracks because of staff limitations. In general, I imagine larger metro papers have an edge in this department.

Hey folks, I’m on the front lines in this battle to keep newspapers relevant and afloat. I’m in a position to try new things in terms of story presentation online — or at least run them up the flagpole — and I recognize that we need to keep refining our craft. If you’ve got a brilliant idea or even a simple gripe that could spark one, please jot it here for the love of the First Amendment and good of your favorite watchdogs and newshounds.

3 thoughts on “Newspaper websites lack for love; you can help”

  1. I believe the latest Poynter EyeTrack Study found that people read MORE of a story online than in print. So perhaps if we trim online stories, we should also consider trimming the print versions. Or, at least, those findings might be relevant to the discussion.

  2. As a former copy editor, i’ve never had a problem with making stories shorter. But I find it surprising that people read more of the online stories – especially given how many distractions are available in the form of links.

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