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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

How online newspapers should be

Anyone reading this is already well aware newspapers are making the (slow) transition to digital, and just like the preferred format of music has moved from CD to mp3, newspapers will eventually move from print to entirely web-based/RSS operations. It’s just so much better and more efficient way of receiving information. Print is still hanging around but it won’t last.

Unfortunately newspaper Web sites, on the whole, are still playing by the old rules of the Web and are not nearly as nice as professional blogs to read and follow. A few things I’ve noticed from this perspective that are especially frustrating:

Taking down stories/changing link structure
Some papers get it and don’t change links on us or take down old stories, but I’ve seen plenty of sites take down stories after 30 days or so, or change the link structure to archive a story somewhere. The Internet is not the same as print media, it is not a broadcast medium, it is a communications medium. A story shouldn’t disappear after 30 days, it should remain up there as bloggers and social media types love to do research, piece things together and remix news as they see fit. Linking to a story only to find a few weeks later it’s down is about the most frustrating thing a news site can do, and will ensure I don’t like to that site again.

Not linking to external sources to reference things
Newspapers are still clinging to the old way of things. They still have the attitude of “if we print, it, it’s true and doesn’t need to be sourced.” That’s actually false – if you have a source on something, link it for us to check it out. It makes a site far more credible. A side note, The New York Times is one of the few sites that actually gets the web, does tons of external linking and is even developing a brand new API. Should be neat to see what this looks like, they could set a good example for the industry.

Forcing users to login to view stories
Don’t news sites want more readers and subscribers? The easiest way to discourage this is to force users to create a username/password, fill out a profile, then check their email address to activate that profile before they can view a story. It leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths, and they are losing readership by doing this. If you’re going to play by the new rules, go in all the way and don’t cling to forcing people to fill out forms before they can access content.

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