Newspaper Web design flaws highlighted

Newspaper Web design flaws highlighted.
Poynter’s Steve Outing has an excellent column in Editor and Publisher that I highly recommend for anybody in the online news biz. He raises an issue that’s constant with me — the design of news Websites.

The home pages of most news Web sites are too cluttered and suffer from link and content overload. Nearly all handle photography poorly. Page designs are the same day after day. There’s not enough hierarchy in story placement. Home page links are repetitive. Online classifieds design is often awful, making it difficult for consumers to find what they want. Advertising is handled so poorly that it’s not effective.
Way to go, Steve! I couldn’t agree more. He goes on to examine the thoughts of Norfolk designer, Alan Jacobson, a guy who knows his stuff.
In Jacobson’s ideal world, home-page designers would craft a new layout every day, tailored to the news of the moment. Of course, Web-publishing reality gets in the way. Content management systems often dictate a more structured approach; they accept a basic home-page template that can be tweaked only modestly from day to day. Rare is the CMS that can support the kind of daily changes that a print-edition front-page designer can make.

How do we get past this? The industry needs to demand that CMS developers build better flexibility into the systems used by the news industry, for one thing.

A shorter term solution is one Jacobson uses with some of his newspaper Web clients. He provides them with at least a half dozen basic templates for different situations — one with a single story and piece of art for the big-news days, and various forms for other situations, varying headline and photo counts.

There’s much more and the article is worthwhile reading. It’s gratifying to hear other people singing this song. When I left TV News and got into the Internet, I overcame the fear of the unknown and the blizzard of unfamiliar terms used by Web people in the 90s. Once on the inside, I could see that this is a whole lot easier than people realize, and I have to agree with Mr. Jacobson. There simply isn’t any reason news Websites can’t be more aesthetically appealing and user-friendly.

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