Take a moment to gaze upon the screenshot above of Boston.com’s homepage.
What do you see?
I’ll tell you what I see.
There are literally dozens of places to click (I lost count at 50). It is a headache-inducing jumble – a crushed mash – of information, advertising, news, sponsored content and micro-imagery.
I don’t want to pick on Boston.com. The same experience can be had at just about any newspapers website. But let’s use Boston.com as an example.
Here are the three primary problems as I see them:
- Static Content. The content is still primarily text. Boston.com is not taking full advantage of being digital. The photos are microscopic and almost an afterthought. There is a video on the page but it looks lost (and boring) amid the chaos. Where are the graphics? The images? The videos? Why are there no interactive features?
- No Visual Identity. Unless you count the ugly light blue hypertext. There’s no essence of brand (or even place). What is the Boston.com? What does it stand for? There’s nothing here holding the page together. And before you start howling about the Globe not being a brand – but a media outlet – think again. It better get a brand or it’s not going to succeed.
- No Community. All the content is being pushed out at you. There’s no place to interact, no place to comment and no place to contribute.
Here’s what I would do to change it.
- Less is More. The cram it all in strategy doesn’t work anymore. Newspapers should look at how the Huffington Post, Politico and other all digital news outlets present their news. Big, provocative visuals combined with big, provocative headlines. The blog style lets readers easily navigate down the screen without becoming lost.
- Go Live. Newspaper newsrooms are hives of activity. Bring the readers right inside with live video updates everyone hour. Reporters and editors discussing news, headlines, trends and cool things they are working on. Have the camera roam with the host. Make it feel unscripted and raw. Embed the live feeds right onto social properties. Newsrooms should be the content.
- Go Graphic. Polls, infographics, photo art, images, GIFs, cartoons, chart, etc.. Make them all as interactive as possible. Illustrate and visualize the news. Nothing explains the news more powerfully than a striking visual representation.
- Get a Brand. When readers are on the Huffington Post or TechCrunch or Amazon.com or Facebook – they know it. Those sites have a visual brand identity. You don’t even need to see the logos. You know where the content is from because of its design. Newsrooms should do that.
- Build a Community. Stop talking at everyone. And why bother with having anonymous commenting when the reporters don’t participate and there are no rules? That’s just providing a cesspool for the trolls. Build a real community by asking for participation. By using user-generated content as part the news packages. Newsrooms should be a place of active (but civil) debate. Foster that. Grow it.
And, of course, do journalism. Real journalism.
Newspapers need to realize that they not only compete with Buzzfeed and Gawker for attention, but with brands like Cisco and Starbucks.
That’s the new reality.
What do you think? How would you run an online newsroom for a newspaper?