Newsquest relaunch local newspaper websites… is that it?

Newsquest has begun the roll out of a relaunch of its websites with the Lancashire Telegraph, Bradford Telegraph & Argus and York’s The Press.

Hold The Front Page describe it as a “modernised and revamped look”. Really? As Keri Davies put it: “ugh, what a mess”. Alex Lockwood: “looks like shoveldesign – can barely see the ‘Lancashire’ on the logo; national news more imp. than local comment?” John Thompson:Too much noise and everything in three columns. Lead stories should run across two colums Text too small in places.”

Comments on the page outlining the relaunch of the Lancashire Telegraph are invariably negative. ‘Eckythump’, a local web designer, was particularly detailed:

The site is slow, the comments forms don’t always appear and the general layout is poor. In particular the choice of pale grey text over a pale blue background is very bad for anyone with a visual impairment – have you considered SENDA compliance and accessibility standards?
The old site worked better than this and generated far more interaction. The number of comments I can see on the new site is a fraction of those on the old one. In particular the old site allowed registered users to post without having to perform the ‘type what you see’ stage. Now we have to register and perform this step. Hardly making the site user friendly. The old site needed speeding up, not this poor redeign.
The site seems to be more about maximising advertising exposure than genuine interaction with your readers.

And there’s the rub: Newsquest still appear to be treating their websites as products, not services; content, not platforms. What are the “major” changes announced by the Lancashire Telegraph? Commenters have to register, navigation is now horizontal rather than vertical; and some sections have moved.

Credit where it’s due: The Lancashire Telegraph were an early adopter of hyperlocal and in particular are successfully pioneering the use of mobile. They have very well organised photo galleries and a generous and considered video section, with but Dave Lee wonders if the new homepage is flexible enough to allow a video to be used in place of the lead picture (see comment 1). All videos also come with a frustrating 15 second pre-roll advertising that becomes repetitive – and you wonder how readers feel about ads being placed on video they have submitted to the site (or, for that matter, how advertisers feel). Time to tell advertisers about interactive overlays.

The articles retain some nods to the web 2.0 age – bookmarking/sharing/email to a friend; related links; and ‘Ways to get involved’ (where “Register to post comments” hardly makes it sound like they’re keen to hear your thoughts).

On the homepage there is the now expected ‘most read/commented’ table and if you keep scrolling you’ll see some hints of the quality within – including a potentially wonderful ‘Local information’ search that readers will easily miss in the ‘blind’ ad-ridden third column. Shouldn’t this be right at the top, next to site search?

Perhaps an Ajax-driven interface where readers could drag and drop modules to form their own page could bring some much-needed order to it all. On the whole this seems like a missed opportunity which, having had the advantage of waiting until after relaunches from Northcliffe and Trinity Mirror, still comes out looking worse.

Person John Thompson:
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7 thoughts on “Newsquest relaunch local newspaper websites… is that it?

  1. P

    “national news more imp. than local comment?”

    National news is at the foot of the homepage, below all the local content. How does that make it more important?

    “Dave Lee wonders if the new homepage is flexible enough to allow a video to be used in place of the lead picture. ”

    Yes it is – see for a current example.

    “bookmarking/sharing/email to a friend; related links”

    Have been in place on all Newsquest sites for the last 2 years – not a new thing.

    “‘Local information’ search… Shouldn’t this be right at the top?”

    Yes, it is at the top of every page – see link to Local Info’ – as well as in the right hand column of every page.

  2. paulbradshaw

    Sorry Paul, I didn’t mean to imply that the sharing options were new.
    But Local information *search* is not at the top – the *link* to Local Info is. Search boxes tend to work best in a particular place – and given how much people rely on search to navigate, I think you’re hiding away a terrific feature of the site by not making it a first point of entry.

  3. P

    A few more comments if you don’t mind…

    “I think you’re hiding away a terrific feature of the site by not making it a first point of entry.”

    Agreed – the Local Info section is a great feature, and it’s surprising that no other newspaper group has sought to follow suit in the 18 months or so it’s been running.

    Unfortunately, there is only so much space on a home page. Do you drop the live traffic and travel information (which feeds from the Local Info section, by the way) so it displays ‘below the fold’, and bring in a search box? Tough choice, but I think the current set-up is better.

    “All videos also come with a frustrating 15 second pre-roll advertising”

    You could alternatively look upon it as a sign that mainstream advertisers are taking local newspaper websites’ video offerings seriously enough to want to spend money advertising with them.

    “”Register to post comments” hardly makes it sound like they’re keen to hear your thoughts”

    A little clunky perhaps, but the new Newsquest sites have gone from having no registration to post comments (like this website) to requiring registration. This is why links to the registration sign-up can be found everywhere.

  4. Kathryn Schlieben

    Regarding the use of the 15 second pre-roll on the video in place of the lead picture I think we’re already identified there are two issues here. One is can a video replace the lead picture. The other is how to monetise it. First, I do think a video can replace a lead picture but the editor needs to keep a watchful eye on how this affects engagement. Are people watching the video? Is it encouraging them to engage futher? How are click throughs from the homepage affected? Are people visiting the homepage and leaving after watching videos rather than going deeper into the site?

    As for monetising the video, I don’t necessarily agree that overlays are the definitive answer. They are one option. Looking at The Lancashire Telegraph’s site there are already several revenue mechanisms here. They have sponsored links from Yahoo, a local advertisers module, and room for a banner in the header of the site. The video window presents another opportunity for revenue however they could choose not to have a pre-roll in favour of a post-roll or serve the ad before a second piece of content is selected thereby giving the first piece of video content to the audience without the trade off. Overlays are certainly a possibility, they’d still need to consider how to treat sensitive and user uploaded content. For example, on MSN Video we can actually supress pre-rolls against pieces of content that may not be suitable for advertising – for example scenes of natural disasters or war images if the content owner so chooses – and we don’t monetise user uploaded videos. The verdict is still out on pre-rolls vs overlay but I believe in the end there is a time and place for both. Heck, even YouTube might be considering them.

    “Google plans to begin accepting “preroll” and “postroll” ads, which will run before and after some YouTube video clips, according to one person familiar with the matter. The plan under consideration, this person says, would give companies that post video clips the option to sell such ads, and share the revenue with Google. YouTube has long forsworn such ads because consumers don’t like them. But advertisers consider them highly effective.”.

  5. paulbradshaw

    Thanks Kathryn for a well informed and illuminating comment.
    P, there is space in the Lancs Telegraph design to have another search box next to the main one – or a drop-down so users could select what to search – or you could configure it to return results from both.
    I agree that advertisers are starting to take video seriously – and I think this could be a growth area, particularly if newspapers sell the production of ads as well.

  6. Pingback: Lancashire Evening Post - more interactive than The Times? | Online Journalism Blog

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