Monthly Archives: April 2009

Newspaper websites need to improve their readability

Most newspaper websites are doing a bad design job in making their stories readable. Too many are using:

  • small fonts,
  • long off-putting paragraphs,
  • no subheadings,
  • no in-content boxes or pictures, and
  • no in-content links.

To explain more, I’ve written a companion post on online readability (design, not writing – and this post was first published here). And here’s an example each of their news stories so you can see the issue: Daily Mail, Express, FT, Guardian, Independent, Mirror, Sun, Telegraph, Times.

Main readability design mistakes

This table summarises the main ways they are going wrong.

Tiny fonts

They are all using font sizes that are too small for comfortable reading on copy-heavy pages. Only the Guardian, Independent, Mirror and Telegraph offer obvious controls for resizing text.

But most of the sites use 12 or 13px fonts for body copy. I think this is too small to be the default – 16px is a much more readable size. Only the Guardian comes anywhere near this. Continue reading

What should we talk about at JEEcamp?

It’s 2 weeks until JEEcamp – the unconference for journalism experimenters and entrepreneurs – and I think it’s probably time to whittle down what we’ll be talking about.

Whether you’re attending or not, what do you think are the biggest issues you’d want to discuss with others in the news, social media and technology industries?

Games and journalism: Now that journalism is in trouble, why not play with it?

Karthika Muthukumaraswamy looks at how games have been used in online journalism.

BlackBerrys, iPods and Kindles are not enough anymore. Let’s add a joystick to the expanding repertoire of tools available to news consumers.

Gaming is often overlooked as a tool for disseminating news. Online games are attempting to explain the economy through the politics of oil, educate users on disaster readiness in the context of Hurricane Katrina and, perhaps more in line with traditional video games, some are exploring the various military operations implemented in the Iraq war. In a strange likeness to fantasy sports, one game allowed people to draft their own cabinet picks for Obama’s then-new administration.

Nick Diakopoulos, a researcher at the Georgia Tech Journalism and Games Project, gives one compelling reason for the media to turn to online games: they offer a format that would wean away from the current emphasis on unusual and inopportune events, focusing instead on more process-oriented journalism. How many times do you hear about a specific incident or event that killed troops or civilians in Iraq, without any knowledge whatsoever of the military operation that caused it? Continue reading

Why it’s dangerous to compare print figures to website stats

Dan Thornton, Community Marketing Manager at Bauer Media, reposting from his blog, TheWayoftheWeb.

Although hardly newspaper/print apologists, both John Duncan and Martin Langeveld have posted interesting articles trying to compare the print/online split in newspaper readership in number terms. Duncan comes in with online having 17% of page impressions on Inksniffer using the Guardian as a case study, while Langeveld posts that only 3% of newspaper reading happens online.

While I totally agree that it’s easy to overestimate the online figures in comparison to print products, and both articles are good reality checks, I have to say that I think comparing print and online readerships directly in this way is equivalent to comparing the number of people who drive cars with the number of people with vowels in their name.

And touting the eventual figures is very dangerous. Continue reading

Google’s Fusionchart

I discovered Google’s Fusionchart by accident.

One of our scientists, who left the company to form his own agrochemical patent-tracking subscription news using Blogspot, used this free javascript-based software to illustrate this rather turgid subject matter. I borrowed his idea and used Fusionchart to illustrate a life science story on Neogen, a diagnostics company.

Life science reporting, like technology reporting, employs unnecessary amount of jargons and uninspiring polysyllabic words, often in passive sentences. This is largely down to bad subbing, bad editing (alas, not many can retell the story of science as well as former Nature editor Pete Wrobel) – and bad story-telling skills.

So often, it is down to the web editors to make the content more palatable to the laymen, although we know more about technology than science. Continue reading

How news organisations can use ‘open innovation’ – interview with InnoCentive CEO Dwayne Spradlin

Dwayne Spradlin is CEO of InnoCentive, a company which has been building and managing crowdsourcing platforms since 2001. I asked him what news organisations could learn from InnoCentive’s experiences:

News organizations are at a turning point right now. The problem is that publishers have yet to find an online advertising model that can compensate for the shift from paid to free subscriptions. And when you think about what it means to compensate for this shift, online advertising needs to both fund online content and subsidize traditional print content if both vehicles are to survive.

Publishers have not found this magic formula, which is why you see so many abandoning their print publications. Today, they must innovate and reinvent their businesses for the online world.

We have had the opportunity to observe how established industries (R&D, for example) have been forced to change and adjust to a new reality. News organizations are no different from other industries in that to grow and compete in an increasingly Internet-driven world they need to operate within a fundamentally different model – an interactive model. Continue reading

Google’s Schmidt to news execs: You’re great. Join us.

I’m growing tired of waiting for genuine words of insight to come from Google CEO Eric Schmidt when it comes to the news industry. An hour ago he made a speech to the Newspaper Association of America’s annual convention in San Diego, spouting the usual stuff about how great newspapers and journalists are, and providing gems of advice like “Try to figure out what your consumer wants” and advertising is king.

As for paying for content, he suggested a future of news based on

“three layers of revenue for news content itself – a free model where the majority of readers would converge, a subscription model where readers would pay to access news stories and a micropayment model where news outlets could charge pennies for access to specific topics or content.”

Well there you go.

But he also suggested a future in which the news organisations work with Google to provide a personalised experience for readers (I would link to the WSJ report which included the quote I was to use, but both disappeared behind a paywall as I was writing this – video will appear here, however). 

It’s easy to see how this would work. Marry Google’s personal data on users (location, browsing habits, words used in emails, friends, times of access) and its processing power with a well tagged database of news and you could serve up highly personalised journalism, not just in terms of content but in terms of timing and delivery platforms (“Sarah hasn’t been online all day so she won’t know about the story that broke at 9am, and she is checking her social network now so that’s where she needs it”).

It would of course make Google the iTunes of news, and I’m not sure anyone’s ready to let that happen, least of all the NAA.

UPDATE: Steve Outing makes a more developed argument on what Google should do to help news.

War is coming – and AP mustn’t be allowed to win

The tanks are massing at the borders. The officers are drawing up “rules of engagement”. Soldiers are “rattling their sabres”. When times are hard, empires go to war. And so in the coming months we can expect to see “the web’s news cop” The Associated Press ignore the lessons of history and declare war against their perceived enemies.

The AP’s announcement yesterday that it will police the web for what it sees as “illegally” published content is so worrying, on so many levels, that I will struggle to cover everything here. Continue reading

What’s the future for local and regional media?

The government has launched a new inquiry into the future of local and regional media – and there’s just six weeks to have your say on the subject.

None of us (yet) have the answers to the question of new journalism business models, and the local and regional press is suffering some of the hardest hits.  But ideas and initiatives are presenting themselves everyday. And now the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking for views on a range of tough issues, including:

  • The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information;
  • How to fund quality local journalism;
  • The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level;
  • The opportunities and implications of BBC partnerships with local media;
  • Incentives for investment in local content;
  • Opportunities for “ultra-local” media services.

We’re thinking about a collective response from journalism educators and OJB readers to the key questions, coordinated from here. So to begin with, what are your ideas, links to the best think pieces you’ve read or examples you’ve seen? Do you agree with the call to relax competition laws to allow local newspaper publishers to merge? Or what about Andy Burnham’s statement that there will be no bailout for local papers.

Let’s use this as a starting point to develop a collective, crowdsourced response to the inquiry.