Trinity Mirror have finally relaunched the first of their local newspaper websites, with the Liverpool Post and Liverpool Echo breaking free of that ‘icLiverpool’ brand and into individually branded sites that reflect their different markets.
It’s been a move the ‘ic’ sites have needed for a long time, and the contrast is considerable. The endless list of vertical navigation options has gone, replaced by a much clearer horizontal bar and the generally ‘bigger canvas’ look that most recent news website relaunches have adopted (larger images, fewer stories).
It’s no surprise to see video getting a stronger placing, while image galleries have become par for the course, although these are given a separate section rather than integrated with stories. And reader involvement is given top billing with four ‘calls to action’ on the banner – “Send your stories/videos/pics” and “Join a forum” (the latter too vague. It would be more productive to see specific forums promoted instead, but maybe that will come in time).
Web 2.0 is a keyword here, and the articles incorporate the facililty to ‘share’ via del.icio.us, Digg or Newsvine (with a helpful ‘What’s This?’ link for the majority of readers who’ll be thinking just that), along with reader comments, prominent RSS feed links and a fantastically comprehensive RSS service generally (well illustrated on the sitemap page).
Blogs are part of the package, and there’s some nice writing there, although someone ought to tell the
columnists bloggers about the importance of linking (a music blog that doesn’t link to any band websites/MySpace accounts is pretty criminal – UPDATE Mar 3 ’08: now no longer the case: see comments below), and it would be nice to see more engagement with the blogosphere generally – surely there are some excellent bloggers in Liverpool not on the Trinity Mirror payroll?
The ranking system is a nice idea that hasn’t been thought through enough: as an article’s ranking is only displayed on the article itself it’s not clear how this is useful for readers who have already made the effort to get there. There is a “Most popular” box on the homepage, for instance, but no sign of any place where you can find the “Highest ranked”; it might also be useful for readers to choose only to see stories above a particular rating, as Slashdot does.
And one final weakness is a registration system that doesn’t explain why you should register (elsewhere the call to receive email updates does the job better).
These picky issues aside, the redesign is a massive improvement and much more pleasurable to browse. Aesthetically it beats competitors such as the Lancashire Evening Post and Hull Daily Mail hands-down. Although those newspapers seem to have better grasped the possibilities of new media editorially, this relaunch suggests Trinity Mirror understand the technical possibilities. Most impressive is a tagging system which allows users to click through to articles on the same subject/person – potentially making the accompanying ‘Related articles’ box redundant.
Journalism.co.uk reports that the next websites to get the facelift will be the Journal and the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle, and the Middlesbrough-based Evening Gazette “to be followed by titles in South and North Wales, Yorkshire and Scotland.” Will these follow the template, or will there be more editorial freedom? The Post and Echo seem to be based on the same template, so I’m betting on the former, but there is enough freedom here to at least give the papers more identity than ‘icLiverpool’ ever did.