Tag Archives: website relaunch

Rick Waghorn on going solo, the importance of advertising, and where next for ‘My Football Writer’

As solo sports journalist Rick Waghorn relaunches his Norwich City news website in the first step towards franchising the service, I spoke to him about going solo, the importance of advertising, and the likely first places for the franchise to expand.

Originally, Waghorn says, the plan was to offer a franchise “in much the same way as you would set up a bathroom shop and people would buy the kit off the shelf from you.” But the plan has changed.

“I’m not sure that’s realistic in that perhaps that works for someone with a redundancy package to self-start a franchise from us, but I think the way it may work is: I’ve got some funding that we use to actually pay salaried journalists to open a Sheffield bureau or a Manchester bureau rather than someone actually buying a franchise off me.”

The new-look site is an impressive effort from a team of three people – putting most local newspaper sites to shame with clear layout and even up-to-the-minute features such as the ‘most read’ section, podcasts, blogs and a text service. Most impressive is a set of RSS feeds from what, in old media, would have been called ‘the competition’ – Waghorn clearly recognises that making your site a destination is more important than pretending the competition doesn’t exist. “If people only have ten minutes at lunch to go online, they’ll want a site that has all the details.”

In the 14 months since launching RickWaghorn.co.uk with money from a redundancy package, the site has exceeded Rick’s “wildest expectations”.

“It is very much hard work. In year one we roughly took about £35-40,000 which was done on a commission split with my ad man. It has been a huge voyage of discovery.”

Now Waghorn is planning “another voyage of discovery.”

“The theory is that what we’ve done with Norwich should be equally applicable to most other provincial football clubs,” says Waghorn, “so we’re starting to have discussions with different regional journalists. Now the question is how you service that in an advertising sense, but one of the interesting things is if you can start offering, if you like, regionality, then I can start offering, say, advertising in Suffolk to companies in Norfolk.

“Or, let’s say we looked at the three Championship sides in South Yorkshire. If we had those we could serve them all with one advertising rep, but offer someone advertising on all three, and do a bundle sale.”

Teaming up with senior advertising executive Kevin O’Gorman has been crucial, with O’Gorman working “the local beat, bringing little local firms onto the internet who have built their own websites and need to market them.

“We give them a friendly face – someone they’ve been dealing with on a local basis in the last few years, and he holds their hand and helps them online. I do the editorial and he services the advertisers in a very old-fashioned newspaper sense – and then you find a mate with a background in web design and get the lucky breaks, but I’ve found a ‘Team Rick’ which has worked well so far.”

Another key to the site’s success has been its flexibility, and speed.

“It’s very peculiar for football because few regional papers have a Sunday edition, and at Norwich Evening News I was the last match report anyone ever read – at 5 o’clock Monday night when the paperboy put the paper through the door it was 48 hours after the event. In the age of rolling news that doesn’t make sense. Now, arguably after the official club site, I’m the first match report they read because my match report goes up on the website five minutes after the match finishes. All of a sudden I become a Sunday newspaper because I put out my match report, my interviews on Sunday. Now that presents a challenge to local newspapers because what are they going to put in their Monday night newspapers?

“Also, when you’re not part of a local newspaper group you’re nimble. I can hold my hand up to dozens of mistakes we’ve made but because you’re only two or three people we can say ‘Oh, that didn’t work, let’s try that,’ and I think that nimbleness is another of the key factors in dealing with the internet.”

Rick’s advice to journalists wanting to go it alone is to recognise the importance of advertising. “Start talking to your advertising department, because just as much as the editorial department is suffering from redundancies, so is the advertising department. Most journalists will tell you that the only time you bump into anyone from the advertising department is at the Christmas party when you’re trying to get off with one. But these people have skills and contacts, and you bolt the two of us together and that’s where it’s worked, so I’d start taking your friend from the advertising department out for a drink.”

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Relaunched Liverpool Trinity Mirror sites: a thumbs-up

Liverpool Post website

Liverpool Echo website
icLiverpool

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.

CNN.com relaunch – a sneak preview

CNN.com relaunch beta

CNN.com June 20 2007

“Jim” at CNN.com has invited me to look at the beta version of the new CNN.com (screengrab top; current design below) for the Online Journalism Blog. He knows how to make a man feel special.

So of course I oblige, and the site? Well, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. In a year of relaunches, CNN’s effort lacks the ‘big canvas’ approach that seems to becoming the norm (larger images, larger text), and looks ‘small’ as a result. The redesign reminds me of that old cliche: ‘more evolution than revolution’, i.e. ‘we bottled it’.

So, a missed opportunity visually. But where they’ve done much better is under the hood, and in philosophy. Firstly, the decision to release a ‘beta’ version of the site to some users represents a change in the way these things have been traditionally done. So credit for joining the world of the ‘perpetual beta‘. Secondly, video is a stronger element, including a “move to an in-page flash video player and in-page video across our various storytelling pages“, while the primacy of text is challenged by “the idea that, online, all media types are created equal – text, video, photos, graphics and audio“. Er, and interactivity?

This is illustrated vividly by the comparison:

  • Iraq story on CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/06/11/iraq.main/
  • Iraq story on CNN.com Beta: http://www.beta.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/06/11/iraq.main/
  • Notably, the site search engine has three options – the Web, CNN News, and CNN video. I’m in the process of finding out how they made video more searchable. Jim tells me:

    “The design itself was done in mind to make videos more searchable and discoverable by external search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc). Because the videos are no longer in a popup, users can link directly to individually videos and find them either from search engines or other partner links.

    “For our internal search engine, we’re constantly making efforts to make our videos more searchable. We’re continually trying to find more ways to integrate more relevant metadata, thereby yielding more relevant results in a search. We’ve come along way and we still have plenty of room for improvement. We’re also continually looking at technologies that will help us improve our searchability.”

    Those points aside, there are lots of little touches which are interesting signs of how news is changing: more prominence given to the Citizen Journalism arm (‘iReport’), more visible RSS feeds, blogs and podcasts, and, er, weather personalisation. I particularly like the subtle ‘Hot Topics’ line just under the navigation, too.

    Of course, the great thing about a beta is: it’s work in progress. And the Behind The Scenes blog is wonderfully open about the changes they’ve already made in response to feedback. If you pop to http://beta.cnn.com/ you can add your own ideas to those already suggested.

    PS: If you want the full CNN presentation, here it is.

    UPDATE: The Journalism Iconoclast has also reviewed the site, and noticed some things I missed, particularly the use of AJAX, which does indeed make this a more impressive site than most:

    “One of my favorite new features of the site is the video page itself. It breaks the video content down into different tabs like “Top Stories,” “Most Popular,” “By Category,” “Staff Picks,” “Live TV,” etc. But they aren’t separate pages. Using the power of Ajax, CNN.com doesn’t have to reload new pages each time you click on one of those tabs.

    “Click on the story about the Glasgow airport attack. You are taken to the written story about what happened, but at the top of the page you’ll notice tabs for video and photos. If you click either one it puts the video or photos above a summary of the story for you to view — all without reloading the page. It’s very fast and seamless. Clicking on the read button takes you back to the full text.”

    Guardian wins the Blair coverage battle

    Blair resignationThe Guardian’s new site has gotten off to a great start, with impressive coverage of the Blair resignation. Alongside the main story is lengthy promotion of audio, galleries, video, interactive and analysis. The depth of treatment backs up Mark Porter’s point that the new design “allows us to respond dynamically to events, by varying the layout as the news agenda develops.”
    Blair resignationThe Telegraph’s treatment is much smaller, giving the impression of less depth…
    Blair resignation…and The Times is pretty similar. The tabloids’ treatment is even smaller, although their editorial agenda is obviously different.
    Blair resignationSky is worth a look, though- their new design gives the capability to add a story to the main navigation – so ‘The Blair Years’ becomes an option alongside ‘Sport’. This is a screengrab of the Blair Years page, not the homepage.

    Finally. (Guardian homepage gets a makeover)

    Guardian May 10 2007Today sees the Guardian Unlimited finally getting the makeover it’s been desperately needing since the print product made ‘Berliner’ a polite topic of conversation. For the moment it’s only the front page – as creative editor Mark Porter explains, it “will be a facade concealing a busy building site, as work proceeds on an 18-month programme to redesign and rebuild every part of GU.”

    And GU editor-in-chief Emily Bell adds: “an iterative approach is the best. The days when one design or set of functionality on a website lasted for several years is gone, and our aim, with the help of our users, is to constantly improve and update the network, from the story pages to the section and network fronts.”

    The design itself is what you’d expect from contemporary newspaper website design – cleaner and clearer (I’d have put money on the Georgia font), with bigger images and more width. It’s not a major change from the old design in terms of content – although the biggest weakness in usability terms is a ridiculously long page you have to scroll down five times to see in its entirety (and that’s on a decent resolution monitor). Yes, multimedia content is more prominent with a box of its own, but still not on the first ‘page’ of content (it’s below the fold, in old parlance).

    And was it a coincidence they relaunched on the day Tony Blair is expected to resign? A clever move, if not.

    Clearly both Emily and Mark have had a long night – their posts are time-stamped at 1.05 and 1.06am – so hopefully they’ll be enjoying a hard-earned rest this weekend.

    ABCNews.com relaunches with citizen journalism

    ABC News May 1 07Another day, another relaunch. Micro Persuasion reports on the ABCNews.com relaunch:

    According to Michael Clemente, Senior Executive Producer, the new site, which it launched last night, is designed to harness the power of what they call “citizen reporters.” Viewers and readers can now help ABC help report the news by feeding in news and leaving comments. The new site also supports video uploads from cell phones and video cameras, some of which will make it on to air.”

    It’s pretty snazzy looking, if a little overloaded with navigation. The option to click on a story or photos or video or even ‘full coverage’ is a nice touch, but it’s a missed opportunity for the most part when compared to other relaunches.

    More relaunch raving

    Meanwhile, Jemima Kiss is raving about the Newsvine relaunch:

    “The most common request (they designed the site around what users wanted – how wacky!) was for a more customisable home page. “My homepage” custom options on other news sites aren’t really the answer, they argue, because most users still prefer the home page overview. The answer, they say, is a modular homepage that echoes something like Netvibes. The main blocks like top story and most popular seed remain, but after that things start getting draggable and you can close modules you don’t use.”They have added more localised content, which is very interesting – the last thing local newspapers need is a site as good as Newsvine muscling in. The site identifies the user’s location by their IP address, and then serves up local weather and news headlines from a few hundred local news feeds it has gathered.

    “Other adds include a news in pictures features (which is great, because they aren’t afraid to use ’em big), a visualisation tool and an option to bring in any external RSS feed, and not just choose form the ones they list. That means I can add the RSS feed of my Gmail then. Must go home and play with this…”