Thursday, April 15, 2004

Unfortunately, this newspaper Web site does not come with an atlas ...
Peter Zollman, on the Poynter E-Media Tidbits blog, makes an interesting and all-too-true observation about visiting one Midwest newspaper's Web site.
"Trouble was, I couldn't find any clues to where the heck I was. The newspaper is "The Telegraph: Serving the River Bend Since 1836." But where? There's no location shown. And the dateline on the story is Kane. Well, where's that? And some of the ads have no area codes. (The real estate ad does, but the Ford dealer's does not.) And the web address is a Zwire URL, meaning I can't identify the paper's location that way."

This is an editing issue. It is editors who set and maintain a newspaper's image and tone. How many of them would let a news story through without proper geographic identification? So why aren't they thinking about these sorts of things on their Web site? Yes, this is the new reality we must face as editors; our jobs are much broader than just getting the stories into "The Paper." We now must be cognizant of all the other aspects of our particular publishing operation and how the journalism, which includes our media outlets' tone and image, works across media.

As a side note, I' not all that impressed with papers that use Zwire. It seems to say "we're too cheap to invest much in our own product." It's a template system, much like the ones that have drawn such derision in the television world. (Disclaimer here: My school has gotten World Now, one of those suppliers, to donate a turnkey system to replace our locally produced pages. I'm not all that thrilled, but one of my colleagues has taken great pains to ensure that we can -- and will -- almost completely customize the interface so that we're not just shoveling.) And what does it say that Zwire's home page talks about all the wonderful business opportunities, but has no link that I can find to search for a newspaper on its site?

For now, it's a compromise, I guess, so that some smaller papers can have a decent Web presence. But remember, always assume your readers/users know more than you do. How long will they hang in there if you don't innovate?


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