I come back to this thought again and again in my head:
I don't need more video, or more multimedia of any kind, or even databases or forums or yet another social network. All I want, as a reader, is news that is easy to find and easy to share. It's what I want in the sites I build and the newsrooms I work for, too.
Is this too much to ask?
Most days, I practically live in Google Reader. I have become so addicted to RSS, to the plain but well-structured layout of the feed, that anything that comes between me and the content feels like clutter, an obstacle to be pushed aside, or an annoyance that makes me not want to come back. I am spoiled, but so is anyone who gets their news primarily off Google's or Yahoo's pages. All I want is content.
Here's how I'd like to find news, based on my own priorities:
- By location: What's close to home? If something--crime or safety related, especially--happens on my street, I'd love to know about it.
- By date: What's recent? What happened last month, last year, a decade ago?
- By popularity: What are people talking about? What's holding people's attention and getting more than drive-by hits?
- By topic: What is this story about? When something keeps coming up in the news, I'd love to see everything written about that on one page (like the Times Topics. Can't we all do this?).
- By author: Sometimes, I know who I like to read, and not just because a lot of my friends are journalists. This isn't hard with a good database back end (again, the Times does it).
When the San Jose Mercury News asked readers how they find news (in general, not just what's in the newspaper), their top two answers were word of mouth and Google. Online this means we read what others send us, or we go looking for it. The questions for news organizations, then: How do we make that process easier, and how do we make sure our content gets to those who want it?
Whose job is it?
- Designers: Clean UI is a godsend. Just give me something that doesn't make my eyeballs bleed.
- Developers: Can a brother get a human-readable URL? How many clicks must I go through to find what I'm looking for? How many ways can I find a story?
- Editorial: SEO those headlines. Think about how readers use the site and find your content. Better yet, ask.
More importantly, take the website seriously. Give it the respect and attention the print product gets. I wish I didn't have to say this in the last quarter of 2008, but here we are.