about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch
home

Archive for April, 2009

Kudos to Kent News Net coverage of riots

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I first saw the coverage Kent News Net had of the riots at Kent State this weekend on Twitter. My immediate reaction was, “come on guys.” Not about the newsroom, which was pumping out updates at rapid-fire pace, but about the future alumni of my alma mater. People already associate the school with police (err national guardsmen) in riot gear. But at least they were fighting for more than the right to party obnoxiously.

But I digress.

My next thought, when I clicked through and checked out the Web site, was, “wow, these kids (that would be the Stater/TV2/BSR reporters) are doing an AWESOME job covering this.” The page was — and still is — decked in videos and photo galleries.

The next morning after I noticed the story on my Twitter feed, my mom was telling me about how the web editor was quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal’s story about the coverage/riots:

The Kent Police Department would not make a statement Saturday evening, but student journalists at the Daily Kent Stater and KentNewsNet.com were out in full force, covering events on their Web site and updating the community regularly on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/kent360.).

Kristine Gill, editor of KentNewsNet.Com, said she and others went to investigate after seeing flames from their office at Franklin Hall.

”The flames were filling the street, like 15 feet high, and kids were throwing furniture on it and hanging from trees and screaming ‘KSU’ over and over again,” she said.

She said students told her the fire was started because police were harassing students on their front lawns and firing rubber bullets. Gill said some students showed her welts.

I know just last week, one of my former journalism professors said she was teaching those students about Twitter. Although I have said recently that even I am sick of hearing about Twitter these days, this is a great great great example of its power. Read back through their posts that night and you can feel the adrenaline rush. And then in the days since, you can see the rest of the story unfold with statements from the police chief and university president tweeted to the more than 300 followers. (I don’t know, but the KNN staffers might, how many people were following pre-riots?)

This is exactly what Twitter can be and should be used for in the news media. It’s not the only thing Twitter is good for, but with this coverage they have proven it’s a great tool and likely turned many new skeptics into converts.

I just wanted to take this space to highlight the awesome work of these student journalists.

Why page jumps online are annoying, counterproductive

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I knew it was coming. And yet this weekend, when I pulled up one of my stories and saw it was split into two pages, I was still annoyed.

I read enough newspaper Web sites to have noticed over the past several months a trend was spreading among the other Gannett papers using the corporate template. Specifically, those GO4 sites now (or if they don’t already, will) sport a “Next Page” link at the bottom, just above the comments.

page jump example

I would be annoyed by this anyway because it requires more work on my (the reader’s) part. It also tends to have the same effect on me as on John Gruber: I must have some weird strain of dyslexia. Whenever I see a link named “Next Page”, I think it says “Stop Reading and Close This Tab”. As a writer, I’m bothered that beyond about 350 words now my stories will likely not be read. In print, we have limits on how many stories can jump from a section front because they say research shows people don’t follow the jumps. I’ve already been working on tighter writing, but sometimes it takes more than 350 words (~ 10-12 inches) to make a point. And usually the stories that flow longer are the most important stories we write — the enterprise we work hard to nail.

Why would they follow the jump online when the pages take quite awhile to load because they are bogged down with so many ads, scripts, images, etc. Who wants to reload all that junk three times for information they may (I hope do) or may not find useful? For example, I ran a story I wrote today about money saved through field trip cut backs through a page load test. It timed out! But take a look (here is a PDF of the test in case that link is broken) at how much it loaded before that time out. It was 30.1 seconds and 80 objects in before it gave up. That’s an individual single story without any comments on it. The home page has much more going on, and when you have multiple pages of comments on a story, that adds to the load time as well. I have a cable connection and it still takes awhile to load. I can’t imagine how some of our users still on dial up or who have DSL at best suffer through the load times. But I can guess: They don’t.

Here’s what makes this move even sillier than I’ve already pointed out: The entire story is loaded on each of the pages. So, they’re adding a few extra elements and seconds but not even trimming the extra crap that doesn’t appear on that page.

Now for the disclaimer. I do like to be paid. I understand there is a relationship between ads displayed and money made. So, I guess this is a gimmick to get more page views and inflate page counts. But there comes a point where that is counterproductive. And I think the sites, already teetering on that ledge, didn’t need this shove. (I have an ad blocker at home anyway. See my past discussion on what Web site “feature” pushed me over the edge on that.) I have also come to terms with that reasoning being the same as why my stories appear juxtaposed against “after hours” galleries of bar-hopping snapshots. Actually, I haven’t come to terms with that either, but it’s a discussion for another day.

To be truthful, I’d less annoyed if there was a “single page” option available, ala the NYTimes. That is beside hitting print to see it all displayed in one fluid block, which was my workaround. …

Was my workaround until I posted my annoyance about the page jumps on Twitter and found a new hero: Matt Busse. He pointed me to a script he created that puts the whole story on one page. So it turns out the fact that all the story is loaded in one page is a good thing. It meant this script was possible.

I was also told, but haven’t tested, that turning off javascript will have the same effect. Though that likely affects other elements too, but it would probably cut significantly the load time.

So that’s my solution for now. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that will get widespread use, and it’s not exactly something the sites will publicize. So my real solution will just be to try and keep every story I write within 350-400 words to try and avoid annoying readers with a page jump. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will be challenging for me and mean some important information or anecdotes don’t make the cut. And, it will be counterproductive to displaying ads. So we lose in the end anyway.