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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.

Indy Star Web site shows most original use of Gannett redesign to date

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

In case you haven’t been paying attention, or in case you don’t look at Gannett newspaper Web sites… They’re all going to the GO4 design. There will be a definite Gannett feel from Palm Springs, Calif., to White Plains, N.Y.

My paper‘s redesign is supposed to go live on March 31. I’ve been told it will most closely resemble the Asbury Park Press in color scheme and design. But I haven’t actually seen it yet to compare.

The Indy Star, my paper’s big sister in Indiana, has posted a link to view its beta version of the redesign. You can view that here. They have a FAQ about the design here.

Here’s the before and after screen shot earlier today (click for larger):

Before:
IndyStar design before GO4

and

After:
IndyStar beta version of GO4 design

Note: That big beige blob is a blocked ad, not a design flaw.

What Indy did right

I trolled through most of the Gannett newspaper Web sites this afternoon to see how Indy compared to others. I’d seen several on the new design before. But Indy is the first I’ve noticed that took the concept and really made it its own thing, not its own version of the template. If that makes sense.

Even the Detroit Free Press, which appears to have gone with the same basic color scheme and fonts as Indy, just looks like a version of the template. Whereas, Indy really owns its design.

Here’s what the Star’s staff thinks are the 10 things you need to know about it’s redesign. (You should especially watch video #4 because they feature MY story about the Hoosier Youth Challenge Academy — which spent about half that day as their top featured story as well as the J&C’s — to show off their readability. Awesome.)

Here are a few features that jumped out or intrigued me about the new site and why:

You can move and reorder the content boxes on the home page.

This feature is far and away my favorite take on the boxes. It puts me in control of what news appears at the top of the page. For instance, I can move sports to the bottom. I can move entertainment to the top. Or I can leave Community News but I can pick only news relevant to my community (if I were in the Indy Star area that is). Note the blue arrows in the corner of the Community and Biz sections in this image.

moveable context boxes

Back to the top…

The find it menu bar at the top:
jobs find it bar
and
apartments find it bar

Sure it’s simple. But this item at the very top of every page is sleek. The images are inviting and show me what I’m clicking on. It’s a nice touch.

Dropping from the top of the page to the very bottom…

This site index appears at the end of every page. I like it because it gives me a comprehensive guide to what all is available at IndyStar.com. Also handy if I’m looking for something specific, like education or crime stories.
site index at the bottom

On a related note…

I’m a fan of the drop down menus at the top. They let you drill down the content from any page. You can choose to see your news if you’re into a specific region of Indy, for example, as in this screenshot:
communities drop down menu

There are similar drop downs on the other communities and sections on that top menu. In News, for example, you can break down by the type of coverage. So if you’re into politics, you can click that or go even more specific with legislature.

(This feature, btw, isn’t unique to Indy or even new to that version of the site. It’s just one of the things I like about the GO4 design.)

A few other things to note:

Video on the story page?! According to Numero 3 in their top 10 things to know package at least. I couldn’t find it in my searches.

I have to say this is my biggest pet peeve after annoying drop-down advertisements about the Star and any newspaper Web site that sends me to another page to view video. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate — I’m not sure hate is even a strong enough word for my animosity — the way the videos are currently handled at the Star and most Gannett sites (my own paper’s included). Where they throw up the videos all on one page with a one paragraph note (sometimes) and a byline and it just plays. Sure, there’s a place for that type of depository for videos. It’s not what I want when I’m specifically interested in one specific video related to one specific story.

Reporters pictures with their bylines on stories? It appears that way, at least on some stories:
Reporter photo with byline on stories

I’m kind of curious if one of the Indy reporters wasn’t the one who wrote into Ask The Recruiter last month with a concern about reporters pictures. Even if it was, it was an interesting conundrum then as it is now. But that’s the topic of another, and I’ll even go ahead and say forthcoming, post. Suffice to say me personally, I wouldn’t mind. But I don’t cover high profile murder or gang cases either. Yes it can be annoying to be stopped by wackos who recognize I work for the newspaper, but it can also be a great source of story ideas when parents randomly recognize me in the hallways.

I’m not sure that was the reasoning behind the Star’s move. I’m guessing it had more to do with creating that social-networking feel of everybody being everybody’s friend and neighbor. Or something like that. I haven’t really dug into many of the other GO4 designs to see if this is standard practice or a unique Indy element.

OK, OK. Enough. That’s just a quick summary of some of the things I liked. There are bound to be plenty of other cool things below the surface once I start to interact with the site more. For now, that’s a general overview of things that are different from before.

About GO4

It could be worse. It could be the old Knight-Ridder template that was never innovative and really served no purpose except to throw up as many links on the front page as possible. It could be as ugly as the old Gannett template many papers still have as their backbone. It’s really not.

In many ways I really like the design. It will take some getting used to, but it’s aesthetically pleasing. The color choices I’ve seen seem to work well together. There’s a lot of information, but it’s not link-happy. It’s both more and less restrictive than many papers’ current designs. It’s more engaging and interactive for the readers as well.

It will also feature social networking platform(?) Pluck, a la USA Today, instead of the myriad methods patched together based on forums, topix, Get Published, etc.

My only hold-back is I still don’t know how much I like taking the power to determine the best design for the local readers out of the local hands. For many papers, especially smaller papers, this will be a God-send and get them out of the 1990s design-wise. For others, like the IndyStar, this has meant really working hard to work within the system without being a slave to it. I hope we see more papers going the Indy way.

If you care, here’s a list of the sites across Gannett where I’ve seen the redesign go live:

(* The Freep has the design live, but its header image says beta still.
** These sites don’t have “live” beta sites featured just yet.)

I’m sure that’s not a complete list. But it’s good enough to show a range of the color schemes and how similar they all look.

Don’t dismiss good journalists who don’t ‘get’ online just yet

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

There’s been an awful lot of discussion of late, at least on the blogs I read, about whether you can — or should — teach journalists to be online journalists.

In one corner, we have those saying it can’t be done and shouldn’t. In the other, they contend it can and should be attempted at least. (And on and on. Read the comments on the posts, which are as enlightening as the posts themselves.)

Where do I stand? I’m torn. Though I find myself aligning with the cans and shoulds.

On one hand, I am the go-getter, I-want-to-know-more-faster type. On the other, I still see a role for the reluctant journalist. I’m also an optimist. I think you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, as long as they aren’t afraid to come out and play (even if it takes a shove to get them out there in the first place.)

Personally, just about everything I know about computers was learned by tinkering around. I taught myself HTML, CSS and everything that follows. I learned how layers work in Photoshop and how to edit audio with audacity without taking a formal class. I spent hours with my legs crossed and MacBook on my lap trying to figure out the movie editing functions the first time I used the software. The list goes on.

When I wanted to know, I sought out the answers or solutions. The very first tag of HTML I learned was the font tag because I wanted to make my comments stand out in the then HTML-based chat room (yeah that tells you how old-school I am). Then, I learned to put up images with my chats. Then I learned about links. Then, I learned about things like body and title and how to take all those other tags I learned and work them together into a .html site. Later on, I learned about tables and frames (yes, God help me, but I was the freaking QUEEN of frames). Eventually, I stumbled on CSS. The rest is well, history.

There are three things to note about my informal education in Web design/new media:

  1. I taught myself everything through a little bit of searching and a lot of guess and check/trial and error.

  2. Each thing I learned built upon things I had previously taught myself.
  3. I taught myself on a need to know basis.

That last item is the most important, though many would contend the first is. When I wanted to know how to make my chat stand out, I asked around and then looked up the font tags. When frames were all the rage (and they once were, trust me I was there), I actually used the AOL homepage creator to build a site with frames and then analyzed the code to figure out how it worked and changed so I could build my own from scratch. And later, when I wanted to know how to add layers so I could provide absolute positioning on my layouts and abandon frames? I spent weeks designing the perfect site and then figuring out how to get CSS to cooperate as it was supposed to (this was before most browsers were CSS friendly).

Everything I learned was because I reached a level where I wanted to try something new that I didn’t know how to do before, but that I knew was possible because I had seen or heard of other people doing it.

I think the same thing can be applied to journalism, especially online journalism. You look at other awesome packages or blogs or micro-sites or whatever it is you want to do and you see how they are doing it, what you like and what you don’t. This leads you down the road to your own possibilities. The thought process follows something like this:

They did it.
So that means it’s possible to do. Right?
I wonder if it would work here.
How did they do it?
Is that the best way or is anyone else doing it differently?
How?
What is the best method to achieve what we want?
Well, that didn’t work.
OK, that’s better.
Still needs tweaked, but let’s go with it.
That wasn’t so hard.
Holy s— it worked.
What else can we do with this?

In short, I think what it comes down to is the same thing that makes a good journalist: You have to be curious and You have to be brave enough to follow that curiosity.

On one hand, you have to have that inner “I want to try that” instinct, which makes you want to spend time analyzing video clips to see what works and what doesn’t, what left you in awe and what made you yawn. You have to be willing to take time to interact with different flash packages to understand how they work (or why they don’t) as a user before you ever sit down to compile your own. It’s like the writer who proclaims he isn’t a reader. It’s a waste of time. How can you be good at something when your exposure to the best of it is limited? I think you need something to aspire to and something to rise above. If that makes sense.

On the other hand, you have to have the courage to try and fail. This is the part that I think holds back many of those “dinosaurs.” When you’ve been doing something the same way for so long, it’s scary to be a beginner. You also have more to lose. If I, one year out of college, take on a new job or task and realize “This blows” I have less to lose than if I’d wagered my whole career on taking that chance. If that also makes sense.

I have so much yet to learn about all of these things. I’m not waiting for training, but I wouldn’t pass any up that was offered. I’m just waiting for an opportunity to teach myself.

I am very much a part of the Web culture. Nobody taught it to me, I’m just innately interested. But I know some damn good journalists who aren’t. They’ll come around, or I think, likely self-select themselves out when they realize they aren’t swimming in the same direction. I really don’t think they need to be forced out by my generation. I think we need them now more than ever to rein us in and show us what good journalism is. And we can repay them by teaching them about blogs and twitter and del.ico.us and YouTube and RSS feeds and everything that will one day be obsolete.

Do I think everyone is going to be as motivated as I am? Absolutely not. But their motivation might be different. Maybe they’re really hungry to dig into crime statistics or to tear through the city budget looking for extravagance? Maybe they’re a photojournalist or reporter honestly looking to report on the human condition and just tell the story of this time and place. I think those things are just as important as being willing to sit for hours trying to figure out why your video isn’t encoding properly or how to narrow down an hour long talk into a two-minute podcast. Should we likewise say to all these aspiring online journalists who would rather die than cover City Council that we have no room for you in our news organization? No. There is a place and a need for both sets. They can complement and learn from each other. And to some extent, as with my covering the education beat, they can even be one in the same. Someday, they all may be. We’re not there yet. I think that’s OK.

There is and will always be a place in this business for those journalists who have a desire to find and tell good stories. As demands on journalists grow, in fact, they will be the only ones for whom there is room.

But just because some of them aren’t the ones chomping at the bits to delve into new media doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as a lost cause. At least offer them the chance to prove you wrong. I’m not an advocate of forcing anything down someone’s throat. But reluctance or fear are not good enough reasons for a good journalist to be turned away. Hell, I’ve been afraid of and reluctant to do more stories than I’d like to admit. And each time I got over my fear. Each time, I became a little more confident, a little more comfortable. Should I have been fired because I wasn’t comfortable writing about a child molester? Should my boss have reassigned me when I didn’t know what to look for at my first bank robbery? The amazing thing about journalism, the thing that probably more than anything attracted me to this field, is every day is a learning experience. Why is online journalism any different? Sometimes the only way to learn is to jump in, and sometimes it takes a shove to get you to try something you end up loving. You never know if you give up on even trying.

Ohio.com redesign, initial thoughts

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

I haven’t had time to properly look through it, and I’m not quite sure when it officially launched as I haven’t been keeping up with my back-home reading, but The Beacon Journal got a make-over.

Thank you, Journalism gods.

It still retains some of the same feeling and colors it had before, but it’s much more clean and accessible. I wish I had a screen shot of the “before” to compare, but basically anyone who has ever seen the blah Knight-Ridder template that they all seemed to utilize knows what I’m talking about. Don’t remember: The Philadelphia Inquirer is still using it, although theirs seems a bit more organized than Ohio.com did before.

A few things I like:

  • I’m a fan of the drop-down menu. I think this is probably the best way to get in a lot of links without cluttering your page or making me click through a few pages for what I want.

  • I also appreciate that the content rules and the ads largely play second fiddle. (I’ve been growing increasingly annoyed by newspaper Web site ads of recent. Look for a diatribe about IndyStar.com soon.)
  • The photo gallery template is simple, links back to the story and tells me how many photos I’m in for. That largely satisfies my preferances. Though, it would be nice to quickly see the whole group at once.
  • Love the Most Read Stories box. I think every paper should do this, and hate that my paper doesn’t. We get an e-mail every day telling us the stories with the top hits, but we don’t pull them out online, even though I think readers would be as interested as we are.

Toss-ups:

  • I like the quick take blog links on the left side of every page. It’s a clean list even if it’s a bit long. I don’t like that I can’t see what’s been updated recently.

  • I like that it seems they’ve finally resigned themselves to allowing comments on every story. But I happen to like how we do it at the J&C where you see the most recent comments on the page. I don’t think you should have to jump through another hoop to see or join the conversation. Also, as with most topix comments, the “Read all XX comments” isn’t obvious and blends into the box above. But they do get some bonus points for having in their abbreviated terms “Be polite.
  • The “Inside Ohio.com” box at the bottom of the pages is a good idea, but it comes off looking like a cheap knock off of the NYTimes menu.

Things I’m not digging so much:

  • Why is the multimedia page so boring?! This should be the most exciting stuff. Where are the pictures? Where’s the fun? (Ditto on the local news page.)

  • In fact, where the heck are the photos? I can’t find any on any stories I clicked on except the dominant one online.
  • Speaking of that story and photos: Why is it sandwiched between two ads?! I completely overlooked it at first because I figured it was just an ad. I remember learning not to even let photos and ad stacks bump when I took news design. I know this isn’t as true of the Web, but surely stacking it in the middle isn’t an effective display.
  • In that same story, they say “County Council is expected to act on the 40-page document Monday. (A copy of the plan is available at http://www.co. summit.oh.us/executive/pdfs/ DOD/Lakemore%20 Development%20Area%20(7-07).pdf.)” Two thoughts on this one: First, make it a link! Second, get a copy of the plan and pull it out in an impact box for easy dissection and so I know it’s there.

I haven’t had time to really look below the surface or get a feel for daily use and how I like it yet, but right now I’m going to say it’s a huge improvement. Good job, guys.

For more on the redesign, read the FAQ.

Someone bring me a copy of the Burr

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

OK, to the next person to come to Indiana from Kent I need to ask a favor: bring me a copy of the Burr. (I have a suspicion this will be Abbey since she’s slated to start work as an intern at the J&C on the 21st. I’m not sure when Ryan is starting in Indy, but I think I remember he said the 21st as well.)

I don’t know why, but for some reason although I’m interested in reading the stories, I can’t push myself to do it online. (I did read Abbey’s speed-dating story, and it was pretty interesting and well written.)

The Web-exclusive stories, several of which I was pretty interested in, don’t seem to be posted yet. There’s just a place holder for all of them that “This story is coming soon.” It was kind of annoying, but hey I’ve been there. When you’re the only person putting together the online magazine, and you get ALL the content dumped on you the last few weeks of school when you’re as busy as the next person, all you can really do is hunker down and pull a few all-nighters to get it up in time for the magazine’s release. I remember the semester I did Fusion I had to get the site up the same weekend I was down in Memphis. But I injured my right arm working. It hurt just to lie there, but still I sat there with my laptop every night that weekend coding the pages, resizing the photos, etc. all with one hand. Man, that sucked.

I don’t know if it’s the colors on the CyBurr (I really hate browns and oranges.) or what. Though looking at the cover, the colors seemed to have carried over. Or if it’s just the overwhelming nature of long feature stories in small type that just seems to scroll on forever. (I’m a fan of breaking up longer stories into a few pages. But that’s me.) I’m guessing based on my personal preferences, it’s actually quite a bit of both.

I could read the “e-book” but I have a strong dislike for long PDF documents, too. And I never really understood the point of the e-book. Thankfully it was an idea that came after my tenure as CyBurr webmaster. However, I guess for now it helped me see how everything was laid out and flip through the pages in about two minutes to survey what’s inside. (P.S. guys, I love the new departments and all the color. Has it just been awhile or is there really a lot more color this semester?)

Either way, though if you’d have asked me when I was a student I don’t think I’d have even considered it, but I may pay the $12 to get the magazine mailed to me each semester and support the student media cause while I’m at it.

How do you play the print-edition stories online?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It started out simple enough. I saw mention of the Connie Schultz article about Elizabeth Edwards and the front page of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

I haven’t been reading the PD as closely since I’m no longer in the region. I was never a huge PD fan anyway, preferring the more hometown feel of the Beacon. The Indy Star has pretty much replaced the time I used to spend reading the PD as my regional paper of choice. Makes sense since I’m now in an entirely different region.

But, seeing that Connie Schultz wrote that article made me want to read it. If only I could find it! And trust me, I tried.

You’d think the dominant story in your print edition would at least still be on the radar somewhere on your Web site, even at 9 p.m. But it wasn’t anywhere on the homepage of Cleveland.com. I even did a find on the page for “Edwards” to make sure I wasn’t overlooking it.

I found a photo gallery of photos from Edwards’ visit to Cleveland, including the one prominently displayed on the front page. But it had no link to the story. (A huge pet peeve of mine. Why would you not link to the story from the photo gallery? As with polls, I’ve already expressed interest in this topic. Make it easy for me to find out more. Yet many places omit that simple step.)

My next stop, figuring, OK it is late in the day, they’ve had a lot of news that bumped the story by now, was on the main news index page. No luck there either. Not even in the box labeled “TODAY’S PRINT EDITION NEWS.”

I did another find on that page to make sure my eyes weren’t just tired after working all day. I found Sam Fulwood’s column about the Edwards visit. I was hopeful that perhaps his story would have a “related links” section and, finally, I’d be able to read the actual story I wanted. No such luck. And no refer back to the photo gallery even.

You got me. I’m going to click on the “More from the Plain Dealer” link at the bottom of the print edition box and hope. A las, it is a hope quickly dashed. Presented with a laundry list of headlines, I opted to skip the skim and search for Edwards first. The only hit on that page was the photo of the day, which after clicking to enlarge presents me with links to other galleries, including the Edwards gallery on the front page.

I already established that was a dead end.

I decide to check the Local page, thinking well perhaps it landed there because Schultz is a columnist. Nope.

My next thought was opinion, except I didn’t readily see an opinion link in the menu at the top of the page. (Which strikes me as quite odd, since I would assume opinion is one of more highly read sections?)

Instead, I went for the Living & Travel section on a whim. Only here, with my handy find feature, did I finally find the story I began looking for half an hour ago. And even on this page, the day’s most prominently played story in the print edition plays about 10th fiddle to all the other content. You have to scroll a few folds down to find the headline “Elizabeth Edwards finds little rest — from media” topping a list of other stories. Finally.

Way to bury your star columnist and your centerpiece story in a place nobody would ever think to look.

But this does raise the question, how do you play your print-edition stories online?

Some papers, like the Lansing State Journal, will entirely bump the top print headlines from the index as news updates are fed. Still, you can find those headlines under the list of news updates by clicking on the News link in the menu.

The J&C has a separate section on the index page for Breaking News Updates (a term that, I’ll admit, bothers me. I prefer the less important sounding “news updates” or simply “latest headlines”). The rest of the front page is pretty static with the top stories of the day and story chat links and counts. Though, if you read both the print and the Web edition, you’ll notice that often the dominant story in each edition is different or the main photos aren’t the same. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s something I’ve noticed. Occasionally, when a story warrants it, one of the print edition stories are swapped out or bumped down in prominence. For example, when a big story is developing, it might bump the centerpiece story out of the number one slot. The developing story then gets timestamped and dominant play.

There are other ways to tackle this, of course. The Beacon, whose page sadly is still a relic from the days of uniformly boring Knight-Ridder homepages, puts its latest headlines at the top of the column and bumps the rest of the news to a spot further down but still readily accessible.

I’m sure there are as many different ways to handle this as there are newspapers. And there really isn’t a right way. But here’s my two cents, for what it matters:

You shouldn’t have to click more than one layer deep to find the day’s top print stories — no matter what. I don’t care how much the news has changed or what’s gone on in your community that day. Many of your visitors, yes, even at 9 p.m., are only going to hit your site once each day. They should be able to easily find and discern the top stories of the day. If it was important enough to land on the front of your paper that morning (and I’d even throw in the top stories on your local/metro page), the news value should hold another 24 hours. It’s still going to be important when I stop by that night. If it’s something that’s changed, then update the story or leave the link but add another to the new developments. Either way, leave your top stories in a spot that’s easy for your readers to find. Don’t make them think and search to find the most important news. Regardless how many Web updates you push through that day, I should be able to skim your site like I would the front page of the paper and know the biggest news of the day, then go from there.

The wrong way to do polls

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

One of my biggest online newspaper pet peeves is user polls.

I brought this up the other day in a meeting. I thought it might be worth pointing out here as well because it applies to probably the majority of papers with online polls (at least the ones I’ve come across).

Things that annoy me about newspaper Web polls:

  • Why bury it at the bottom of the home page?
    I will never understand why the majority of these polls are tacked on to the bottom of the first page on the site. Think about it. When was the last time you scrolled to the bottom of a newspaper’s Web site, especially on the first page where the day’s top headlines, photo galleries, multimedia, special projects, forums, blogs and more entice you to click long before you ever reach that far. Chances are, it’s been a while. And chances are, if you actually did get to the bottom, you were looking for something in particular that you couldn’t easily find on the home page. I can appreciate that the home page is like the front page: valuable real estate. But, why bother if you’re just going to bury it? At least shuffle it so when it’s a particularly important topic, the poll gets higher play.

  • Why is there almost no context given to the question?
    You want to ask me how I feel about the head football coach resigning, fine. But, link me to the story so I can read it and feel I’m making a semi-informed decision. Or at least so I can follow up my vote with that story as you’ve now piqued my interest. Don’t make me do the work to find that story. Don’t make me think/search/go out of my way to find the article, event or whatever that sparked this question.
  • The polls don’t get included/mentioned in the stories themselves.
    Seems to me logical to include the poll with the story not just on the front page. I know this may be more technically difficult, but it would also get a lot more votes because anyone reading the story would see the poll. They’ve already expressed interest in the topic by clicking through to the story. They would probably vote just to see what their peers had to say. (Well, I would.) Even more of a pet peeve on this is when the sidebar on the story says, “Take our poll online.” And there’s no link or anything.
  • Publishing the results
    I think it was because representative samples was pounded in my head by my stats teacher in college. I don’t know, but publishing the results of the polls with out a disclaimer about how unscientific and unrepresentative the results are seems misleading. I don’t see them being quoted in stories or anything, but yeah. Actually, I remember the Record-Courier quoted a Stater poll once about students preference for semesterly graduation. No joke. Not only did they quote a highly unscientific poll (If I recall correctly it had only about 200 votes on it.), but they used the poll results from a different publication. When I read that in their story (which had lazy reporting anyway), I almost choked. Don’t do that.

I’m glad to get that off my chest.