Saturday, April 29, 2006

my beef

Everyday when I visit the website of my local Knight Ridder (McClatchy?) news organization I feel frustration and despair.

I know the people who gather the info for the site are qualified professionals, and they're buzzing around the metro area and the region digging up stuff I ought to know about. And I'm fairly certain that on any given day their website contains at least a few morsels of info that I want to chew on.

But when I go to their local news page, I find a list of story choices with maddeningly vague and outright boring titles like "Rabbi: Teen Defies Odds"; "Panel Votes to Not Discipline Lawyer"; and "Home's Never Been So Sweet" (from today's Miami and Charlotte websites).

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but do any of those headlines give you a real sense of what those stories about? Or, more importantly, are they intriguing enough -- considering all the billions and billions of links floating out here in cyberspace -- to make you want to click on them?

Let's check out the list of stories offered today on my hometown Knight Ridder (McClatchy?) website. I'll provide the headline/link text in bold, followed by my immediate thoughts when I read them.

Effort seeks to build park to remember Precious Doe
OK. I recognize Precious Doe. She's a big story around here. But who is "Effort"? How does Effort "seek" or "build"? Sorry, this is just a bad headline, whether on the 'Net or in print.

Police change complaint policy
What police? We've got more than a dozen police departments in our metro area.

Changes expected in education funding plan
Whose education funding plan? What kind of education? Primary? Secondary? College? Why are changes needed? Is this good or bad? What does this mean?

Red Vine restaurant loses battle
OK. I know about Red Vine restaurant, vaguely. But I had no idea they were in a battle. What kind of battle? Against whom? What does this mean? Why should I care?

Judge rules Cauthen isn’t liable in lawsuit
I assume this is referring to Kansas City Manager Wayne Cauthen. But I haven't been following this story, so I don't know what lawsuit, or how this matters to me, or why I should care.

Decision in predator case upheld
????? I'm actually starting to get pissed here. I mean, come on! What in the hell is this about? I suppose I could assume they mean sexual predator. But why should I assume? Please. Tell me what the stories about, and why I should click over and read it.

National radio host sees KC as model
What natiional radio host? Is he/she famous? Model for what? Or is this radio host hallucinating? Is the host literally seeing our great big city as a teeny-tiny model?

The Kansas City Star

Correction and clarification
Of what? Is this news? If not, why is it tossed in the middle of the news stories?

What the hell is this?

21-year-old found guilty in 2004 killing
This might be the most thoroughly informative headline of the day. I still don't care enough to click over and read the story.

A hospital ‘almost like a hotel’
Is this an ad?

FBI said to be reviewing Missouri license fees
What license fees? License fees are boring. I'm not reading this unless you tell me how it might affect me.

Senate OKs bill to end park entry fees
What Senate? United States? Missouri? Kansas? UMKC student senate?

Kansas law tightens rules on meningitis vaccinations
Not bad.

Meeting will focus on Africans’ issues in KC
A meeting! Yippee!!

Three cities on short list for complex
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! Stop being so BORING and COY!! Or I'm gonna DUMP YOU!!!

House plans inquiry into lunch
That's it. I'm leaving.

There were four more headlines. But that last one was so freaking bad and vague and laughable I just had to go.

Now look. My point here is not to bash the headline writers and website administrators at the Star. And tomorrow I'll compare the web headlines to those in the print version of the paper. You'll see that these make sense in that medium. Really, I'm on their side. I want this and all other Knight Ridder (McClatchy) ventures to survive and thrive in the rapidly changing world of news and media. Think of this as a dose of tough love.

But if a few feelings are hurt, so be it. The time has come to stop politely ignoring the obvious. The time has come to stand up and demand a change. Because the alternative is unacceptable. If this massive warrior of the old media landscape fails to make the transition into the future of news, I fear that the very foundation of our democracy will be in danger. We can't entrust the entire burden of the Fourth Estate to the New York Times, AP and bloggers.

So it's time to force the KR beast to straighten up its wobbly toddler walk into cyberspace. It's time to demand that they give us headlines and story discriptions that make sense.

We can deal with pop-up ads and topic organization later. Small steps. It's gonna be alright. Small. Steps.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Hmmm. I think that most newspapers leave their print headlines on their Web editions, not really considering that they have a bit more room to explain the stories.

With print, though, you can immediately scan the first paragraph of a story to get more of a sense of the content -- whereas online, you go through the clicking process. I'm not sure that's cumbersome, but I can see how you'd like to facilitate ease of use.

FWIW, McClatchy (which I don't think has taken control yet) has a pretty good reputation, journalism-wise, in the industry -- certainly better than Knight Ridder, which was widely seen as pretty much *only* caring about profits. There's gotta be a balance.