Wednesday, May 03, 2006

an inventory

OK. I've been around the Knight-Ridder world today. I've done a quick inventory. I found some sites that were actually pretty damn good. A few that were almost there. And a lot that were just flat-out hideous and dull and damn near unusable.

The two best, hands down, were the San Jose Mercury News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

I guess it makes sense the Merc would be the best, seeing as how they're in the veritible center of the online universe. Their homepage had a lot of intriguing energy. I especially liked the celebrity news bar across the middle, with the splashy pictures of the beautiful people. The stories were sorted neatly into categories. I could click on all the news categories and find more stories nicely arranged by topic. And the feed subscription button popped right up with each category. It's a little annoying that the top of the news page looks pretty much the same as the top of the front page. But it's a good start. Definitely something for the rest of the corporation to aim for, in my humble, nearly worthless opinion.

The Miami Herald is pretty good with categories, too. But their "news" page is still quite bland. No art. And hardly any descriptions of the stories. Seems like just a bunch of sorted headlines.

On the other hand, The Pioneer Press has a nice local news page. Everything's divided by geographic area. And the clearinghouse of headline/links includes some info about most of the stories, so you get a sense what they're about. The Macon Telegraph is the same, maybe even a little better.

Contra Costa Times is so-so. Some art on the front page. A few more stories with descriptive link packages. Some categories. But not enough. Especially in the local news department. My sense is that this paper's community (East Bay) is a lot like mine here in KC -- a vast array of municipalities. And, like our local paper's website, they don't do enough to sort out their information by geographic area to help me quickly find what I'm looking for.

One really good thing about the Star, though: They have a collection of links at the top of the local news page to various "neighborhoods" around the metro area. That's a good start. But it'd be nice to have some of the daily headlines divided in this way. Plus it'd be cool if I could easily find an RSS feed on each of these neighborhood pages (if they even exist). The San Luis Obispo Tribune has these neighborhood news pages too, and they go a step further by categorizing the stories on those pages. Very cool. But, again, couldn't find an RSS feed.

There were a couple sites that didn't hold to the ubiquitous Knight-Ridder design. Both had strong points and weaknesses.

The Olympian in Olympia, Washington, is pretty sweet. Up top there are pull-down files. Like, if you click on "news" you get a list of categories, such as "South Sound", which I'm guessing would mean something to me if I lived there. Then if you click on that you get a fairly intelligible list of stories that offers a headline and a brief description. Only drawback: Couldn't find any RSS feeds anywhere. Not good.

Kind of the same thing with the Idaho Statesman. The pop-up menu navigation buttons are very helpful. But when you get to the local news page, it's just another list of cryptic headlines. And there's no easy-to-find RSS feed.

From there, it's all downhill.

The Philladelphia Inquirer might have won a bunch of Pullitzers. But they're a long way from winning a Webby. No local news link on the front page. If you go to their "News" page, it's just a file dump of often cryptic headlines. And it takes three clicks to get to the local news page. And once you do, it's just another big ugly list of links and bylines. Horrible!

I like the photos on the Bradenton Herald's news page. But when you scroll down it becomes another long, boring, confusing list of cryptic phrases.

All-out boring and hideous:

Lexington Herald Leader
Grand Forks Herald
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and Journal Gazette
Duluth News Tribune
Biloxi Sun Herald
The Bellingham Herald (this one steps out of the Knight-Ridder box. But -- Ish! -- what an ugly mess!)
Akron Beacon Journal
Aberdeen News

Ok. So now we know what we're dealing with. Tomorrow I want to give some props to some of the creative things these news organizations are doing online. I saw quite a few on my little tour.

After that, I'm gonna start making phone calls. It's time to stop bitching and start reporting. Time to get to the bottom of what's going on at the 300-lb. gorilla of the daily newspaper world.

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