Do Newspapers Get The Web?

by @edent | # # # # # | 2 comments

Recently I was featured in two prominent online newspapers.
The Times published a short story I wrote for The Times Cheltenham Twitter Competition.

Extract from The Times

Extract from The Times

The Guardian wrote about my experiences with energy monitors.

Extract from The Guardian

Extract from The Guardian

What struck me was the very different ways that these “Old Media” approached the “New Media” of the web.

I’ll state my biases up front. I’m a tofu knitting, bleeding heart liberal who – if I were one of the dwindling number of newspaper buyers – would read The Guardian or the Independent. I also owe Kevin Anderson a beer.
The Times has given me some free T-Shirts and its sister paper, The Sun, covered my wedding.

Let’s see how the two compare…

Hyperlinks

The web relies on links. Hyperlinks are what separate the web from classical text.

The Guardian is extremely generous with linking.  Every name, every article, every unfamilar idea is meticulously cross-referenced.
The Times has none. No links within the text. Even when the author writes out aitch-tee-tee-pee – still no link. They could link my name, link to my original twitter post, link to their own content – but they choose not to. This is obviously a newspaper article – designed to be read on paper. Perhaps my secretary is meant to type in the hyperlinks, print out the resultant pages and then fax them to me.

This is how The Times should have displayed the tweets

Guardian 1 : Times 0

Tagging

A folksonomy is an excellent way to categorise content. It’s a simple and effective way to help your readers find your content.
The Guardian offers several ways to see similar stories. It make effective use of tags as well as sidebar content.
The Times has a few links at the side – but doesn’t provide any contextual information.

Guardian 2: Times 0

Mobile

Like several billion other people around the world, I access the web via my mobile. What happens when I visit these sites using my phone’s default browser?

The Guardian redirects me to the correct story on m.guardian and provides a pleasant mobile experience. There are a few problems with the speed at which articles are put on the mobile site – but it works.  The hyperlinks and images are sorely lacking – but at least it is a clear and easy to use experience.

Mobile Friendly - but feature poor

Mobile Friendly - but feature poor

The Times doesn’t have a mobile version. Or rather, it may do but didn’t redirect me there. As a result I get a fairly messy page and a large bill for downloading heaps of data.

Mobile Unfriendly

Mobile Unfriendly

Guardian 3 : Times 0

Paying

The Times, it would appear, wants to charge me for access to its websites. Based on the above, I find it hard to get excited about the idea of paying for such poorly executed delivery.
The Guardian will let me freely remix its content via its APIs. It encourages free creation.

Guardian 4 : Times 0

Commenting

Both sites let me comment.  This is a great way to get feedback from your readers.  It also allows you to see where you may have erred in your original story.

The Times allows you to comment on any story – The Guardian seems to restrict comments to blog posts.

Both sites require registration – something I’ve always found a bid needless – but The Times has a single form whereas The Guardian’s form seems to span several pages.  Make registration easy enough to encourage commentators – not put them off.

Guardian 4 : Times 1

Conclusion

The Guardian is the clear leader, but both sites have something to learn from the other.  Both are a long way from being perfect.  Journalists and editors need to understand all of the benefits of the web and make sure that they are making the best use of them.

You wouldn’t use colour printing to display black and white photographs in your printed paper – nor would you make links unclickable on the web.

Once they make these changes to their mindsets – both will be in a strong position to take full advantage of this “new” media.

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