I know that may be asking a lot, but time is of the essence. Lots of smart people who understand the Internet work at newspapers; they just can’t get their organizations to move quickly. Among the various things that newspapers can and should do are the following:
- Radically redesign their sites. Right now, they’re not very "usable" other than editorial. Editorial is just a piece of what online newspapers should offer. Editorial is a great hook to get people to the site, but give them more stuff to do and see once they’re there
- Have great site search and offer blended results that are relevant to the query — so the users see the full range of content and advertisers
- Offer aggregated news from third parties on the site in addition to "local news"
- Have a comprehensive local marketplace that offers classifieds and services
- Syndicate classifieds
- Syndicate local business advertisers (like what the directory publishers are doing with Webvisible, Matchcraft, ReachLocal, Local Launch, etc.)
- Add community tools (much more important than blogs)
- Get rid of site registration (or create some real value in exchange for user registration)
I could go on but I won’t here.
Online newspapers are a fundamentally different animal than the print product (sites like the WSJ may be exceptions) and need to be thought about differently.
Here’s a case in point. My hometown newspaper is the San Francisco Chronicle (owned by Hearst). I know that its site is probably the best and most reliable source of local events, entertainment and restaurant information in my area. I KNOW this. But do I use the site? No. It’s too painful. Content is buried. The site is cluttered. You don’t need to be a Jakob Nielsen to know that the overall user experience is suboptimal.
Here are the search results for the query "home improvement." Now I’m sure there have been many articles written over time that pertain to interior design, hiring contractors, landscaping, the cost of kitchen remodels, etc. None of those articles shows up in the first page of results. (I’m sure there are advertisers that would love to be contextually presented next to those results, provided they were more relevant.)
Will I go beyond this first page? No. (See Enquiro’s "eyetracking" research — a new round is coming out.) Will I come back to this site and look for anything other than editorial content again? No.
Newspapers have a window of 12 to 24 months to work out some of these strategic and usability issues. I know that there’s much going on "behind the scenes" but the process needs to speed up.