What if you had a website like this?

What if all your multimedia were instantly findable on your newspaper’s website? What if the video player on your site was built for speed, incorporating the latest Adobe Flash technology?  What if that player was large enough to showcase your video and had a full-screen mode that actually worked without stuttering? What if all your multimedia and stories had tags to help viewers narrow and refine their searches? What if your newspaper website didn’t have 300 links on the home page, but instead offered a better way to get to the content inside? What if, on a story page, you could instantly see how many photos, videos, audio clips and documents were associated with the story? What if all your stories and photos were geo-coded and you had the ability to build Google-style maps on the fly? What if you let viewers embed your videos into their blogs and websites knowing that the player will call back allowing you to track and count the clicks as your own?

Has a newspaper website like this ever been built? Why not? Anybody who produces multimedia for newspapers knows the dirty little secret of low viewership on video and audio slideshows. Could it be that most of these websites hide their multimedia content in a sea of story links? And when the link is discovered, it takes you to a crappy 320 pixels wide video player that doesn’t support full screen.  Is it any wonder why many viewers don’t bother with multimedia?

As newspapers transition to producing more multimedia, they need to address these shortcomings.  I have heard too many horror stories from dedicated online producers whose audience is severely limited by bad website content management systems. I should know. I’m one of them. In a month, all this will change with the debut of our ground up redesign. As the finishing touches on our new Spokesman.com website are applied, the usability roadblocks viewers face accessing multimedia will be removed for good.

9 thoughts on “What if you had a website like this?

  1. Hi Colin,

    I think limited usage of online audio and video and slideshows at the SR might sometimes be due to the subject matter. Not all subjects are best covered in, say, a slideshow.

    A “multimedia newspaper” has the opportunity to apply the best mix of resources to each story – text, individual photos, slideshows, video and audio reports, and reader contributions.

    Some reports will use all of the above effectively (the Dishman-Hills fire, for example – albeit after the fact as the SR was not set up to go live or even fast to the web on that one) while others are going to find that (hypothetical bad example) a slide show of a City Council meeting discussing budget shortfalls are just ignored.

    Emotional stories often do well with the great photo or photos or video (your work for example). Other stories do best with a solid text report. And “live” and “breaking news” stories (fires, police actions, other disasters) may do best in multimedia format.

    It comes down to choosing the right tool for the story situation. The SR is doing a good job of experimenting – but has not yet mastered the art of selecting the right tool(s) for each situation. This is just one more skill to master, one more hurdle to cross for print reporters and editors making an adaptation to an online media publication.

    Its not about recreating radio on the web, or TV news on the web – its about creating something entirely new. And that path to that “something new” is going to take awhile to sort out.


  2. Well said Edward. We are still sorting it out. It is a huge cultural shift for a newsroom to start thinking about alternative storytelling, let alone actually doing it. We are building for a day where all this new stuff will become part of a seamless workflow. To get there, training will have to become part of our DNA.

  3. It’s not a newspaper website but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news service meets most, if not all, of your criteria: abc.net.au/news.

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  5. Looking forward to seeing your redesign. We’re currently working on a slowwwww redesign at the Union-Bulletin. All the features you mentioned are on our checklist. We’ve been handcuffed for too long by TownNews. Our current site is a mess of widgets and third-party apps. Consequently our video is buried and suffers from low viewership.

  6. The closest I can think is mercurynewsphoto.com, but there are no embed capabilities, and it’s not technically the news site. Still, it pointed in the direction you are going.

  7. great: you will soon be able to answer the “what if…” question. Undoubtedly viewer numbers will increase.

    Maybe double or more – unfortunately from the newspaper numbers I have seen, even a 10 fold increase would not get the number crunchers too excited.

    Regional monopolies worked OK with print – but as viewers/readers have more choice they gravitate towards niches – and geographic locations (with few exceptions) are not niches.

    Experiment with cosmetic/stylistic changes first of course – it is way simpler and cheaper.

    But if it doesn’t work find out fast – so there are still resources available to implement the substantial/disruptive changes the industry needs to survive long-term.

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