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.

A breaking news Google Map

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Last Sunday, Spokane, Wash., received a record 12 inches of snowfall. It paralyzed the city. What’s an online developer to do when faced with a breaking news event that’s spread out over a large region? If you’re Ryan Pitts, online director with my newspaper’s website Spokesmanreview.com, you whip up a Google Map and solicit viewers to send in their snow stories and photos.

Using addresses from the submissions, the Google Map’s geo code (latitude and longitude settings) plots out where the photo or story originated. On day two, Pitts added functionality to the map by adding better navigation and embedded links to staff produced video. Google maps are not new, but using them for a breaking news event is not as common. This is a great way to allow viewers to contribute and interact with your website. We promoted the map from the front page of the morning newspaper. Though the flood of submissions has yet to come (49 so far), I think an interactive map like this will take off as more viewers begin to discover it.