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.

With coming redesign, a new era begins

Last week hell froze over at The Spokesman-Review. The long awaited redesign of our website is finally underway. Meetings are being held, code is being written and timelines have been set in stone.

One of my longtime frustrations as a multimedia producer is that my newspaper’s website is, well, a tad bit outdated. My only saving grace has been my vlog called Video Journal where I have been able to showcase the multimedia being done at my newspaper. It has not been an ideal solution though. So much has changed in the four years that I have been producing video and multimedia. The rise of social media sites like blogs, You Tube and MySpace have reinvigorated the Web by changing the way multimedia is distributed. Sharing, embedding, tagging, ranking, commenting — that Web 2.0 renaissance party pretty much passed Spokemanreview.com by.

But now that the seas have parted and everyone has got that old-time redesign religion, life is again full of possibilities. Our blank website canvas is being painted with broad strokes. Tattered notebooks full of cool ideas are now being put to code. A recently purchased content management system called Ellington has mostly been ditched in favor of writing a better CMS built on a newer version of the high-level Python Web framework called Django.

The first part of our new site to go live will be a brand spankin’ new multimedia container where, video, photos, audio slideshows, and other visual media will be showcased. The best part is we will provide all the cool tools for viewers to find share and redistribute most of the multimedia content we produce. Many people may yawn at my excitement, but for me this redesign has been nine years in the making. It will launch a new era for my newspaper that already has made the transition to being web-centric in the newsroom.

I think the success of our web team’s redesign effort will be judged by how well they implement the dozens of little features they plan to build in.

Our video player, built by Brian Immel, is going through its final tweaking and is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Check out the database driven menu at the end of the video. When it is hooked up the new media database it will really rock. The player is going through one more design version that will give it floating controls, and added hardware acceleration. Our video will soon be served out over brand new Flash Media 3 servers. Bottlenecks and stutters will hopefully be a thing of the past. The new custom CMS, affectingly called Cannonball, will allow us to embed videos into stories and blogs throughout the site with ease. The search feature should be the best in the industry.

A lot of work needs to be done over the next several months. For now I’ll keep my head down and let the folks with 10-pound brains pound out code…