Societies tend to resemble the technologies that define them.
The LA Times has, this very morning, released a site update. We were given some idea what to expect from Eddy Hartenstein’s email, detailing responsive design, image-centric journalism. So far, so now, so what?
Happily, the new site looks good. Slick, cool, and of the time, which, as shallow as it sounds, does mean something to users. Outdated websites are just a bit depressing to use and also reflect badly on the company. So this is good. I will discuss each of the features in more detail, but the first glaring, searing observation is the dominance of Twitter over Facebook, or other social networks on article pages.
TL;DR: Publishers are now newswires and it’s always all about the user. UX For the Win!
On this distressingly cold morning, armed with coffee and my laptop checking the news via twitter, I spotted this tweet from @BBCOS, retweeted by @BBCNews
Last week the New York Times launched a site re-design, the first since 2006, which seems implausible but there it is. There has been a lot of discussion about it, by peoples many and varied with better journalistic chops than me. I wanted to document a few of the features I found the most interesting. Speaking broadly, the new site looks cleaner, more spare, less like a derivative of the print edition and more like a digital publication. That may have been the point…
In a recent NPR piece, The Tricky Business Of Predicting Where Media Will Go Next, there are some fascinating details, from the implications of an Apple conference hosted in Japan in 1992, to the details of the platform models of both The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
In 1992, Apple hosted a conference to discuss the intersection of technology and news. Bob Kaiser, then-editor of The Washington Post was there, alongside the great and good and occasionally weird of the two industries. The letter is a treat to read, it appears that almost everything that we all take for granted now in media, sharing, editing our own content, bespoke payment models, was mentioned in the conference. The only notable omission in our current smorgasbord of media options is the opportunity to insert yourself into existing films. That would be fun, although there are video games that run along similar lines.
It is rather poignant however, as Kaiser in the NPR piece references the letter but also how the climate of success and power in 1992 at The Washington Post meant that no-one was scared enough to trial the big ideas and innovations that were necessary. To be fair, they gave it a fighting try, by launching their classified ads online however they lost ground to the Craigslists of the world.
In terms of now, the NPR piece goes on to cover the existing business models for the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
The Huffington Post is built on aggregation.
1) Use blogs from all over the web on any subject, elevate those blogs by putting them on the front page of the HuffPo site.
2) Curate the stream of incoming content, there is an enormous push on this, the editors are always being trained to hone and refine their particular editorial ‘voice’.
3) Encourage commentary (and, this is my thought, use this a metric of success?)
4) As the business grew, invest in original content.
They have been wildly successful in this endeavour as they started this at about the same time search engines were the primary means of finding the news. Buzzfeed is doing it slightly differently, they operate on the assumption that people now find news and content via social networks, which is certainly true of younger users. Apparently 60% of Buzzfeed’s users are 18-34, whereas the average Fox News viewer is 65. Buzzfeed does not have paywalls or subscriptions and they make their money through ad revenue. They are so optimised for social that their CMS has dynamic elements to it, I did ask the Buzzfeed editor, Ben Smith, to elaborate on this however no response as yet. Ah, he’s a busy man and it is a Sunday so we won’t begrudge him some peace. Rather like Reddit, the presence of an article on the front page of Buzzstream, relates directly to how shared it has been. So, whilst strictly democratic, it does almost remove the editorial role, which I think is rather sad.
As Bob Kaiser said way back in 1992:
“Successful media provide an experience, not just
bits of information…Confronted by the information glut of the modern world, I suspect even the computer-comfortable citizens of the 21st Century will still be eager to take advantage of reporters and editors who offer
to sort through the glut intelligently and seek to make sense of it for them.”