Do you use your own products (or your newspaper’s terrible Web site)?

A great barometer of how good or bad the products you are making is whether or not you use them.

More to the point, do you use your company’s Web site? If you don’t, it’s probably not your fault — it’s your company’s for making a poor product. You know you have a winning product when you and your colleagues use it and enjoy it.

If you go to your company’s Web site while you aren’t at work that’s a big bonus.

Many of us work for journalism companies where we don’t really use our own Web sites or if we do, we don’t really enjoy the user experience. If I was the head of a newspaper or a top editor, I’d be asking the younger workers how they felt about the company’s Web site and what could be improved. Afterall, isn’t it younger readers who are eluding newspapers?

It’s funny how we can all learn so much from people younger than us.

This past week I was giving a talk to my high school’s Web design classes about how to write for the Web. I spent the day explaining what a lede is, how to write journalistically and how to make their stories better and more Web friendly. I also provided one-on-one help to students.

But I might have learned more from them than they learned from me.

One of the first things I noticed is how kids would sit down at their computers and log onto the Kenston High School Web site and view the latest content. They could have logged on and went to ESPN.com, Amazon.com or a myriad of other sites while they were waiting for instructions that day. But they didn’t.

They wanted to check out the latest news going on in their own high school. They wanted to see each others stories and content. And they of course wanted to see the hundreds of photos that were posted to the site since the last time they were in class.

I spoke on a Monday and in-between Friday’s class and Monday’s several big events happened — homecoming football game, homecoming dance and other sporting events. There were a lot of photos to view, and it was one of the first things students logged on to see.

You would be amazed about how much high school students want to be informed. It’s just that high school students care a lot more about stuff that affects them. They don’t care quite as much about local town hall meetings or pancake breakfasts.

Go figure.

But they do care about dances, friday nights under the lights, sporting events, school safety, new policies and other news that directly affects them.

Go figure.

My visit also helped debunk a stupid thought process that is deeply entrenched within the journalism community — readers are only interested in a few photos per story. Yes, that is true for some stories, but it couldn’t be further from the truth for others.

People love photos, especially photos of events they attended. I saw student after student going through the hundreds of photos posted on the KHS Web site the night of the dance. Every student had the ability to have their picture taken for free to go on the Web site and most take the Web site up on that offer.

The same thing applies to the football game. Hundreds of photos are taken and uploaded after every game. In a typical high school football game 75 students or more might see action. Wouldn’t it be great to get all of their photos onto the Web site, in addition to shots of the crowds, sidelines, etc?

Wouldn’t students, parents, relatives, community members and others be interested in checking out these photos? Of course.

Many journalists are still stuck in their ways of placing a few shots into the print edition (usually to take up space or to make the layout look nicer). Unfortunately, the online edition usually gets the same amount, and the shots selected for print can often be random.

What the Kenston Web builders have created is a site filled with content that people want to view, from students to parents to alumni to community members. They have also wrapped their content into an attractive and easy to use package. It’s everything a good Web site should be — something you want to visit and a place you enjoy visiting.

I can safely say that a lot of people don’t enjoy visiting newspaper Web sites. They go there because they want to be informed, but the user experience is less than ideal. The sites are hard to search, too much information is presented on the homepage and the package is either unattractive or really unattractive.

And then to top it all off, newspaper editors have the nerve to complain when people don’t visit their sites or use their products. That’s the funny thing. If you build a product people want to use, they will use it.

That brings me back to my high school’s Web site. There is no justifiable reason a high school of 1,000 or so gets 10s of thousands of visitors a day to its Web site. But they do.

And frankly, tt’s site is substantially better from than any local newspapers’ Web site in the area. It’s better than almost all newspaper Web sites, but that’s not really saying much. At the end of the day it made me realize that if the people who build the product actually use it and enjoy it, it’s a good product — it’s a product that other people will use and enjoy.

And it also pointed out to me that young people do in fact like to be informed. They just want to be informed about their world. Most local newspapers are for the AARP world, and big newspapers aren’t much better.

At the end of the day if you don’t use your newspaper’s Web site why would you expect anyone else to?

So, do you use your newspaper’s Web site?

  • bored_at_work

    You make some good points about site content, and I’ve always wondered why my paper doesn’t do a photo gallery with every story we shoot. What it comes down to, at least in part, is resources.

    Your high school has…20? 30? 40? kids working on the Web site or learning to work on it for, say, an hour a day. Let’s say 40 kids…an hour a day…40 hours a day of free labor…that’s the equivalent of having five full-time Web producers for a small daily paper. It doesn’t happen. It should, but it doesn’t. If it did, you might start to see similar results on newspapers’ Web sites.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    About 100 kids work on the site a day. Each is in class for 85 minutes. So, are very good workers, while others are not.

    I’d say five Web producers could do what they do and more. Newspapers don’t put in the resources needed to make a proper Web product. My paper certainly doesn’t. We have two people on our Web editorial staff and our circulation is more than 100,000!

    It’s more than just manpower, however. It’s also about vision. Most papers have no vision.

    In fact, they never think about vision or the future. They are too stuck in trying to do what they have always done and trying to hold on to what they have always known. They are not forward thinking, and it is an extremely depressing situation.

    So many talented, young journalists are leaving the business because of the gross incompetence of top editors, publishers and owners. It’s shocking. Simply shocking.

  • http://cumberlink.com Alex Roarty

    Some newspapers have designed systems to allow reporters to post directly onto the Web site — I know the Patriot-News in Harrisburg does this.

    Might a similar system be advised for photographers? Upload the photo, right a caption, voila, it’s published.

    I agree with BAW, manpower is the issue here. Anything that makes their job easier would go a long way to adding content to Web sites.

    The real question with manpower — do you start making huge sacrifices with the print product by transferring resources online? Because, practically, that’s what it will take. Trading copy editors for Web producers, editors for, well, more Web producers.

    The Web is the future, but the print product is still, by far, the money-maker. You might not have a present, much less a future, if you cut into that too much.

    My vision? Significant reduction in number of editors. Reporters become de-facto city states within a media organization — they’re the ones who produce the news anyway.

    Use the resources saved to invest in Web peeps and Web training for your reporters.

    Pat, when you’re ready to launch a media organization based on this model, let me know.

  • Scott Guye

    I have to agree that the user-participation method can reap huge rewards. A format such as BBC, which often solicits its online viewers for photos or possible information about stories should really be the rule rather than the exception. I think it would be a big jump if newspaper websites had portals such as that of social communities such as Facebook where users could contribute photos to appropriate stories (or have an admin to monitor submissions).

  • http://viewedandreviewed.blogspot.com Jim K

    I’m 19 years old. I check Google News pretty much every day. Their service takes a whole bunch of stories and syndicates them on one unified page. I don’t like the personalized news service they offer. The Basic idea of their ‘customized’ news service, is that they keep track of the stories you’ve clicked on and then show you more stories on the same subject in the future. The reason I don’t like it is that I usually know news about stuff that interests me before it is broadly reported.

    For instance: I play Dungeons and Dragons. This past week, Gary Gygax died. He was critical in inventing Dungeons and Dragons back in the 70′s. I didn’t hear about this story from Google news, but from other more specialized websites I check often, i.e. the dungeons and dragons website, and emails from friends. This story didn’t pop up on Google until a whole day after I learned about it. Another example, I’m a roman catholic and spend a couple years in seminary. Last week, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a new bishop in my local area. Again, I knew that our city had a new bishop, and even who he was before it was reported, because I have close connections to news that interests me. I would expect that the same is true for most people. I check Catholic and RPG related websites frequently, so I learn about stories in those fields before they are main stream news.

    The reason I check google news–and the New York Times website (not as often) is to learn about things that I wouldn’t find out about in my normal browsing habits. So I turned off the customizer option on Google News. Other than that it’s great. Part of the reason I like it is that it is that it doesn’t have any adds on the main page. That’s a lesson that web advertisers could really stand to learn. Young people hate pop-ups/animated advertisements. I’m much more likely to click on an add that respects me, and doesn’t try to jump out at me. That’s part of the reason google’s ad system works so well, they put out a simple text ad about something that i’m interested in.

  • http://viewedandreviewed.blogspot.com Jim K

    oh and I also watch Stephen Colbert regularly. If I’m interested in a story he’s spoofing, I’ll look it up online.