As a former newspaperwoman, I’m always studying and critiquing newspapers, whether I’m at home (with my subscription) or traveling. More recently I’ve also started considering newspapers’ websites (see here for a previous post of the subject of newspapers online). Well, this trip is no different.
Since this isn’t my first time to visit Grand Island, Nebraska, this isn’t the first time I’ve perused The Independent. I’ve never been particularly impressed with the Indy, as it’s apparently called. I had never visited the website before, though. It apparently won the award for best newspaper website in 2005, presented by the Nebraska Press Association, which should be saying something.
I was told by a member of the editorial staff on this visit that the paper does have several blogs on its website. I was glad to hear the paper’s apparently not too far behind the curve, anyway. However, when I visited the site today, I couldn’t find any blogs, despite an hour of searching. It should go without saying that content should be accessible, and even if I’d found it after hunting for an hour, it wouldn’t qualify as that.
I did actually find one blog (on blogspot, not on the actual site) linked to on the website; this blog is about the impending redesign of the product, and it has two posts. The last was more than a month ago. I’m sure that wasn’t what my acquaintance was talking about. It couldn’t be.
As my husband pointed out recently, newspapers already have what so many online ventures struggle to create: Content. The problem of newspapers’ slow news cycle could be easily curtailed by, once stories are finished and have been edited, putting them online. Even in a blog-style format, this would help a newspaper beat its other print competitors (if any exist) and better compete with non-print media. And why should the paper care that it’s releasing its content in one method before another? Newspapers generally produce higher-quality, more indepth articles than other news venues. The obstacle is the slow cycle, and by cutting out production, printing and delivery time, newspapers’ content could be available at least eight hours sooner.
As for content generally (not related to the website), I’m struck by how much of the paper is filled with wire content, from page one on, and even on the opinion page. I’m disappointed that local topics have not been addressed in the editorial since I’ve been visiting, either.
Quantcast estimates a decent amount of traffic to The Independent’s website. Quite a bit more than it slates for the similarly sized Enid News & Eagle.
When I first reached http://theindependent.com, I was struck with confusion. The site is crowded, and it lacks meaningful hierarchy. This is not a novel problem, but it is a problem. As I briefly mentioned earlier, The paper is undergoing a redesign of the print edition, which should in part help with the flow to the online edition. From the mockups on the redesign blog, it should improve the look for the print edition, anyway.
I was quite perturbed that I couldn’t view a story on the website without registering — which, while free, entailed releasing my life history, exact age, gender and address. This information doesn’t seem relevant. I’m fine with the site tracking where I came from, what stories I read, etc., but I don’t like having to relinquish a ton of personal data just to see when an article that appeared in my search was published. If I hadn’t been doing research for this post, I would have not registered and instead ceased using the site. I’d like reading the New York Times, but I don’t because it asks me to register. Same thing. The incentive isn’t that great.
The Independent does allow people to buy and submit classified ads via its website, which is a good thing. A person or business can also purchase an ad to be displayed on the website, and all the print edition’s advertising content is available via the web, as well. These are important, and good first steps (I guess) for a newspaper, since they make money and please advertisers. Having advertising information online, though, may be — at least to some extent — putting the cart before the horse (I’ll use this cliché since I’m discussing a paper in a rural, agricultural setting).