The International Herald Tribune, now that it no longer has anything to do with the Washington Post, seems very much like a stripped-down version of the New York Times. I was reminded of that yesterday by the article Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn’t Just In The Genes. I first saw it in IHT and then again in NYT where it originally appeared. The NYT version was far more inviting. And why? Because it was packed with glorious pictures and informative sidebars. Looks matter. IHT published one of the pictures which linked to the article, but the picture and the text were on separate pages, so they weren’t as effective.
The point isn’t raised in "9 ways for newspapers to improve their sites", which the Guardian Technology blog picked up from the Bivings Report. Pictures usually get better play in print than they do on online newspaper sites — and with good reason too. Who wants to wait interminably for pictures to download? But newspapers that can deliver graphics, audio, video fast are bound to attract more readers. I hardly watch television. But I like to see Reuters TV on The Times website.
Even without all that jazz, an online newspaper site can be a must-read. I read the plain-looking HTML version of the Guardian because it has plenty of good material. It’s perhaps the most successful, and certainly one of the most widely read, online newspapers. However, even the Guardian could take a few tips from the Bivings Report.
The nine ways that newspaper sites can be improved, according to the report, would make them more like blogs. The idea may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Bloggers have to work harder to be picked up by search engines and to draw readers than newspapers which already have an established readership.
The nine ways that newspaper sites can be improved, according to the report:
- Start using tags. Bloggers do, and it makes posts or articles easier to track down
- Provide full-text RSS feeds so one needn’t have to go to the newspaper site itself to see if it has any interesting articles. One doesn’t always have the time to do that. One could instead check Bloglines, My Yahoo or some other composite site — news reader, mashup — offering articles from various sources.
- Work with external social websites. Yes, provide an easy way to save articles, for example with a hyperlinked tagline saying "Save to de.licio.us".
- Link to relevant blogs. Washington Post is already doing it through Technorati.
- Get rid of all registration. Yes, please. The New York Times columnists and, for that matter, articles published in The Straits Times here in Singapore will be more widely read if one didn’t have to pay to read them.
- Partner with local bloggers. They are already doing it in Singapore.
- Offer alternative views of your content. Show the stories as they are published in the printed edition, but also show which are the most popular, most emailed stories. Some newspapers are already doing it.
- Modernise your site’s graphic design. Yes, look at the New York Times. I love The Times’ home page too, it packs a lot of content beautifully.
- Learn from Craigslist. That’s the way to present classifieds, says the report.
- Make your content work on cell phones and PDAs. That makes it 10 ways in all, not nine. But this last point is listed as an afterthought in the report. I can understand that, never having used my phone to read anything except text messages.
Personally, I would like to add a pet peeve. Don’t break up a story into too many pages, at least allow the reader the option to read it on one page like the IHT does. Breaking up a story into several pages may get more hits, but that’s one reason why I don’t always look up The Times of India. All those pop-up boxes and itty-bitty pages can be terribly trying on a reader’s patience.
And just in case anyone’s wondering what’s the key to long life if the answer isn’t in the genes — that’s the article with which I started this post — the short answer is this: the doctors don’t know, says the New York Times. One may look up the article if interested. The page, as I said, is a beauty.