Daily newspapers have been fighting decreasing readership and falling subscriptions for at least a couple of decades now. More and more, newspapers are putting their content online. For that I salute them.
But the web is now about 15 years old, and I wonder why so many newspapers still don’t manage to get some of the basic things right.
This morning I was reading an article about a replica of the Nina coming to town. The Nina is coming to town on Monday. The article is listed in this morning’s edition (Wednesday, March 12) but under the headline there’s a line that says “Last updated March 11.” This suggests the article was first written and published sometime prior to March 11.
So when the article says the Nina is coming to town Monday, does it mean Monday two days ago, or Monday of next week, or some other Monday? If I go down to Fisherman’s Village today, will the Nina be there or not?
Perhaps “on Monday” was a sufficient identifier when newspapers were printed and distributed once a day. But “on Monday” is completely insufficient when articles live forever on the Internet, and when articles might be updated after their original publication date.
Please, sir, may I have a link?
Then I read another online newspaper. I found a link to the reader comments on the “most commented story.” The comments were interesting, but I really would have liked to read the actual story. Unfortunately, there was no link to the original story. Not even a publication date or a headline, which would at least have allowed me to search the archive to find the story.
Really, how hard is it to link to the original story from the comments? I learned how to do that back in 1996, within days of writing my first HTML tag.
Next up: Location, Location, Location
Then I was looking for some information on a certain event, and I found a newspaper’s web site which contained a story on the topic I was looking for. What I really needed to know was where this event was taking place. The newspaper article helpfully told me it was in the Marshall Civic Center, but there was no clue, anywhere on the page, as to what state the newspaper is in. Heck, I’m not even positive it’s in the U.S. I know the newspaper is the Marshall News Messenger. I can guess that the city is Marshall. The Marshall News Messenger tells me that Marshall had two fatal wrecks, and that Marshall is planning its inaugural “Third Saturday” event. But where is Marshall? Michigan? California? Florida? Maine? I have to go digging through the site to find out.
It’s common sense, not rocket science
The way some newspapers handle their online content, they might just as well make a giant pdf of each issue and upload that. What they do is no more usable than a giant pdf would be.
Web site usability is a growing and important topic of discussion among web developers. Usability can involve some finely nuanced tweaks, and also some very advanced technical things, and I can forgive any web site that doesn’t get some of the more advanced stuff right. But come on! Clearly identifying dates, and linking from article comments to the original article, are neither technically advanced nor finely nuanced. A reasonably intelligent sixth-grader should be able to figure out to do things like that.