Few U.S. newspapers are absent on the Internet today. Most of them publish an Internet version, (1) which provides more affluent content than the original printed edition. (2) While newspapers feel more comfortable distributing information over the Internet after being online for a couple of years, they are still trying to determine the best way to disseminate information in the Internet environment. Periodic changes in the Web design and the structure of the Internet newspapers reflect the publishers' efforts to explore a more effective way to provide news information to the Internet audience. (3) By examining the Web design and the news information retrieval process of five major U.S. newspapers, this paper explores how Web design of an Internet newspaper can affect efficiency of information retrieval.
In the Internet environment, news is stored in a computer server for readers to access any time. While technical factors such as a low connection speed can impede information retrieval, poorly designed Web sites also may make it difficult for users to access intended information. (4) Besides external attractiveness, an efficient retrieval process is the ultimate goal of the publishers. (5) While publishers have experimented with different styles and formats in their designs since they created news sites, few have developed a clear and effective approach through which smooth news retrieval is easily achieved. (6) In scholarly research, the effect of Web design on news retrieval is an area little explored. Few studies have addressed how Web design will affect efficiency of information retrieval in the Internet. (7)
There are two dimensions to Web design approaches: presentation and navigation. There are three basic presentation approaches in Web design: graphic, textual and balanced. A graphic site could be more visually appealing but may also take more time to access. After adopting one of these approaches, designers have to decide a method of navigation to structure a Web site for readers to navigate. (8)
Earlier studies looked at the characteristics of the media Web sites, and (9) more recent studies examined the relationship between Web sites and their news organizations. Tremayne's study found newspaper Web sites use fewer links than broadcast news station Web sites. (10) Gubman and Greer found that sites associated with larger newspapers were more likely than sites associated with smaller newspapers to put news on the first screen and to update frequently. (11) Peng et al. studied presentation styles of U.S. Web newspapers and found that national/metropolitan papers tended to follow the traditional newspaper format, but the majority of local dailies were more likely to list only the content directories. (12) These studies, although valuable in revealing current status of news Web sites, add little to the theoretical understanding of news media on the Internet.
Media practitioners address the issues regarding Web design and its impact on content retrieval since the early years of the Internet newspaper, and immediate access to information is one of the key concerns.
A smooth news flow is another desirable aspect. Veen observes that a Web site's front door requires the designer to provide clues about the site's depth and focus to readers. The Web site creator needs to be aware of the balance between navigation, graphic art and information display, and (13) Siegal notes that sites must satisfy impatient, directed visitors. (14)
Few scholarly studies looked at the relationship between content and format of news Web sites. Davenport and Ogundimu's study measured the efficiency index. The efficiency of content presentation tests Web site users' perception of user friendliness, graphic interface, advertiser presence and informativeness. By compiling the mean scores of this index, the study measures relative rankings of Web news media based on panel members' judgment. …