Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Home Page Overload: Newspaper Websites Need a UX Fix

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Home Page Overload: Newspaper Websites Need a UX Fix

Article excerpt

As a young copy editor in the days when newspaper articles clattered off Linotypes, I sometimes went to the composing room to trim stories into the spaces allotted to them.

This involved "editing" 14 inches of hot type into a seven-inch hole by scanning a slug of slugs--reading upside down and backwards--to find a seemly place to end a story, usually by throwing away the balance of news that wouldn't fit in print. In the haste of deadline, the editing was not notably sensitive, resulting in the time--and I am not making this up--that the last line of a story appearing in the newspaper said in its entirety: "Needless to say,".

This anecdote illustrates a fundamental difference between print and digital publishing: Print permits only so much information to be squeezed into a prescribed number of pages, requiring thoughtful and disciplined use of the space. When it comes to digital publishing, however, space is limitless and cheap, setting a trap for the sort of self-indulgence and sloth that can turn off readers and advertisers.

And it is a trap, unfortunately, that most newspapers have fallen into. Although newspapers typically put together attractive and easy-to-navigate printed pages, their Web incarnations for the most part are awful. In the interests of fixing this, it's time to talk about what techies call the user experience, or UX.

Quality UX matters, because it is what attracts people to a website or mobile app, keeps them engaged in the content, and then encourages them to do whatever the publisher has in mind.

In the case of Google, a single box on its pristine home page invites visitors to launch a query of any sort. Through the magic of its technology, Google generally delivers in nanoseconds not just what you want to know, but also approximates who you are, where you are, and what sort of ad to serve you.

While the pages at Amazon are a lot busier than those at Google, the UX on every one is carefully designed to get you to do just one thing: "Buy now with one click." The page is scrubbed of anything that would distract a visitor from that goal.

By contrast, most newspaper websites are messes of wretched excess. It takes five to seven "page-down" clicks on a standard computer screen to get from the top to the bottom of the typical newspaper home page. With layers of news, advertising, promotions, and whatnot, the array is so dense and disorganized that you don't know where to look, what to do, and --if you happen to click off the page --where to go next.

Gazing at the typical home page, you can readily imagine the committee meetings that produced them: "Tout classifieds! …

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