“12 Things I’ve Learned about Online News”

By Stephen Goforth, University of Mississippi (former CNN writer/producer)

The Online News Association convention in San Francisco included a session titled, “Design Solutions from News Experts.” While panelists from the New York Times revealed a glimpse into new features coming to the newspaper’s Web site, Adaptive Path president Jesse James Garrett offered practical advice from his company’s work on Web redesigns for CNN, PBS and NPR. During the session, one person tweeted that Garrett’s speech got him thinking of a news site as something like a “dashboard” and less like a “publication.”

Jesse James Garrett’s “12 Things I’ve Learned about Online News”

1. Know who you are.
Don’t try to be all things to all people; talk to your users. NPR believed its Web site was a place for breaking news but research showed its users use it for analysis after going other places for the basics. Focus your resources on what your users want from you. Focus on your strengths.

2. Be in the Web, not on the Web.
The Web is not the delivery channel for your product. Your product is part of the Web itself. It adds to the Web.

3. The Web is not the world.
Don’t approach your site as if it is the only source for users. Recognize the context. There are other sources of information.

4. Understand what people do with news, why people consume news.
Some people want to add to their knowledge, others want application. Some people want news in order to share it (for them it is a social engagement, a way of connecting to others). Recognizing the different uses for news is critical for meeting your audiences need. People consume news to absorb, apply, share, enjoy. Design and strategy must work around this knowledge.

5. Support different modes of engagement.
Design solutions that support scanning needs as well as deep dive needs.

6. Every page is the home page.
The main page is not the master entry point through which users will experience your site. Each page is a starting point, so each page must show the depth and range of coverage your site offers. If you are about investigative reporting or local news, etc. show it on each page.

7. Navigation is dead;  long live navigation.
People rarely use global navigation unless they are task-switching. What gets used is navigation that is textually relevant. Tailor links to drive traffic to other parts of the site.  What gets used more is navigation that is contextually relevant, so leverage what you can tell readers.

8. Put the “multi” in multimedia.
Use a variety of ways to tell stories: video, audio, etc. more than just offering blobs of text.

9. Headlines should tempt, not tease.
Make people want to know what’s on the other side of the link not just wonder what the story is about. Headlines should be straightforward, making a promise, not baffling readers because they are scanning for specific facts.

10. Think outside the blob.
Don’t just think multimedia, structure your data. Offer tools that let readers navigate through the data easily so they can consume and work with the news rather than creating tools that are simply delivery vehicles for the news.

11. It’s an application not a publication.
Create tools that allow people to work with the news, not just read the news. Interactivity is not a coat of paint. Elements need to add depth, understanding, deliver genuine value. It must deliver insight into the story that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

12. Try things out, throw things out.
Constantly evolve rather than falling into a few set patterns.


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