October 4, 2001 In the last blog, I argued that September 11 burst the seams of professional news sites & that these sites could learn from the contrasting success of blogs. Here are some other perspectives:
1) Simon Crane, with 15 years experience as a UK journalist and editor, agrees that site design too often exists “to serve the tastes of the designers rather than the users.” But the context and interactive features offered by publication web sites shouldn’t be purged in the rush to blog-like simplicity.
2) Corporate ego, not designers, may be to blame for traditional news sites’ over-engineering and brand-bloat. Photographer Reid Stott writes, “news has become obscured by heavy handed attempts at graphic branding that generate more clutter and confusion with poorly placed content.”
3) Book-design opinionado Dean Allen highlighted the “urgency and directness” of CNN’s September 11 site on his funny and insight-filled blog www.textism.com. “There’s such pure logic in the stripped design.” Don't miss his link to MSN's September 11 site and this comment: "You can picture some worthless little editor, sweating bullets, if I pull Elton John will I lose my job?"
4) Blogs are unreliable. Northcliffe's Keith Perch acknowledges that “we are all guilty of overdesign” and cites his own experience of multiplying a site’s traffic by stripping out whizzy visuals. While agreeing that publishers can learn from blogs, he thinks the blog standard is too low to satisfy the average reader. “The truth is that many (most?) people do want their information edited - that's what they pay for in newspapers. And they want it to be accurate and reliable.” Perch complains that many blogs “are inconsistent, links are broken, and they can take you inadvertently to places you don't want to go.”
4) Blogs distill a reality too fragmented for a single organization to comprehend, says San Jose Mercury News’ columnist Dan Gilmore. Readers of weblogs on September 11 were “were witnessing -- and in many cases were also part of -- journalism's future.” Bloggers know “that our readers, listeners and viewers collectively know more, vastly more, than we do,” says Dan.
6) The blog, as a diary of events, captures something missed by the computerized information-sorting schema used by most professional news sites. After rereading his own blog of September 11 long-time blogger Dave Winer noted “it's good to have a record of the events as they happened.”
Let’s amplify this point. It’s GREAT to have a record of events "as they happened"... and great to be able to peruse the strata of one individual’s experience of those events.
The blog’s diary-like stacking of events is easy to take for granted… but this structure may be a key virtue.
Traditional publishers, scrambling daily to make room for cargo-loads of fresh-arriving news, shove their old product into a giant warehouses, from which it can be later extracted only through powerful search algorithms. But brute searching power can’t replicate the natural rhythm of scrolling back through the chronological record.
The blog’s chronological news sorting fits well with innate human story-telling (aka information-processing) habits.
The OECD Observer magazine has jumped from being invisible to being highly ranked on the world’s main search engines. Pressflex has done what it said it would do when we teamed up in 1999.
Rory Clarke Editor, OECD Observer