Contest Judges Find Room for Improvement

By: Steve Outing

For the second year, Editor & Publisher is sponsoring the Best Online Newspaper Competition, to recognize the best work in the newspaper new media field. The judging period for the contest recently closed, and winners in 10 categories will be announced in Houston on February 14, at the E&P Interactive Newspapers conference. The contest results and coverage of the awards ceremony will also be included in the daily conference news Web site E&P will be publishing from Houston.

This year, we assembled 21 volunteer judges who are well known within the interactive publishing field, to review some 160 entered news Web sites from around the globe.

Contests like this provide a wonderful snap-shot of the state of the interactive news industry. I’ve asked the judges to offer their impressions of the online newspaper services business following their judging experience. I won’t let them give away who won the awards (besides, their scores are still being tabulated), but they do have some salient comments about how news Web sites have improved in the last year — and how much improvement is still required.

Here are some comments from a few of the competition’s judges:

David Carlson

Director, Interactive Media Lab, University of Florida at Gainesville
“I’ve been a student of online newspapers since the Viewtron days, and I have not seen a year in which more has happened than did in 1996. I’m sorry to say that in general, we’re still not getting it. Many of the big sites (and even a lot of small ones) are very deep and wide, but 99 percent of content is repurposed from print editions/wires. Precious few folks are investing any time to offer readers the thing that makes the medium exciting: Interactivity. … Perhaps I’m a lone voice in the wilderness, but I’d much rather see sites with a few stories a day that are really done well than 200 or 2,000 auto-generated wire pieces.”
Full text of Carlson’s comments.

Terry Maguire

New media consultant, and general counsel to the World Association of Newspapers (FIEJ)
“Every newspaper site should be timed for how long it takes for something new to appear after the initial connection is made. By ‘new,’ I mean something that was not there the last time someone logged on. Why do so many newspapers insist on wasting so much of their customers’ time showing them the standard layout of the page first, instead of giving them something to read that’s new while the rest arrives?”
Full text of Maguire’s comments.

Christopher Harper

Associate professor (digital journalism), New York University
“Navigation seemed much better in all classes of the publications. I constantly stress that publications should keep navigation easy. I doubt that the publications heard my words, but clearly they were listening to their readers to keep it simple. I feel optimistic about the industry after reviewing the sites.”
Full text of Harper’s comments.

Jak Boumans

Principal, Electronic Media Reporting, The Netherlands
“In general I was not impressed with the newspapers. Many sites look the same as if no variation can be found. … I judged many foreign ones. And in general my comment is that many of those foreign sites can compete with American ones.”
Full text of Boumans’ comments.

Neil Chase

Assistant professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, [email protected]
“I’m constantly surprised when a paper that always gets lots of recognition for its photography, graphics, and/or design creates a Web site with no pictures. Sure there are bandwidth and ease-of-use issues, but these newspapers should face that challenge and make their printed visual success a part of the Web site too.”
Full text of Chase’s comments.

Monique Dusseldorp

Director of press and PR, European Institute for the Media
“Very little was done in the form of services by e-mail. I think many newspapers could easily offer e-mail services that could enhance their attractiveness. Many people will respond favorably when asked if they would like to receive their horoscope automatically, or all news that mentions their neighborhood, or news regarding special pets, etc. A lot of information could be gathered by offering such services.”
Full text of Dusseldorp’s comments.

Online inaugural coverage

The inauguration of President Bill Clinton was a major back-yard news event for WashingtonPost.com, which was able to arrange for a Post newspaper reporter and photographer to cover the event exclusively for the online edition. WasingtonPost.com national content developer Lawrence Roberts reports:

“Writer Karl Vick and photographer Frank Johnston, along with Post.com producer Sascha Segan, wandered the festivities Sunday and Monday, filing throughout the day, and also took questions from users. We also for the first time put up Post material before it appeared in print: The Post’s 30-page special inaugural supplement was added to our online package on Sunday, before it was distributed in the paper Monday.” Post.com staff also put up Tuesday’s main Post newspaper stories on Monday evening, several hours before the print edition hit the streets.

Post.com’s inaugural package can be seen at h ttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/inaug/inaug.htm.

C ontact: Lawrence Roberts, [email protected]

Column schedule changed this week

Stop The Presses! is running only twice this week, instead of the usual three times, due to the Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S. The next column will run on Monday, January 27, when I return to my normal schedule.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at [email protected]

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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