I mentioned earlier this week that I would make available all the comments by judges about entries in the Editor & Publisher/Kelsey Group 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. May I suggest that you take some time clicking on the links below to read comments about contest entrants, which I've assembled from the voluminous results of the judging process. There is much valuable information contained within their comments, so I encourage you to take some time perusing them.
There were 9 separate categories in the contest, and a team of 14 judges critiqued each entry. I am presenting judges' comments from 5 of the categories today; the other 4 will be included in Monday's column. (With so many judges' comments, I won't force you to read them all in one day!)
You'll note that the comments are not linked to the particular newspaper service being critiqued (though for some comments you'll be able to figure it out). The judges and administrators of this contest felt that it would be unfair to some of the newspapers whose services were soundly criticized to have the judges' comments linked to them directly. Many of these services are very new and remain experimental. It was felt that newspapers should be encouraged to improve their online services, but that they should not be embarrassed in the process.
Despite this limitation, you'll find many of the comments informative, and I suspect that you will discover some tips on improving your own online offerings. So, on to the comments ...
Best designed online newspaper service
Strongest news content by an online newspaper service
Best content alliance involving a newspaper company
Best online news service by a non-newspaper company
Best overall online newspaper service
In case you missed the list of winners, here they are again.
This was the first year for this contest, and as might be expected it was a learning experience. Next year we hope to take what we've learned, listen to your feedback and make an even better contest. Please feel free to send me a note about how we might do this differently next year.
I am particularly interested in figuring out how to bring more international papers into the spotlight. Only one of our winners (an honorable mention) was the service of a non-U.S. paper, yet I am convinced that there are publishers' sites around the globe doing award-quality work. For our (mostly) English-speaking judges, language was a barrier to adequately assessing some international sites.
It's also been pointed out to me what should have been obvious: There were no women judges in this year's panel. A majority of those working in the interactive publishing field are men, of course, but that's no excuse. Next year I will endeavor to assemble a more balanced panel.
Judges support fee-based Web sites?
And speaking of feedback, I received some very interesting comments from Gert Paschke of Darmstadt, Germany, who took issue with some of the judges' decisions. He wrote:
"1. Best designed: 'New York Times on the Web' is a strike in the face of a free Web reader! How can I test the online edition, if the form 'Registration' is hindering me? Could it be, that the award jury is acting as a transportation group for NYT subscription marketing?" [note: Web users outside the U.S. do not get access to NYT Web free, as do Americans.]
"2. 'San Jose Mercury News' at a first glance seams to be an open door; I like to browse in the Sections/Services, but then the same problem: once in a object oriented area, the "Password"-problem has to be encountered, a lousy subscription (here only $1 per month) is needed. Do you really want to support this fee tendency? If yes, please be aware, the Web community will not accept it, as long as very good press online services are freely accessible. They get their cost back from commercial advertising. Only an often accessed service will have the chance to retail their cost input. The jury's policy is not understandable to me and probably many other Web users.
"3. 'Vorarlberger Nachrichten,' congratulations to this mention. It is the only product out of the USA, as far as I can see. Is the jury really aware of what's going on in the small world outside? ... There are many outside USA press products, and numerous ones without any charging. Please have a look into it and decide yourself, whether the jury's view perhaps has been a little bit to USA-centralized."
Most useful piece of criticism from a contest judge
"I won't read purple type. Some of us still have design standards."
--Howard Finberg, Phoenix Newspapers, commenting on an entrant in the Best Design category
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