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Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ Category

News websites – appearance makes a difference

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 12, 2009

The website design of online news services may not be a big deal if you keep up with news via feeds from specific sites or from aggregation services, which I do, but I also like to visit particular news sites. One thing that bothers me about some news sites, though, is their layout. I wish they wouldn’t find it necessary to use glitzy, gimmicky designs. If I want show and sparkle, I’ll visit an entertainment site.


Speaking of entertainment sites, I can’t decide if the Huffington Post is news or entertainment. It opens with a large sensational headline/picture combo. Scrolling down you find a cluttered razzle-dazzle three-column layout (in theory nothing wrong with 3 columns–my blog uses three as well. Anyway, I’m just a hometown blogger using a standard WordPress theme).

Left-hand column headlines for featured blog posts get varied colors; until recently, the right-hand column jumped up or down a line every ten seconds! (click images for larger size).


The comment links below each story periodically flash yellow (shown in the second shot); I’ve seen the entire page background flash yellow momentarily from time to time. Lots of pictures and video, pictures and video. The chaotic hopscotch multicolor design makes the site not only unappealing for finding news, it makes me want to leave as soon as possible.


Locally, SignOnSandiego (which just rolled out a major site redesign intended to “rock the town” according to an earlier U-T tweet) doesn’t look very newsy when you first reach the page. It presents a selected main story accompanied by a few additional headlines, followed by a popular (and superfluous) technique of embedding a large picture/headline slideshow looping 4 or 5 stories every 8 seconds. The navigation bar at the top has rollover pulldowns to various topics, a technique which provides reasonable coverage. Still, to me the overall layout and commercial focus feels like a billboard. I hope they phase out the recurring nagging popup window asking for feedback.


As an aside, SignOn’s search function is seriously broken; a search for “Sanders budget” pulls up nothing for 2009. A search for “San Diego budget” pulls up listings, but the entries listed show incorrect publication dates unless you click through to the article. When I did the search today (Nov 12), the first page of results included 14 entries all dated Nov 12 but a click through to the articles reveals a wide variety of actual publication dates (the Nov 12 date on the search screen entries appears to come from the date you did the search. Other entries show no date at all.


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Changes at North County Times

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 5, 2009

I’m a little wary now about the North County Times.

On Tuesday, after the workshop held by the California Department of Water Resources which wrapped up at 1pm, I took the trolley home, wrote down some highlights, and posted them here at about 4:45pm.

After posting, I decided to check if any reports from local media had appeared. Nothing so far…except one, from the North County Times. I took a look at it and as far as it went, it certainly appeared consistent with what I heard. What caught my eye was the timestamp on the post: 12:20pm, forty minutes before the workshop had concluded.

Well, that was enough to make me pause. Normally, I like to make links to local media reports on topics I’m writing about but I did not do so this time. My reason was that it would have to be a progress report and not an account of the entire event, unless it was actually published later and something is screwy with their server’s time. I even tweeted about the curious timestamp.

Well, today I checked back and the original story is gone; in its place is a new story (and I’m pretty sure a different headline, but I didn’t think to make a copy for comparison) with a new timestamp of 8:20pm. And further, in the first paragraph, an error was introduced: the workshop is now said to have occurred on Monday! This time I grabbed a screenshot.


So, I’m still not going to link to it. But it sure brings home to me an issue that has been widely discussed already, that being the (quiet or not) revision of online news stories. While that’s a topic well-covered already elsewhere, I will say here that I believe when changes to stories must be made, they should either be done via a separate new story (with links between the two stories) or else it should be explicitly clear in the revised story where the changes were made. I don’t think it’s enough just to generically write “updated” at the bottom of the story.

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Print news is old news

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 30, 2009

The Mission Times Courier is a monthly (11 times per year) community newspaper that is delivered to 22,500 homes in eastern San Diego neighborhoods including San Carlos. It’s a nice paper to peruse for local happenings, but it does run into trouble when it chooses to run stories that are time-sensitive.


The small lot is on the extreme right

The October 23 issue now appearing in driveways has a front-page article headlined “Councilmember Blasts Mayor over Winter Homeless Shelter Location” and the first line quotes a press release by Councilmember Marti Emerald that says “the location chosen by the Mayor’s office is absolutely inappropriate for a winter homeless shelter.”

The location is a small lot next door to the San Carlos Branch Public Library at the corner of Jackson and Golfcrest Drives. The small lot previously held a gas station and was designated for a future (distant!) expansion of the library, but is presently used for private parking by nearby apartment/condo residents.

No further details are provided in the paper. Marti Emerald’s website has only the press release.

The problem with the paper’s story is that the San Diego City Council decided on October 13 to place the emergency winter shelter in East Village, east of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Considering the Courier’s wide distribution, headline, and story many local residents could believe that San Carlos was chosen (unless they’ve been following the issue all along) especially since the San Carlos angle on the homeless shelter story wasn’t brought out in local news stories anyway (please correct me if I’m wrong about that). Online, the Courier’s website has no mention of this development either, other than an obscure note saying “Our thanks to everyone who wrote to Mayor Sanders about not using the parking lot at Jackson and Golfcrest for a homeless shelter. It was not a good selection.”

Community print newspapers with infrequent circulation should definitely steer away from breaking news items.

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Why newspapers are failing

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 19, 2009

Bill Wyman has written an outstanding analysis of the state of the newspaper industry in his article Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing. In describing the economic/business reasons for newspapers’ decline, he reserves some criticism for management, editors, and writers alike for having avoided building an effective online presence. He advocates more of what is only now being realized: newspapers need to become the focal point for all local issues, not just print occasional hard-hitting local stories. They need to create must-read local blogs. They must become hyper local.

Wyman makes one point I don’t agree with, though, and that’s in advocating that headlines in the print editions, limited by space, should be changed and expanded in the online versions in order to be more descriptive. I’ve found that some newspapers already do this and consequently had trouble finding a particular story because the citation I had was a headline from the print version while the online version had a different headline. I think such a practice poses problems for anybody who needs to cite a story for their review or research publication, for databases such as Lexis/Nexis containing the story, and for libraries that may need to catalog it. Scholarly citation of web-based documents is difficult enough as it is, and morphing titles certainly won’t make it better. I would liken the effect to that which would happen if it occurred with books and movies. Better to make more thoughtful use of keywords, categories, and tags.

Otherwise, I consider Wyman’s piece to be necessary and worthwhile reading for anybody who thinks about the survival of newspapers in an internet-based information age.

Posted in Internet, Newspapers | 1 Comment »

Education? Not on La Mesa’s agenda.

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 9, 2009

So the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District called a special Labor Day meeting and banned Obama’s back-to-school speech from being aired live in district schools. Instead, they said, teachers could make it an “educational experience” by showing it later (with “viewer discrection advised” commentary, no doubt). This morning the San Diego Union-Tribune joined the mass hysteria with a front-page headline editorializing that the “speech puts school districts in a delicate spot” (although that subhead is missing from the online version of the headline).

I think this cartoon says it perfectly:


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SD Union-Tribune’s identity crisis

Posted by George J Janczyn on August 7, 2009

At $.75 per issue (same as the LA Times), I expect the San Diego Union-Tribune to distinguish itself by doing a significant amount of original reporting, not just reprint wire service stories on the net.  Long before David C. Copley sold the newspaper to Edward R. Moss [Correction: it was sold to Platinum Equity (thanks Joe).  Also I should have written that Copley Press sold it] , the U-T was already going in the wire services direction, shedding reporters and cutting back on original coverage.  The paper has grown thinner and thinner.  Its approach to local news seems half-hearted. Under the new ownership, so far I haven’t see any sign of that changing. [Aug 12: More layoffs have been announced]

Meanwhile, I have seen the LA Times improve with the merger of its California section with the main ‘A’ section (with regional coverage becoming more substantive) and a noticeably reduced reliance on wire service reports.

I decided to do a brief informal comparison between the two papers to look, specifically, at how much original reporting the LA Times and SD Union-Tribune publish. Below I’ve itemized a working week’s worth of original reports in the main sections from each paper.

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