What is missing from the online press to make it really interesting (from the reader’s point of view)? For the news media, digital migration is a vital issue; the “paper” readership is eroding regularly, the competition for free information (digital or not) is becoming more and more pressing and the boundaries are blurring between the print, radio and television media …
“Digitizing” is perceived by many (wrongly?) As a necessary step, even as the only alternative to outright disappearance in the more or less long term.
However, we must admit that most digital versions are struggling to convince. Often due to lack of investment or conviction on the part of editorial staff. With the exception of “Pure Player” initiatives (example Rue89), the digital press more often than not remains the poor relation of information.
Failing to find here a structural solution or a new business model, I will content myself with describing a few features which I think would make a digital newspaper more useful and more interesting than its paper alter ego.
Specific content and writing
You don’t read on a screen like you do on a sheet of paper. This well-known statement we all have the opportunity to verify it every day. It would therefore be quite logical to offer content specifically adapted for screen reading, whether “mobile” or “fixed”.
Yet what are the titles that systematically offer multimedia content in support of the text? Why do not all websites or applications offer the possibility of enlarging the fonts or displaying the content in a simplified format compatible for example with the “Reader” function of Safari?
What should we also think of the interest of offering only as a digital version a full copy of the paper version in PDF format, without multimedia content, without active hyperlinks etc. ?
If the form of the online press is rarely “digital native”, what about the content! The articles are either verbatim copies of the paper version or, on the contrary, an ultra-succinct summary made up of “copy and paste” from press agency dispatches. Either we have interesting content but not always easy to read on screen and above all without much added value compared to the paper version, or we are hungry with a simplistic article that devalues journalistic work and the publishing house.
Correcting this problem is unfortunately far from being simple because it involves considering a digital edition as an autonomous and distinct media and not as a simple variation of the paper original. To enable this, a specific editorial team must be set up with journalists trained and motivated to write Cross Medias. As far as we know, The Guardian is the only non-pure player newspaper that has embarked on this challenge on a large scale (25 journalists specifically dedicated to digital versions).
A search engine, most titles offer but how many allow to:
- Search (only) in today’s edition?
- Search (only) in the archives or on a specific date?
- Specify whether the search should relate to the title and / or the content?
- Looking for articles from a particular journalist?
- Limit / classify results by content categories?
And if search engines are present on websites, it is surprising to find that this is far from being the case for all iPad-Apps.
When you read an article on the fall of Gaddafi, for example, it’s interesting to simply access other articles that deal with the same subject, or even an entire thematic dossier. This function is sometimes found as on LeSoir.be for example, but it is far from being the norm and often the links are limited to pointing to related articles of the day’s edition.
Ergonomics adapted to tablets
The Tablet dimension is not yet automatically integrated into press websites. A “readable” site on an iPad is good but it is no longer sufficient, the sites must at least be optimized also for reading on a tablet. This implies the elimination of the “mouse over” function that cannot be applied on a “touch screen”, the simplification of the drop-down menus that are often too small and impractical for navigation “on the finger”. And I’m not even talking about unreadable Flash banners or “pop-ups” and other ad formats that make reading painful, when they don’t just cause the browser to crash.
Even better than a Mobile / Tablet compatible site: the dedicated application. Not only does this promise (in theory) ergonomics adapted to touch navigation, but in addition it allows you to configure alerts, benefit from geolocation, or even the camera. The best offerers even an unconnected reading mode.