Smile Politely

N-G redesign takes website from outdated to useless

Before I begin, a few caveats:

  • there are a bunch of great people who work at the News-Gazette, doing the best that they can under resource reductions in a tough time for newspapers
  • as a commenter noted on one of our snarky posts earlier this week, they’re utilizing their Twitter feed (as well as many of their reporters’) as well as any media outlet in town
  • we surely haven’t figured out how to make money at online publishing either, and our redesign last winter was a little rocky, too
  • IlliniPundit already had a field day with this earlier in the week.

That said, if the News-Gazette had tried to make a website less useful than the redesign they unveiled earlier this week, I think they would have failed.

The worst of the new site’s sins is that all of the links to any articles that were published before this week are broken, and there are no plans to fix them. It’s cool to live in the now and all, but sometimes it’s important to be able to access information that isn’t on the front page of a website. When that livestock truck crash on I-74 pushes something off the front page, it appears to be gone forever.

This oversight leads to several humorous (pathetic?) search results:

A search for “kiwane carrington” returns no results, although the search engine helpfully suggests that perhaps I meant “plane harrington.” Searching for “carrington” only yields three stories from 2005 and earlier, involving Amy and Adam Carrington from Westville, I believe.

A search for “clout” reveals many recounts of Illini baseball and softball home runs, but nothing about the U of I admissions scandal, and nothing from after 2008.

I think I’m most bummed that I never got to read the story from last week about the local woman who killed an intruder with an axe.

On one hand, it’s kind of interesting to live in a world where the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich never happened, and “Safe Haven” only means that local kids want to avoid being bullied. On the other, if you like the idea that a newspaper’s content is relevant for longer than it takes for your bird to soil the bottom of its cage, then this isn’t a positive development.

Good news, though:

The News-Gazette Library, while not open to the public, does offer a fee-based research service designed to provide businesses and individuals with research of articles from the newspaper’s files.

That’s right, for the low, low price of $5 per search, or $30 per hour, they’ll have an intern Google their archives for you, and then print them out and fax or mail them to you for an additional fee. It was bad enough when they put archived articles behind a pay wall on their site, and I never bought any of those either, but at least you could see that the articles existed and read the lede.

An inside source who wishes to remain anonymous said that the “fee structure for archived articles” is “currently ‘under discussion.’ That’s the official stance on it…” Seems like that’s something that you might have wanted to work out while planning the re-design, but hey, what do I know?

I’m no aesthete, so I won’t quibble with the appearance of the site, although I’m sure there’s hay to be made there, as well. The site seems to load quite a bit slower on my machine than the old, although there still aren’t any pictures accompanying the articles on the front page. There is a significant uptick in the space allotment for advertising, but I miss the McGruff-looking “trust our classifieds, Craigslist is evil” ads that populated the old site.

The N-G site has the overall feel of a bunch of elderly white men sitting around in a wood-paneled room, smoking cigars and drinking martinis, and shouting, “We’ll show ’em! If we make our website completely intolerable, then people will be forced to buy our paper!” Fortunately, you don’t need to own a printing press to widely distribute The News anymore. Unfortunately for those of us without financial resources, it still takes considerable time, effort, and skill to report The News (in a comprehensive sense) in a way that is worth reading.

There’s a lot of debate about the future of media, and newspapers especially, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But being outwardly hostile toward your readership through poor design and reducing content won’t help the Gazoo keep from going the way of the dodo. It doesn’t help anyone (even aspiring online magazines with an axe to grind) when a community’s newspaper makes itself irrelevant. But it sure will make us less sad when we eventually see it go.

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