Yes, I know I wrote in my last post that it would be the last one. But one thing was missing on this blog: A summary. I have followed the leading British online newspaper for a few months now, so what do I think? Here are some thoughts I’m left with:
Nice Job With the Multimedia! I wrote in my earliest blog post that The Guardian was an old website favorite of mine. However, what I didn’t know about it at that time was the amount of high quality multimedia stuff that’s being poured out at gaurdian.co.uk. Like I’ve mentioned, my impression is that there are two types of attitudes toward multimedia in online newspapers: One part of the industry starts adding video, etc. because they feel like they have to, because it’s something everbody does. The other part plunges wholeheartedly into the world of sound and moving pictures, seeing it as a great opportunity to present news in ways they never could before. The Guardian belongs to the latter category, and if you take a look at some of my blog posts or their multimedia page I think you’ll see why. Why they don’t promote it better by having a multimedia tab at the top of their site is a mystery.
Nice Job Not Being Tabloid! I mentioned this in my very first post here, and it’s still one of my main reasons why I enjoy guardian.co.uk so much: It’s not a tabloid. Yes, you can find stories on celebreties here. But that’s about it. There’s no ALL CAPS SCREAMING HEADLINES!!! You can’t find stories here on how something may have happened to someone who is famous for having sex on TV. And most importantly, the news that are highest up is there because they are important, not because the editor think they will generate click. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about many other online news sources.
Actually, Nice Job on Most Things! BUT: No newspaper is perfect, not even The Guardian. I still find their website layout to be slightly messy, and it’s not obvious where you should go if you want to find their multimedia stuff. Nor is it that obvious that some of the ads are just that; I don’t care at all for advertorials disguising as news, and I don’t undestand why The Guardian would incorporate something like that on their site. There are multimedia features that aren’t really that impressive, and the use of the term “interactive” is sometimes stretching it a bit far.
Still, those are minor complaints; in no way do they ruin my experience when I browse guardian.co.uk. It is an up-to-date online newspaper with good priorities and great, sometimes inovative, multimedia. And what more can you ask for these days?
I like to read when I travel. Usually, I have an annoying little guy in my head who never ceases to remind me of some school assignment I should be working on instead of whatever I am currently doing. But when I’m on a bus, a train, or a plane, the little guy gives me a break. He says, “Hey, what can you do? There’s no internet connection here, no table for you to put your laptop on — you might as well just sit back and relax, eh?”
Sometimes news are rather easy to wrap your head around, like when a celebrity dies, your football team wins, or two cars crash. And then sometimes, they’re not. The nuclear crisis in Japan is one of those events that demands from news organizatioins not only that they keep their audience updated, but also that they manage to explain the background. What is a nuclear reactor? How does it work? What is a meltdown and what will be the consequences of one?
The internet can give us information through text, sound, videos, pictures and animations. Add this to the fact that online newspapers have virtually unlimited space at their disposal, and it becomes hard to dispute that they should thus be particularly well suited to provide readers with a clear background picture. Despite having read a lot of stories about what’s going on in Fukushima, I have yet to understand what this meltdown thing really is. Yes, I probably should have learned this by now. And yes, since I don’t, it’s about time I do. So I went on a digital expedition to some online newspapers with a simple demand: Make me understand what is happening in those damn reactors!
When I was a kid one of my absolute favorite books was “Where’s Waldo?”. For the two people out there unfortunate enough not to know what the concept of the Waldo books is, it goes something like this: You look at a big, detailed picture with tons of people doing different things, and among these people you’re supposed to find Waldo, a cheerful, red-and-white striped guy with hat and glasses. I sat for hours just looking at these pictures, trying to find Waldo between hosts of ladders, dogs, wizards, cannons, and, unfailingly, other red-and-white striped people who were all put there with one purpose: to confuse the reader.
I suspect that guardian.co.uk editor Janine Gibson was also a big Waldo fan. Why else would she take such pleasure in confusing her readers? I have mentioned The Guardian’s rather overwhelming, confusing layout before, but it wasn’t until today I realized that they have mixed in fake news (called advertorials) with the regular news stories. If you take a look at the picture above you will see three stories with slightly different font and text color than the rest. Of course, to the trained eye of any Waldo fan it would be easy to spot these. They are the equivalent of the red-and-white dressed people in the Waldo books; designed to resemble the thing you’re looking for, which, in The Guardian’s case, would be interesting news. And what news are more interesting than the ones telling you about cheap iPads, discounted holidays, and miracle cures for snoring?
It’s not that advertorials is so easily confused with regular news. (Although I didn’t discover them on the Guardian’s website until now, once I did, I quickly realized that they weren’t real news.) It’s the concept I hate — the concept of trying to confuse readers, tricking them into believing that they are reading an objective story by a Guardian writer, while they’re actually looking at an ad. I tried looking at the websites of CNN, BBC, New York Times, and Aftenposten, but couldn’t find any advertorials.
If I were Janine Gibson I would take that as a signal that this is not an OK way to make money. Yes, there is a (barely readable) label above saying that these are “New Advertorials by How Life Works.” Yes, the headlines have different colors from the regular stories. Yes, not too many readers would be fooled by this. But that doesn’t make it any better: You simply don’t try to disguise news as advertisements, no matter how bad the disguise is.
Like an Englishman I once knew used to say: Sneaky bastards.
In my experience, the comments section is often the dark alley of an online newspaper. It’s a place where masked people from different walks of life meet to exchange ideas that are curious, critical, correcting, and – more often than not – blatantly rude and utter rubbish. The comments section is the Internet equivalent of a digital confessional where anonymous people turn up in the hundreds to get off their chest, not their own, but other people’s faults and sins – which, shall we believe the Internet congregation, are aplenty.
For that reason I usually try to avoid this part of the online papers. They appeal to some primal part of people, which I find appalling and makes me lose faith in human beings. If a discussion starts with someone making a claim of some sorts, you can be sure another person, at some point, will call the other one stupid, whereupon the stupid one will mock the other’s spelling mistake, after which a flood of obscene characteristics will follow, a virtual mayhem with a maturity level of first grade class breaks loose.
The recent attacks in Libya is one of those events guaranteed to evoke a lot of emotions. So I thought I’d take a look at The Guardian’s comments section for the news blog, which I’ve blogged about before, to see what I’d find. The comments themselves (i.e., their appearance) look like this:
As you can see there’s the mandatory nickname, picture, date and time, as well as an option to link to the comment, send it as an e-mail (clip), or recommend it. I especially like the “recommend” option, as I think it’s a good idea to let the readers themselves “vote” for the best comments. (Much like Facebook’s “like” option.) So what did people say?
I was surprised to find that the tone among the commenters was rather civilized. There are of course people arguing for nearly the whole spectrum from Right to Left, but they seem to do so without resorting to personal attacks. It simply makes reading more pleasant.
On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be a lot of interaction between commenters at all. Some resorted to the commonly used *@xxx” method to address others, but there seems to be no option to quote other users’ comments into your own post, like you can on nytimes.com. Whether this is a deliberate action by The Guardian, I don’t know, but I suspect it plays some part in curbing personal attacks. Unfortunately, it also makes the comments section resemble more a box on the corner system where everyone voice their opinion out loud, instead of a conversation.
The lack of personal attacks, I believe, can also be attributed to The Guardian’s Community Standards, which are linked to in every deleted post. They are too many and too lengthy to be posted in full here, so I’ll just provide you with a screenshot of the summary:
Over the last week critical voices have lashed out at the American (and international) press for their coverage of Charlie Sheen’s descent into madness. “Why keep producing daily headlines about the life of a man who is obviously not in his right mind?” they ask. (“Because it sells — and we’re desperate for someone to read our papers,” seems to be the answer.) At the same time, another madman has been claiming the spotlight of the international press in Libya. However, the consequences of this particular descent into madness is not that the people turn to Twitter in the hundred-thousands to follow him. Instead, they turn to weapons as a civil war seems increasingly more inevitable.
Thus, some will argue that the news from Libya are of greater importance than the ones from Charlie Sheen’s living room. To see how which online newspapers are the greatest offenders in the Sheen saga, I’ve used a completely unscientific method, which works like this:
- Google various online newspapers and see how many hits you get using the words “libya” and “charlie sheen.” Narrow down the search to hits from the last month.
- Divide the number of Libya hits by the number of Charlie Sheen hits, and you get a Charlie Sheen/Libya ratio (CSL ratio). For instance, if The Guardian has 100,000 hits for Sheen and 150,000 for Libya, you would get a CSL ratio of 1,5.
As you might suspect, I’m not a big fan of tabloids, and so the highest ranked papers in the list below are the ones with the highest CSL ratio (i.e. more hits for Libya than Sheen). If you are a regular reader of TMZ or National Enquirer, feel free to turn the list on its head. I’ve only included what I would regard as major national news outlets. As suspected, local/international newspapers like Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and Norway’s Aftenposten, got completely different results, as shown in the separate ranking below.
- CNN, 2.16 (64,300 / 29,300)
- Wall Street Journal, 1.93 (79,500 / 41,300)
- Guardian, 1.80 (137,000 / 76,400)
- Time, 1.64 (90,400 / 55,300)
- New York Times, 1.47 (169,000 / 115,000)
- Yahoo! News, 1.07 (1,960,000 / 1,830,000)
- USA Today, 0.98 (434,000 / 442,000)
- Huffington Post, 0.88 (2,110,000 / 2,400,000)
- ABC News, 0.42 (81,100 / 193,000)
- Washington Post, 0.17 (21,700 / 129,000)
- Aftenposten, 272.28 (59,900 / 220)
- Boston Globe, 251.724 (58,400 / 232)
- Boston Herald, 110.76 (10,300 / 93)
I am a bit hesitant to declare Washington Post the loser of this informal showdown. Their CSL ratio is suspiciously low, and when you do a search through their own search enginge for the last sixty days’ stories, you get 627 hits for “Libya” and 161 hits for “Charlie Sheen.” I don’t know why Google wanted it this way, but the results obviously don’t tell the whole story.
Except for Washington Post, however, the results are mostly as expected. The “serious” newspapers emerge as winners, while ABC News, USA Today, and the likes can be found at the bottom half. On a different note, it’s noteworthy that Huffington Post and Yahoo! News — the only two sites on the list to have originated as websites — have more hits than all the others combined. They clearly know how to write stories optimized for Google search results.
Finally: Congratiolations to CNN, a news website that obviously have their priorities right