Change at The Telegram

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New site looks fine, but there are issues

As you are no doubt aware, The Telegram revamped its web site several days ago.

My first impression was favourable. It’s cleaner and more streamlined, with better use of white space and not as much visual clutter.

I’ve already heard complaints about the navigation, which is decidedly different from the old site. Part of that is valid. You have to click on a couple of tabs to find what you’re looking for, whereas the old site had all content listed in a standing column on the left, for easy clicking. But a lot of it relates to change itself – people are comfortable with a certain format, and become agitated when that format changes.

The page seems to be well organized. There are clickable windows, shaped like recipe cards, for each category (local news, sports, business, arts, opinion, etc.). For the most part, these sections can be accessed through a bar across the top of the page, as well.

Once you click inside each category, however, things can be confusing.

Let’s click ‘Local News’, for example. There is one larger headline, much like an anchor story on a newspaper page. That’s clear and understandable. Beneath that, a smaller subhead says ‘Recent news’, with a series of seven news headlines. Fair enough.

Beneath that is a standing feature called ‘Local in Images’ which presumably is a way to highlight the better photos that may appear on any given day.  Problem is, these photos are not great at all – and the links to these stories already appear above or below, on the same page. This feature should be scrapped, and perhaps substituted for one large photo that is particularly striking – I am sure they can find at least one a day.

And under that, under the tab ‘Other news’, are 10 other headlines, this time presented with little photo icons on the left (only half of which are populated by real images). It is presented differently, but, as near as I can tell, contains the same type of content – local news – as the two sections above it. 

 

This is confusing. When things are presented in a different format, we assume there is a reason for it; that they are being categorized in some way or other. In this case, they aren’t.

I know what’s going on here. The paper is adopting a template that has more of a magazine look to it, and that would be fine if there was logic behind how the stories were organized. But there isn’t. Local news is local news. Just one category. One list of headlines would be enough, in a template that allows photo thumbnails to appear where they exist, and for the placeholder to disappear when they don’t.

Next, click the ‘Opinion’ tab. The first headline you see – and these obviously change at least once a day – is “Halfway There”. Turns out it’s an editorial. Beneath that, under the heading ‘Recent news’, are seven more mysteriously titled headlines. When you click, you see that one is a column by Michael Johansen, the next by Russell Wangersky, then Robin Short, and so on.

Then there’s the ‘Opinion in Images’ box, the same one that appeared in local news.  Except this one has links to news stories – right now, mostly sports – that occur in other parts of the paper. Confusing, for sure.

Beneath that, more ‘Other news’, except this is not news at all – it’s 10 more columns, letters to the editor and editorials, with nothing but an opaquely-worded headline to describe them. I should not have to work this hard for my fix of Wangersky, Jackson, Wakeham and Frampton. Confusing, again.

When I click the opinion section, I like to see a list of columnists, ideally with their little smiling mug shots, and perhaps a tab for ‘Editorials’. There is none of that here. The template is not working at all for Opinion.

Those are the key issues. I’m sure I can find others, if I poke around. (For example, the new web site seems to have eliminated all RSS feeds, another problem that needs to be fixed.)  But I really think they need to revisit this template, and go with a clearer, more intuitive presentation.

There have been some issues with how The Telegram’s blogs – including this one – are presented in the new format, and on this, I have to declare a major conflict of interest. It is difficult to objectively review your own blog presentation, but here goes…

There are a number of problems, two of equal importance.

First, in importing my fairly extensive archive of blogs, they have somehow stripped all quotation marks out of the text. The apostrophes and dashes are gone, too, but these are not nearly as critical as precise demarcation of where a quote ends and begins – and regular readers know how frequently I quote others in this blog.

Oh, and all links and photos have been removed too. The links are important, often essential, to making my point, and sometimes I refer specifically to photos in the text.

Second, there is no chronology to how the previous blogs are presented. Not only are they out of order, there is no date stamp on them to indicate when they were posted (the date lends important context, in almost all cases). I notice that other archived columns do have dates, and are sequenced properly, so I expect this will be fixed eventually.

This was a soft launch, and the web site is a work in progress. Let’s just say I’m not satisfied at this point, and waiting patiently for the web folks to resolve these issues.

PLEASE NOTE: I will be on vacation for the week of August 2 to 8, and will return to active posting after that. I hope you are all having a great summer.

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Neil Sanderson
    January 31, 2011 - 10:10

    Are you going to bring back the RSS feeds?

  • Patton MacDonald
    August 16, 2010 - 15:25

    I initially sent a comment on this a few weeks ago but it hasn't appeared so I will try again. My point of view has changed only slightly re the changes to the online format. I understand that from an admintstrative perspective, a consistent design format is easier for Transcon. This is a difficult time in the media business, especially print media, and answers are elusive. So, the pains are hopefully growing pains. I believe Transcon needs to do a better job of retaining the flavor of each publication. I do not know what the difference between a professional and citizen blogger is supposed to be, except the obvious that citizens don't get paid and professionals presumably do. One other challenge with the one size fits all formatting approach is that it doesn't allow for rapid enough action to correct faults in the system such as an inability to use correct punctuation tools. When a publication has above average writers, such as this particular column, the big corporate footprint should be using its strengths as opposed to damaging the blog or column in question. When one tours the Transcon publications, the corpstamp approach becomes too obvious. I do understand the challenges and the solutions are difficult to develop. I hope that the editorial staff at each of the publications has more power over the formatting used than appears to be the case at present. I trust you had a great vacation and than ks for this blog and your insight.

  • Don
    August 12, 2010 - 14:36

    Regarding The Telegram website. Like the old saying goes: If it ain't broke why fix it? Our local media barely exists anymore. We are controlled by the media moguls from the mainland and their local puppets. The Telegram takes its orders from the media moguls in Quebec. The CBC takes its orders from the media bureaucrats in Ottawa and NTV takes its orders from the media giants at CTV in Toronto. Everything that can be done to muzzle local input and opinion is being done and won't stop until local interests are completely obliterated. That state of affairs will make it much easier for Government to control us and for corrupt politicians and their minions to go about their nefarious business undetected and unexposed. Too bad.

  • mj
    August 10, 2010 - 14:16

    I've started using the NTV online news site since the Telegram made such a mess of their site, and it's very user friendly! I don' know why the telegram stopped holding commentors information on the site.

  • Rick Martin
    August 08, 2010 - 05:13

    Also, putting article comments in reverse chronological order is pretty strange too.

  • Rick Martin
    August 07, 2010 - 10:42

    While this new version is a major improvement over the last site, there are (as you say) still many issues. No RSS feeds is a biggie. No video content here either. Absence of in-text hyperlinks, both outgoing and within the site, is remarkable and lamentable. But here's the deal. When writers are paid to create content, some effort needs to be made to ensure that this investment pays off well after the first day it's published. Will today's news be buried under tomorrows and the next day's until it's never seen again? Search engines might dig it up, but not that often I bet. Some content is 'evergreen', and that stuff needs to be displayed prominently or repurposed in some way. For example, features spotlighting different locations around the province could all be displayed on a single map. What an amazing resources it would be if all the telegram's past features (or even just some) from around the province were pinned on a /map page. Topic pages for ongoing issues like the war in Afghanistan, or events such as the Regatta -- these would be greatly useful to readers. Again, the new design (from TC?) is certainly a step in the right direction. And Geoff, it's really awesome that you've initiated a discussion of the what's good and what's not. I didn't expect that, but I admire it a lot. Way cool.

  • Ed Hollett
    August 04, 2010 - 08:10

    The way the site was launched has nothing to do with the monumental screw-ups with some sections. That was a problem with the way the conversion was done. As for the comparison to other sites, that's another issue. The success of the CBC site has more to do with its design (the Transcon cookie cutter has some problems there as well). Don't forget too that NTV did a complete makeover to their site recently both in design and concept and that is smashing. That said, some things in the Transcon cookie cutter approach work very well in the new format. If the papers can build on the strengths and get rid of the problems, then the thing will work out in the long run.

  • Ken OBrien
    August 03, 2010 - 10:52

    Thanks for your ideas on The Telegram's new website. It was indeed a "soft" launch -- it simply appeared in the new format. Hopefully the problems will be fixed. CBC News and BBC News recently updated the look and format of their websites, again with a "soft" (i.e. unannounced) launch.