On August 12th, 2009 the Los Angeles Times became a newspaper again. They did something I always thought should happen for years – make a news site that looks like an easy-to-read print newspaper.
Have you ever been to a news site and wondered what’s the top story? You never had to guess in print editions. They always had large, bold type and a large photo. I’m glad to see this change. News must be prioritized. For years, newspaper Web sites tried to look like Web sites instead of online newspapers. For hundreds of years, printers and publishers fine-tuned fonts and colors and typfaces for maximum readibility. It seemed that when newspapers first went online all of that knowledge escaped into the digital ether.
There are many stand-out features of the new site. The large, classic typeface of the masthead in black gives the site a sense of authority. It’s fairly unobstructed and the technology of the Web doesn’t seem to impede the news. The date is large and easy-to-read. Something new to me – the time stamp. On the Web, time matters because news changes constantly. Photos are especially crisp and detailed. Ads are well-placed. Navigation and section headers are black and white. The footer contains quick links that are nicely organized. I like the font buttons that allow you increase or decrease the font. That’s not a new feature on the Web, but a lot of news sites don’t include it or they don’t place the buttons well. This LA Times blog post by editors further describes the major changes.
The new latimes.com site also features the Web 2.0 tools necessary for promotion – social boomarking / linking, send to a friend, article comments, etc. Via comments, letters to the editor are now instant. Others can comment on your comments in real time. URLs contain story titles and keywords to make them easy to index by search engines. And while these are not “new” features, it’s usually the implementation of technology that separates good products from stellar products.
At first glance of other news sites like nytimes.com and chron.com, you seem lost. Where is the information hierarchy? In fact, the Houston Chronicle doesn’t even go by the name Houston Chronicle on their own Web site. It’s called chron.com. The masthead and fonts are different. The colors lack authority. It seems like there’s no brand. What the Houston Chronicle does get right, however, is recognizing their audience.
Lack of Audience Insight
Looking at the Los Angeles Times Web site, would you think LA County contains a 47% Hispanic population? The Houston Chronicle has articles in Spanish and English. Even a Hispanic blogger. To be fair, I haven’t read all Los Angeles Times’ online articles over the years, but looking around the site it didn’t seem apparent there are any or a portion of the articles about Hispanic culture that reflect the demographics. As a white person who works in Hispanic marketing, I can tell you companies are eager to market to Hispanics and recognize their buying power and influence on American culture. Companies know they are behind in marketing to Hispanics, and it seems time newspapers do the same. Of course, given the that Tribune Company is on its financial knees, I understand the business decisions for this choice.
The New and Familiar
With so many competitors in the online news space, I can’t see one that competes with latimes.com. The designers and editors seem to have implemented everything that makes the Web powerful as a medium while harnessing the visual and hierarchical qualities that make print editions appealing. Which leads me to write something I never thought I would: long live print.