Newspapers Must Improve Sense of Place Online

Where in the World Wide Web are you?

Imge from blogspot.

Image from blogspot.

Newspapers are continually trying to come up with ways to improve their online presence. Mostly they do this for the purpose of keeping their businesses afloat, but for those newspapers who still are concerned about improving reader experience, I’ve got a tip for you.

Tell the world where you are. Remember, the Internet is everywhere. Google Alerts linking to stories on your web site are being sent to people in other states and other countries. For instance, I get Google Alerts on robberies at stores that give payday cash advances from Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, California, everywhere in the country.

Breaking tradition

I have worked at a local newspaper before. I know it’s customary not to waste space and words on identifying the state where your newspaper is based. Journalists hate redundancy. To be clear, I am not saying reporters or web editors should go into stories and add the state after every mention of the city. I am saying newspapers need to include the state at the top of every page.

Newspapers also hate messing with their mastheads. Oh, they hate it a whole lot. However, newspapers could save online readers in faraway places a lot of frustration if they’d just add the city and state to their online masthead. It could be in tiny print below the regular masthead, but it should really appear on every page.

Breaking it down

In case you don’t see why this is important, let me give you a little scenario. Today, I got a Google Alert about a payday loan store robbery, and the story was from the Superior Telegram. If you click on that link, you’ll see nice and big at the top “Superior Telegram.” Great, now we know the name of your newspaper.

A web surfer looking at that gets virtually no information whatsoever. Is this telegram superior to other telegrams? Or is that the name of a city? If you work for a newspaper and you are reading this, I know what you are thinking (besides “eek! italics! and exclamation marks! unnecessary!) You are thinking “Hello, you stupid person, the state is right at the bottom in the address.”

Guess what. That’s not good enough. That’s not how web surfers operate. A graphics designer at my company once put it very well: “People don’t like to read the Internet.”

A widespread problem

I am not picking on the Superior Telegram because this is a problem with pretty much every online newspaper in a city I’ve never heard of. After I couldn’t find the state at the top of the page, I looked for an “About Us” tab. None was to be found. Yes, obviously I did eventually scroll down to the bottom of the page and see that Superior is in Wisconsin.

So, you can either continue to hold disdain for the short attention spans and general stupidity of your online readers who live in other states, or you can get off your high horse and help them out. Adapting to the Age of the Internet means making changes in the way you present yourselves. Once you put your newspaper online, it is no longer a local newspaper. Don’t make your readers work to find out who and where you are.