I had high hopes for the supposed newly-local freshly-designed Salem Statesman Journal web site. But my first impression of it was Ugh! Subsequent impressions haven't been any better.
I've been a frequent visitor to the online Statesman Journal, even though I'm a print subscriber.
My main reasons: (1) Commenting on a story, or reading comments from others; (2) Saving a PDF copy of a recent story; (3) Seeing if there is any breaking news that will appear in tomorrow's paper.
The new design makes all of this more difficult. But an even bigger gripe is the whole look and feel of the Statesman Journal web site, which is a clone of the USA Today web site, and not surprisingly looks almost exactly like the web sites of other Gannett newspapers.
(Gannett owns USA Today and many other media outlets, including the Statesman Journal.)
Here's home page views captured on my 13 inch Macbook Pro.
New Statesman Journal web site
Layfayette Journal & Courier web site
So now our local newspaper's web site looks almost exactly like USA Today and most other Gannett papers. Which would be OK, though disturbingly uncreative, if the corporate site design was so marvelous it begged to be duplicated.
However, it isn't.
I wish I'd captured a screen shot of how the Statesman Journal web site looked until a few days ago. But the old Statesman Journal looked like other Gannett newspapers before most of them were shifted over to the USA Today web site design.
At least one Gannett newspaper still had the old design that was shared by the Statesman Journal. Here it is.
Tallahassee newspaper web site
I liked the look and feel of the old Statesman Journal web site.
Stories in the current issue were easy to find. The emphasis was on headlines, not on images. There was a section of "most commented" and "most popular" stories. Comments appeared on a page connected with the story, making them easy to read. Clicking on the print icon brought up a nifty feature that let you reformat the story to save printed pages, or save the story as a cleanly formatted PDF file.
All that is gone now.
The new-and-not-improved Statesman Journal web site has the same jangly over-hyped look of USA Today. Hey, Gannett, I don't need a big chunk of the laptop screen space taken up with a photo of the Marion County trash burner, which, wow, has a smokestack and a big building.
That tells me nothing. I want to know what is going on with the trash burner, what the news is about supposed burning of fetuses (which apparently didn't happen, but that's a journalistic issue, not a web site design issue).
Here's the New York Times home page. I happily pay $15 a month for online access to the Times. The web site is simple, clean, and wonderfully easy to navigate.
For contrast, let's take another look at the Statesman Journal home page.
The New York Times respects its readers.
That's how I feel whenever I visit its web site. The focus is on making its stories readily available to the newspaper's subscribers. The NYT site looks and feels a lot like a "real" newspaper. I can easily navigate to stories I'm interested in, just as I can do by turning the pages of a print newspaper.
With the Statesman Journal and other USA Today clones, I don't feel like browsing around a newspaper web site. The experience isn't pleasant. It is jarring, filled with unnecessary graphics and poor navigation options.
Each time I visit the Statesman Journal site I have to choose the "list view," which is a bit more pleasant than "grid view." Not much, though. Most stories in the current issue aren't listed. I have to click on "show more news" to find them.
I hope the Statesman Journal will rethink its decision to jump onto the USA Today web site design bandwagon.
Of course, I'm confident the directive came from Gannett headquarters, so almost certainly our local newspaper won't be able to have a local look and feel on its web site, no matter how its subscribers feel.
Along that line, here's some subscriber comments left on a Statesman Journal story about the new web site design:
I know that this will take a bit of getting used to, but I am pretty sure that I hate the new format and it will mean less visits to the site in the future. Recently I have downsized my subscription to just Wednesdays and weekends because of the huge price increase, and now I think I might be downsizing my visits to the webpage because it takes longer to find things and I have to wade through more trash to get to anything worth reading. Not an improvement, IMHO.
It's very cluttered looking and seems to be a dumbed down version of news - lots of pretty pictures little substance.
I thought the SJ website was much easier to navigate in its earlier incarnation. It now seems like a clone of USA Today, a site that is cumbersome and balky. I've navigated USA Today for a while but never gotten used to it. It's as is some "focus group" has decided that need they to load on the flashy photos and multimedia because the public has no patience for "mere" text. Also: Why do the reader comments from previous days all seem to be erased?
Sorry but the adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is said for a reason. This is not an improvement. I guess I give up on the Statesman and will just read the Oregonian instead.
It's prettier, but will take some getting used to. Sometimes synergy isn't all it's cracked up to be.
At the risk of seeming like an apologist for the Statesman Journal, I think the new SJ website is consistent with the newspaper's integration with USA Today. I don't like much of the new USAT look, either, but we're stuck with it.
What I do like is the vastly improved mobile platform for smartphones and tablets. The old mobile app was horrible; the new one is a big improvement.
I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for posting.
Posted by: John Hawkins | April 27, 2014 at 12:11 AM
I agree. The new site is terrible. But all could be forgiven if the SJ would just add a "quick view" option like Bloomberg's website, a simple list of headlines without all the visual noise. It doesn't get any easier than this:
Posted by: Dan G. | April 27, 2014 at 08:04 AM
John... I agree. The SJ mobile platform is much improved. I can read stories on my iPhone much more easily. I will give the SJ credit for that. But mostly I check out the SJ online content via my laptop, and the new design there sucks.
I understand your point about corporate branding. However, local Gannett papers "sell" a local product. This isn't like a Salem Apple store selling Apple products. Supposedly the Statesman Journal is a local newspaper responding to local needs and concerns. Yet its online presence is a clone of USA Today's.
Dan, I like Bloomberg's quick view. The design is similar to how the New York Times does it in its mobile version. List the paper's sections, Sports, Opinion, etc. in a sidebar; click on that and a list of today's stories in that section pops up; click on the story and you get the content. Press buttons to easily go in reverse.
Shouldn't be a big deal for the SJ to add this feature. The paper just needs to realize that many readers want a simple, easy, uncluttered way to find stories -- not a USA Today "Disneyland" of photos, graphics, ads, and extraneous stuff.
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 27, 2014 at 09:15 AM
One thing about the new site that is irritating is that if you click on "Opinion" at the top you get a page that includes columnists like Capi Lynn and society columnist Mary Louise Van Natta. These trivial columns are not "opinions" in my sense of the term. Even worse, this page does not easily link to guest opinions, as far as I can tell. There is not a link to guest opinions in the navigation bar on the left. Guest opinions are one of my favorite reads in the SJ. I hope they fix this.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | April 27, 2014 at 04:20 PM
OMG. They just took over the Evansville Courier & Press. Same problem. It's amazing that you posted this in 2014 and the same design problems exist in 2016. Not only that, but the Facebook plugin feature for commenting doesn't even work in Safari. The login feature comes back with repeat login screens that never ever let you login. Their design department is challenged at best and their IT department is incompetent.
Posted by: Randall Crane | August 11, 2016 at 06:44 PM