There was a lot of teeth gnashing when Knight-Ridder decreed changes to the web sites of all their newspapers to give them a common look and feel, largely because of all the broken linkage that would ensue. Dan Gillmor's weblog, for example, changed URLs for no good reason, and the redesign has some serious problems, which Dan is aware of, but can't do anything about because K-R controls the design.
The Centre Daily Times in State College provides another good example of why K-R's move was a bad idea. State College, for better or worse, is hugely football oriented, and the newspaper is an excellent source of news about the Penn State football team, even during seasons like the past two when they've been horrid and don't get the national coverage that front-runners get. The CDT, realizing that many of their hits came from PSU alumni and other former residents well outside of State College, placed prominent links on their front page to sections covering Penn State football and PSU sports in general. The football page maintained an extensive archive, so you could read what was written a month or two or three ago with no problem. When you went to the PSU sports section, it was subdivided by sport, so that if you had followed the women's basketball team (who were certainly excellent when I was there), you could easily pick out all the stories about the team and sport. It worked quite well.
The Knight-Ridder imposed redesign did away with that.
Go to the Centre Daily Times page today, and you'll be hard pressed to find anything about Penn State, not just the sports. State College is a small town that's dominated by the presence of 40,000 students (more than the year-round population of the town, I believe), but you wouldn't know that from looking at their web site. The navigation is DHTML popup menus decreed by Knight-Ridder, with apparently no customization for local situations. The CDT has some good local sports columnists, but if you select the item for columnists under the Sports menu, today all you get is something written for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I'm sure the Star-Telegram is a worthy paper, but how relevant is it when I'm looking for information about State College and Penn State? The football page today is all NFL stuff, of some interest, but news a former State College resident like me can find anywhere, and nowhere near the biggest football interest in town. But because K-R thinks pro football is more important than college football, that's what you get.
There's a small link on the subsidiary sports pages that says "PSU Sports". So there's some recognition that the local situation requires some customization. But even there, the situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse. There's no separation of sports, just a jumble of articles. Even in the physical newspaper there's usually some separation, some kind of common section header to let the readers navigate the section and find what they're interested in. But not on the Knight-Ridder newspapers' web sites.
There are a lot of cases when standardization makes sense. A company wants to present a single face to world to reinforce its brand. But the most important brands in the newspaper business are not generally those of the company that owns the paper. I don't buy A Gannett Paper when I buy the local rag here; I buy The Asbury Park Press. I don't want to read about Knight-Ridder's Real Cities (a link which has the most prominent position on every page of their sites); I want to read what's happening in a town I lived in for five years. By subsuming the important brands, the local brands, to their insane one-size-fits-all design, Knight-Ridder has destroyed much of the worth of their newspapers' web sites.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Posted at 3:31 PM
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