Update: Great discussion about this post on my Facebook page.
This was the home screen of the News & Record — my hometown newspaper — Sunday morning.
For good measure, it includes a rollover ad that takes over the entire screen.
So, quick: What’s the big story of the day? I said, quick!
This is the second page of the home screen.
It’s a mess. Who was served by this? A real estate company and the ad salesperson, of course. Anyone else?
The News & Record isn’t alone. Here is the Wilmington Star News Sunday home page.
I’ll grant you this makes money for the newspapers. Not a whole lot, but it is revenue. I used to work at the News & Record, and I still have friends there. I pray for the newspaper’s future for their sakes and for Greensboro’s. But this ain’t it. Selling your site to one advertiser, overwhelming and obscuring your news content, doesn’t serve your readership, your community or your credibility.
Rich media, flashing banners, pop-ups and rollovers all grab your attention the same way a carnival barker does, trying to get you into a peep show. But that’s not why most people go to a news site. People want pages that load quickly, are easy to navigate and help you find what you’re looking for. How do these do?
There are reasons that people have moved to social media to get their news, to using apps rather than web pages, to avoiding home pages altogether.
On Sunday, I posted a screen shot of the News & Record’s page on Twitter. Some of the responses:
Nothing like having an ad bigger than your top story and in the center of your page. https://t.co/ppEx7bsSaB
— Jeremy Vernon (@jbo_vernon) May 29, 2016
@johnrobinson I find the site unusable. Shame, really. I'd like to know what's going on in town. I keep revisiting. It's worse each time.
— CaseyDurango (@CaseyDurango) May 29, 2016
— Anne (@HeelsFanAnne) May 29, 2016
Tell me I'm missing the X option to close it all and go to the news. Please. https://t.co/V0cfekm9MW
— will sutton (@willsutton) May 29, 2016
@johnrobinson Install AdBlocker and AdBlockerPlus. Stops most of these annoying ads.
— Linda Bruce (@LindaBruceNC) May 29, 2016
I understand that building websites like these tend to be corporate decisions. In the case of the News & Record, BH Media Group owns the paper. Here is what its chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett, thinks, according to a column last month in USA Today.
“Warren Buffett is hardly a naif, and he bought up his newspapers with his eyes open. The ‘code’ that he likes to allude to involves figuring out how to make much more digital revenue, ‘blending the digital and print model,’ as Buffett puts it. What concerns Buffett is that ‘it’s three years later and we’re still figuring out a solution.’
“He adds, ‘I’ve got to see the answer. Wishful thinking won’t do a thing.'”
I agree with him about wishful thinking. Wishful thinking has contributed mightily to the downward slide newspapers are riding. Now, websites like the News & Record’s and the Star News’ are purposely ignoring what its users want. Newspapers have been down that road before, and they are still reaping the dire results.
In fairness, by Monday, the home page was cleaned up a bit…which simply means that Tate didn’t buy the entire page.
Here is this morning’s screen shot.
For reference, here are the Sunday home pages of a few of the news sites that won 2015 Webby Awards.