I had an interesting talk this afternoon with the Innovation and Product Development guy at one of the McClatchy markets. He wants to do a site redesign. He wanted my input.
A complete redesign is a big project. It means a minimum of 4 months of hard work, and what does it get you? Let’s think about the pros and cons of a complete overhaul.
The current site is not awesome, but it is not terrible. In the galaxy of news sites, it is clearly in the middle. In many ways, that IS the problem. Seth Godin says it best in his book The Big Moo : Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable:
In the old days, showing up was 95 percent of success. If you offered a good product at a good price in a reliable way, you’d do fine. Being local was a good thing. Having a long track record helped. Decent quality and personal service mattered as well.
No longer. Good enough isn’t good enough, because now everything is good enough. Our expectations of quality are unrealistic – and are being met every single day. We don’t just want to be satisfied, we want to be blown away.
Now that brings up another part of that equation. What blows away people when they visit a news site? Is it shiny objects or is it news that is compelling? I think it’s a little bit shiny, but mostly a connection with the readers.
I asked him if he has invited readers to give feedback, maybe ask a dozen or so in, and listen to them about what they want from the site. “Marketing is working on a set of questions”, was the answer.
Marketing really only needs one question, “What can we do to make our site better for you?” After asking that question, you listen and take notes. Since you have no idea what the answers are going to be, just keep an open mind. The only other question I would ask is, “What do you use our site for now?”
The challenge for a web designer at a news site is the fact that a cool widget rarely makes the difference for where someone goes to get their news. But, people generally are drawn to stories where there is compelling photos and/or video, and that is usually lacking in the McClatchy online culture.
Because the journalists are still writing for print first, they don’t think to snap a couple of digital pictures, or grab the flip video camera on their way over to the city hall meeting, but you never know what could crop up. Maybe even the wife of a US Congressman will call someone Shrek and keep yelling, “Do it baby!”
There’s a reason that sites like Huffington Post and Human Events have devoted followings. They know what their audience wants, they respond to a constant stream of comments, and they generate more content to satisfy them.
Newspapers have never had to compete like that. Now, on the web, all but the very largest news sites need to find their sweet spot. I can’t imagine that many people in San Luis Obispo California went to sanluisobispo.com on election nights to watch the state by state results come in on November 4th. But when you start planning your trip to California wine country, you won’t start at CNN.
Christopher Penn just wrote a fantastic article about Money as Trust where he ends with:
What should YOU be doing right now, in this economy? Building trust. Building relationships. Strengthening your network. Growing your network. Why? Relationships can exist without money – barter, trade, collaboration. Money can’t exist without relationships, because without trust, money itself fails.
Dedicate yourself to what you do best, local, in fact, hyper-local coverage that gives your readers an angle or insights the can’t get anywhere else. Try to reach out and get you 1,000 true fans. Respond to the community. Use twitter, use Mixx, use Social|Median, use digg, use reddit, use Facebook, use every avenue open to you. But don’t use them like a lazy news organization, use them like you are part of the community. Respect the 80/20 rule.
So I guess in the end, you probably don’t need a site redesign, but you probably need a culture redesign.
Online news is not like the old print newsroom, which is a good thing. Online and print have very little in common. When cars took over from horses, the stable owners didn’t force you to park you car in there, just because that’s the way it had always been done.
The answer is change. Adapt or die. There are plenty of examples of newspapers that are dead or dying. You still have a chance to turn on a dime and adapt – take advantage of it.