Heralding back to the time I spent heralding the Miami Herald

Dear Miami Herald,

Over the past three months I have been assessing you on a weekly basis as part of a school assignment, critiquing the quality and multimedia nous of news websites. My final verdict is, you’re failing.

It is all there. Blogs. News both international, national and local. Some Twitter. Video. Photos.

The problem is there’s no integration. No thought put in as to how you can enhance the storytelling of your organization. I never got past feeling that things were just put up here. A website is not just something a newspaper should have, it is an equally important dimension of the media equation.

There’s hope here for you. Set a goal. Set a focus. THINK. Use the platform and the resources at your disposal. Think about how to keep a reader. Think of the internet experience and the experience of a newsreader.

Yours Sincerely,

James Robinson

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Wasting great news

LAWSUIT: WOMEN BEAT HOMELESS MEN FOR SEX FETISH VIDEO CLIPS.

If there is a headline that more immediately screams out to the reader, read this, or the puppy gets it, I’d be shocked.

A lawsuit has been filed after a number of homeless men were spotted bloodied and bruised about town in St. Petersburg. It is a shocking story, but also deeply in tune with all of our baser National Enquirer-loving instincts. With the story on the website, we have no photos, and no video. Without overstepping decency, there are avenues for some great visual elements. Screenshots of websites, photos and/videos of plaintiffs, injured homeless men, for a start.  We don’t get any of this. We get two hyperlinks, one to the website of company making the videos (with little explanation or context provided for the link on the page) and one to the company providing legal aid (why, why do we need this?).

2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ‘FRIEND’ SOCIAL MEDIA. This is a cute little news piece. The ‘what politicians are doing with social media and how angle’ is still relatively fresh. But there’s no social media incorporated into the page, no Twitter visuals, no links to the Twitter pages of those mentioned. We get a haphazardly assembled photo-gallery of four unconnected photos of some of the people mentioned, but nothing else. It is a story on social media, that throws inflexible blocks of text at you.

I’m hammering the same themes, every week here. So much missed opportunity. The Miami Herald needs to realize that a website is not something that you need to have, in order to keep up and it is not something you can phone in. It is something you can use to enhance and improve your stories.

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LeBron James v Hard News

I’ve grumbled often about how the Miami Herald does not put a lot of energy into seamlessly integrating top shelf multimedia content into its website experience. Today though, thinking ahead to this evening’s Boston Celtics versus Miami Heat game, I paid extra-special attention to the sports news. It was a pleasant surprise.
The Herald – so often runs any multimedia content on similar subjects (on the rare chance it exists) in different parts of the website, leaving people to go hunting themselves. The site puts efforts into making slick basketball videos, with commentary, and a runs a blog on the team. And here, finally, was evidence of the Herald putting a clear effort into tying it all together for a reader.
Of course I hated it. But that is more because I’m not a Miami Heat guy. But even seeing that much LeBron James I could still appreciate the effort.
But then also this morning, I saw the Herald‘s long-form Sunday story of the day on a shady local Mayor and his shady banking empire, it is a very in-depth, thorough and heavily reported story. It was a great read. But it was run with a photo gallery with only two images, and a plea to upload your own photos and videos, with little specification of why, and what they’re after.
It seems a shame. I know sports are popular, but it’d be great to also see the Herald try and use the new multimedia tools to put positive focus on their writing.

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O, Miami… Herald.

For the next few entries, I’ve decided not to blatantly criticize, but instead show how I, if provided the opportunity, would utilize the multimedia form in a better, and more complete way than the Miami Herald.

In a small box on the bottom left of the homepage this morning, I saw a link for a video promoting the O, Miami festival, an event apparently aiming to reach everyone in the county with a poem. It is a standard, relatively smoothly produced, short video piece on a quirky community event. It piqued my interest, but was run with the video, with no text, and no links to other information. This video cannot itself be the news, there’s too small an amount of information in the video, and I had so many questions left. Who? What? Why? How long? To me, video needs to be utilized as part of the news, not become an excuse to ignore essential elements of stories. I scrolled back, and found another link next to it. Miami Herald had hired a poet for April to write poetry about the news. Cool idea, huh! A great way to promote an event and involve people in news stories they might read over. It seemed like a great plan, but I could so easily have missed this. I would have promoted this prominently on the homepage. And still, I had no idea of anything about the O, Miami poetry festival itself. I felt jipped. Interest piqued, but curiosity definitely not sated.

Photos of the day: a good idea to center visually arresting images within one easy to navigate slideshow. But, there’s such a disconnect here. It has no correlation to any story prominently featured on the site for the day, it is all AP content from around the world and nation, and the homepage seems to place such a premium on local content over this. There’s also little context about the news given. What we have is just images, with no thought offered. I would co-ordinate this feature into the news of the day and goals of the site.

Finally, for now, a really well written column on union crackdowns by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Leonard Pitts. Give me hyperlinks to news coverage of this. Give me photos, at the least. Some video, some context.

Please?

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Blogs.

I delved into the blogs on the Miami Herald website this week, making it through all 31 of them. They are definitely a little patchy in quality, but I felt that the volume of them meant that there would probably be something for everyone in the long run, you know? I dwelled longer on some (sports, politics, entertainment) than others (pets, Cuban issues, a blog for mothers seeking the ideal work/life balance). So I do applaud them for that.

The first issue I felt with the blogs is delivery. All 31 blogs are laid out at the bottom of the page (there’s a ‘featured’ blogs tab above it that displays six of the best, or most topical) without any indexing or attempts to sort into subjects and listings. Alternatively, there’s no integrating that I could see of relevant blog links into news articles whose subjects correspond. They’re just dumped at the bottom of the page. A simple subjects tab, or something to sort them into areas of interest could boost readership through not scaring anyone away. It is a lot of text to get through for impatient browsers.

Tone-wise, they’re good. Like I said, some are better than others.

I spotted a particularly egregious oversight though. There is virtually no hyperlinking. Out of the 31 blogs, only 11 featured hyperlinking. The Internet brings the capacity for hypertext, allows an author to provide context, strengthen the transparency of their source material and bring a reader up to speed more quickly by showing them the light on articles they didn’t have the time to write themselves. By this point, it is a given, or it should be (I think) that this basic stuff would be part and parcel of having a blog. On The New York Times website, out of an extremely scientific sampling of ten blogs, all ten featured hyperlinking heavily.

So there.

I’ve been hammering on for a while about how the Miami Herald has very poor national and international news coverage. It is on the site, somewhere, but you have to navigate through two or three screens to get to it. So I was tickled to see that on the Cuban issues blog, a post about a visit from Jimmy Carter to the region linked to a Boston.com-run, AP penned article on the story.

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Floggings. Dead horses. Etcetera.

This past nine days I stepped away from the media-saturated rat-race, and took nine days with my girlfriend in Bermuda, staying with family.

No school. No assignments. There were beaches. And reading for fun. And most importantly, for this post, NO NEWS.

I had to take my laptop and walk to the top of a hill to get wireless. I’d stick mainly to emails (staying roughly up to date through quickly peaked at emailed news updates), because who wants to be on the computer when it is 70 degrees, sunny, with nary a cloud in the sky?

Not me. (Well, sometimes me. I love wasting time online!)

So I got home two hours ago. Not a whole load of detail in my head on what has been going on in the world (we had TV, but I just refuse to watch CNN nightly news shows). One quick scan, and I’m fairly up-to-date. New York Times first, Boston.com second, Slate for some commentary, (diversions to Stuff.co.nz for news from home, and NBA.com to check in on the Celtics) and then onto Miami Herald, because… I have to.

I’m here to flog a dead horse, or two, because here’s the thing: the USA HAS ENGAGED IN A MILITARY CONFLICT WITH LIBYA. This is big stuff! And it if the Miami Herald was my only source of news on the internet, I’d have next to no idea.

We have all manner of Floridian updates, but isn’t this supremely relevant news, to everyone nationwide, with a mass of local, and national angles to explore, side-by-side?

The site I hold next to Miami Herald as the standard is Boston.com. Both serve similar sized metropolitan areas, putting local news considerations alongside harder news obligations.

Boston.com leaves a lot to be desired design wise, but case in point for why it is the better website – I go there for local news, and usually end up clicking on a few well placed AP stories. Right of screen: LIBYA, with a local tie-in to Scott Brown’s stance. Left of screen: the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Underneath the pictured spread of Patriot’s cheerleader try-outs was a Japan story as well…

It just continues to baffle me on every level. At the Miami Herald website, I have to scroll through three screens to get to detailed Libya coverage. Seemingly, this would be a waste of a website space, no? I rarely scroll through three screens on any site.

When did the formerly venerable Miami Herald give up on news from outside of the Florida border?

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Filed under Design, Local news

Three worlds

This afternoon, I bring to you the three homepages of The New York Times, Boston.com and Miami Herald.

In the past few weeks, there has been one succession of stories that most have been particularly glued to: revolution in the Middle East. You may disagree? I’m not sure. To me it has seemed compulsive, appointment viewing. It has been the sort of story that I ended up talking about with people who I know who are not news hounds or current affairs inclined. Even they end up talking about it and sharing their views. The story has so much to it: a succession of popular uprisings taking on some of the most unpleasant, tyrannical and corrupt dictators in the world, with a corresponding, much less uplifting counter-story involving the violent surpression of said protests. To me, this is a story that should trump all discussions of news values.

The New York Times, Libya and Egypt are in position a) and b), international coverage working around the New York Times‘ own news values, which favor hard-hitting local New York stuff, and national current events.

So, on to Boston.com. I’ve often used Boston.com as a benchmark site for comparison with The Miami Herald. Both papers seem to be trying to serve a community well, and provide an avenue for political coverage and world news second. Within a very different story make up – Libya is still the second story underneath coverage of Massachusetts probable 2012 presidential contender Mitt Romney lashing out at President Obama. It is AP coverage, but they know their readers will be interested in it.

Miami Herald? No Libya. No Egypt. And I’m talking anywhere on the homepage. This baffles me for a web site of a paper with a circulation of 240,000. It really does.

*****

From the moment I’ve covered the Miami Herald, I’ve been continually perplexed by their news decisions. You can put all the fancy multimedia in the world on a site, but if the content isn’t there, people won’t stay. Again, I find it strange – they may not have the resources and original content of the New York Times to cover these stories with original reporting, but not displaying this news with the prominence it carries on people’s radar right now is immediately going to mean people spend far less time on your site.

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Filed under Design, Local news