Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

5 reasons why UK newspapers still don’t get multimedia

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 24, 2009

I wrote last week about the growing gap between the US and Europe in the quantity and originality of multimedia journalism.

But as well as lacking style, originality, interactivity, some UK papers still have a worrying lack of quality.

I’ve put together some general examples so show what I mean. A couple of disclaimers though:

  • they’ve been collected from two local papers owned by one group, but the same issues seem to  exist in other groups in other parts of the country.
  • these are local/regional papers and it must be noted they have smaller budgets and prefer to give their print journalists a camera, rather than bringing in multimedia expertise
  • the following is not a criticism of the journalism, the quality of which is exceptional; rather the way it is presented

5 reasons why UK papers still don’t get multimedia

01. poor pictures

HDM-slideshow

Newspapers have a big advantage with pictures: they have professional photographers to take them. So why are the photographs on this website compressed so much? And why can’t we click on them to get a really big high quality version? (the answer I suspect lies in the fear of copyright)

02. weird web domains

HDM-web

My website is not called http://www.amalemultimediajournalistbasedinlondon.co.uk. Let’s call a spade a spade and maybe more people will be able to find the website. It’s a strange choice too, because the “This is…” brand, although used on all the local websites owned by this group, does not relate to the print version’s brand at all.

03. bizarre breaking news

HDM

This example shows three “breaking news” updates, on the same page, on the same story. As well as filling up the page with repetitive stories, it also diminishes the value of using “breaking news”. The solution: just update the single page – that way your readers can find all they need on a story in one click. (Again I suspect it’s designed to get more clicks rather than benefit the reader).

grimsbytel3

And I don’t need to explain why this “breaking news” is anything but.

04. uncontrolled comments

HDMtributes

This particular newspaper seems to have no problem with allowing comments on every story, including some legally contentious ones. I have read the likes of ‘the scumbag should rot in hell’ on coverage of murder trials, where the verdict is yet to be reached, as well as the quite frankly tasteless and upsetting comments allowed on the above example.

Notice too, how small and out-of-the-way the photograph is. It tells the story more than the words, and should be full size and central.

05. virtually invisible video

HDM-video2

This newspaper group takes its online video seriously and was one of the first in the UK to get its hacks trained. I have seen their small lightweight cameras appear at many crime scenes and press conferences. And while it is rarely cinematographic, it does deserve to be more prominent than the banner adverts which surround it. Shouldn’t it be in the central column?

It may seem otherwise, but I am really not trying to single out one paper or one group. These papers as you can see on some of the mastheads, actually won multimedia awards two years in a row! But we have to start recognising poor use of multimedia, discussing it, and improving it. The longer it remains amateurish, the fewer eyeballs it gets and ultimately advertisers/subscribers cash.

And as much as it may pain the wallets upstairs, these five examples will only get better with more cash, more investment and some multimedia trained journalists.

10 Responses

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  1. Jon Moss said, on September 24, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Adam,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Some terrible examples of poor web UI, experience and management.

    Newspapers are not alone though… many companies and brands also fall into all the categories you mention.

    Best,

    Jon

  2. Dave W said, on September 24, 2009 at 8:55 am

    All good points, Adam, spot on. Don’t see that new investment ever happening at the above group, however, as it goes against the grain of the short-sighted shareholders who’d rather see less investment, less training and less manpower. Occasionally, someone from within these papers attempts to raise similar concerns as you but it falls on deaf ears – it’s the management that don’t get multimedia, they’re currently still obsessed with saving newsprint.

  3. Gemma K-R said, on September 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

    There’s a point. Why do some newspapers have different identities on the web – squandering the brand recognition and rep they have built with the print product? Perhaps the more obvious urls had already been bought up. Maybe they want to dissociate the two in case one of them fails.

    Great post – the examples really make it clear how easy it would be to improve things (with a little thought, and a little more cash…)

  4. Julia said, on September 24, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I agree on many points, although arguably newspapers don’t always have to use professional photographers, they can and should recognise the fact that photography is an accessible form of art, and therefore many people mastered it although not many have sought to achieve professional recognition (i.e. diplomas, prizes, etc.).

    I have noticed over the past year that hacks, professional journalists and shareholders alike have very little idea about how the Internet is developing. The gaps in knowledge are formidable, but that’s how the story goes. Telegraph displays Twitterfall – how about the above paper incorporates Flickr photos by tag (say, #yorkshire)? Clicking on the photo would take you to a Flickr photo page. Just think what a massive surge of traffic this may see to the newspaper? I cannot imagine a single sane individual who wouldn’t want to have their photo featured in a newspaper, they’d call all their distant relatives and friends to tell about this.

    Another problem may be the “who did this first” kind of argument. Only very strong leaders/editors would allow a hack to drive the change, or at least would listen to their advice.

    In short, I feel the fundamental issues are 1) lack of awareness among shareholders and 2) the bureaucratic, narrow-minded character of those who are in power to make changes.

    Best,

    Julia

  5. Dave Harding said, on September 24, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Some very valid points! It appears on the face of it that HDM are still trying to find their feet as technology develops. Sadly the reality is that they have been ‘experimenting’ for quite some time, and rather than getting closer to finding an usable solution, the quality of the content indicates that the solutions are getting further from their grasp.

    Of course this situation is not exclusive to HDM, but if news groups want to charge the public for on-line content (as some have indcated over recent months), without a quality product they are unlikely to get many subscriptions.

    I can only re-itterate what you’ve said in the past Adam, that in the main, newspapers are trying to adapt an existing business model to fit the current environment, when in fact they should be looking to completly re-build the model for the 21st centuary

  6. links for 2009-09-24 « Sarah Hartley said, on September 24, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    […] 5 reasons why UK newspapers still don’t get multimedia « Adam Westbrook As well as lacking style, originality, interactivity, some UK papers still have a worrying lack of quality. […]

  7. David Stone said, on September 24, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Great work Adam – these are flaws consistent with pretty much any website from this brand. Although on the plus side, here they’ve stopped trying to get their reporters to do video news bulletins, which were potentially the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever seen on a news website.

  8. Adrian said, on September 25, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Management see computers automatically re-purposing print content on the web as an ‘efficiency’ – This is a terrible view. A newspapers site should be as actively designed by dedicated staff. The site should feed off the print AND vice versa.

  9. James said, on September 30, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    It’s easy to point and jeer, but you don’t actually give five reasons why newspapers don’t get multimedia – you give examples of them not doing so.
    And that’s the most telling point.
    Too many newspaper sites mistake the fact of having photo galleries, video, breaking news etc for the reasons for doing any of them – which means they miss their potential.

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