What should news online look like?

Mar 23, 2010


The news[paper] has always been about speed. Even a hundred years ago, before TV and radio, newspapers were about helping you download an unmanageable pile of information every day as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is why reading is not really in trouble. It's the fastest method of communication -- generally, reading is faster than listening and watching.

But the problem with online news is there's so many different forms it can take. And it can take them all at once. The problem has been at the forefront of my mind again since I read this piece in the latest Nieman Report.

Part of what this study is suggesting is that the young online reader wants information to be presented in atomized chunks, a self-contained little bit at a time -- and they want to click to see more. Of course what is frequently called "chunking the text" is an old(ish) idea. And we do it all the time when we break supplementary information in a story into a sidebar, or when we take a long narrative and break it into parts with subheads. This article is suggesting that we need to take those chunks off the page, and put them behind links. It puts the user in control of what information they get when, and is easier for a distracted mind to grasp quickly. And it's more engaging.

Now, of course, I've also had arguments with (reasonably) young people who want everything on one page and they think it's annoying the way I want to make people click for more. They see it as me making the info harder to get to. And that might be the problem.

If you actually tried to live up to this idea, it would take a lot of effort to keep it helpful and not confusing...

But the problem goes further. What do you do with multimedia content? Half of news users think they get a better understanding of the news by seeing it -- think of the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Those that listened to it felt Nixon won, those who watched it said Kennedy won. (And look how that turned out.)

That's why we have the Video page on this website. It's for those people.

But wouldn't it be cool if a story could weave text, audio, and video together? Not just supplementing with video, but making the text and the video actually dependent on each other...

It's a lot to orchestrate, and part of me wants to make it possible to do it any way, depending on what the content lends it to. But another part of me recognizes that some people just want to look at pictures, and others just want to read something.

So, oh readers (that actually read this blog), what do you want to see?



Nick said: "But wouldn't it be cool if a story could weave text, audio, and video together? Not just supplementing with video, but making the text and the video actually dependent on each other...?"

You mean like this:


And this:


I predict digital news delivery will move toward this style. It's engaging. It's interesting. It requires a little more skill because you're transitioning between chunks of information and combines the art of editing with reporting - but at some point aren't all reporters editors too?


This is a very interesting topic of discussion, and I don't think I have a cut and dry solution to offer, but I know for certain interweaving and more importantly dependency on multimedia is probably not the best solution. I think news should still be included as text, for universal accessibility, probably provided in a short (headline and snippet) and long form (article in entirety), and it should be supplemented with rich information graphics/applications, and video/audio. I appreciate a well thought out diagram, or chart, interactive or not. And video's great, but it's much more difficult to note, bookmark, or cite than text. As long as a written article is the basis for all these things, one over the other could easily be successful as the focus of the news piece, but the text has to be there.

I think the Regurgitator example provided below is absolutely messy and I hope news delivery doesn't go in that direction. That site reminds me of something from the movie Idiocracy...


Rhammons, in other words you're advocating exactly the way the news is presented now.

What did you think of the other presentation:



Another interesting sample of this kind of storytelling is here:


@RHammons What do you think?