Hello. What do you want to read today?
What would happen if every online newspaper had a home page that looked like this?
What if, when you clicked the news button, the next page only displayed news stories?
What if, when you clicked on a news story, the “NEWS” label was repeated top and bottom, so that, even if the story was a 10,000-word epic, or even if you arrived through a side door (say, a Facebook link), you knew what you were reading?
What if every page had the same three buttons on the right margin, offering a constant option to switch from news to analysis to opinion?
What would that sort of a design do? Well, perhaps:
- reporters and editors would have to identify each piece of content as they prepare it for publication (a useful exercise, to be sure);
- each reader would have to make a conscious decision—facts, analysis or opinion;
- ergo, opportunities for confusing the three, particularly facts and opinion, would be reduced;
- ergo, our readers might learn to trust us again.
The design of print newspapers evolved over years and worked quite well. Only news appeared on the front page. Opinion only appeared on the editorial and op-ed pages. Columns and analytical pieces were labeled as such.
Today, the front page (i.e., the home page) contains every kind of content the paper has. It’s quite easy to begin reading an opinion piece without knowing that’s what you’ve done. And if you don’t realize it’s an opinion piece, you will assuredly detect a point of view. And if you detect the point of view that was deliberately inserted into the piece, and you don’t realize it was deliberately done because — HEY! IT’S AN OPINION PIECE! — you might quite naturally conclude that the publication is slanted. All of it. News, too.
No matter what business models we come up with, if readers don’t trust us, they won’t read our products. A little more clarity could help.
In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.