A redesign for you

Three updates and a design note for readers

Gadzukes, a lot is happening out there. Here, too.

The SaveMyDaily site has been reorganized. With the post count approaching 50, it was time to make the blog easier to read. Please check out the “Pick a Topic” list in the site margin. If your time or interest is limited, click on a subject to see just the pertinent posts. Your humble host hopes the feature will help focus our efforts toward a successful end.

As for doings elsewhere, here are updates to posts previously published.

Fish or Foul? (Newspaper publishers care about what they print — and pay a price for it.): In a Dec. 15, 2017, post on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company’s network is more than an elaborate maze of digital plumbing:

“Facebook is a new kind of platform different from anything before it. I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through. While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.

“With any changes we make, we must fight to give all people a voice and resist the path of becoming arbiters of truth ourselves. I believe we can build a more informed community and uphold these principles.”Mark Zuckerberg

For more on the steps Facebook is taking to do that, take a look at the company’s “News Feed FYI: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News.”

Making it clear (Better online news design might regain reader trust.): 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.

Discriminating distribution (Should the distribution method dictate the news content?): The Nieman Lab reports that The New Haven Independent, a nonprofit online-only news outlet, has tailored its cop shop policy in recognition of the reach and persistence of internet news. Paul Bass, the paper’s editor and founder is quoted as saying, “With the advent of the Internet, what’s online becomes people’s main or only source of news. People’s reputations are at stake, and often the arrest itself and not the outcome is what is known about them.” (“No mugshot exploitation here: The New Haven Independent aims to respect the reputations of those arrested in the community it covers” —Neiman Lab)

Making it clear

Better online news design might regain reader trust.

Hello. What do you want to read today?

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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.

UPDATE (02/16/2017)

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.

Keeping our eye on the prize

What kind of news do we want?

Yesterday, I drove to the local community college to watch two touring debaters from Great Britain discuss objective media versus partisan media.

The free event, hosted by Chesapeake College’s Honors Council, focused on a question of preference, for living in a country where major media outlets would be balanced and objective, or for living in one where major media outlets represented different political and world agendas.

The debaters, James Baross and David Jones, landed their points with vigor.  Here are just a few of them:

Jones stood for one state-sponsored but independently run media outlet that would strive to report balanced and unbiased news, maximizing truth (e.g., the BBC), and that, when found in error, would publish retractions with the same prominence as the original mistake.

Conversely, he warned, in a commercial news landscape offering a plurality of views, each view stems from the top, from the news outlet’s owner. When an owner  (and one’s boss) is pushing an agenda, Jones cautioned, the agenda takes primacy over facts and accuracy. And partisan media sensationalize the news to drive up readership, creating disparate visions of America. Citizens are forced to choose between competing realities, each defined in opposition to the other. Society becomes polarized.

Baross stood for a media world consisting only of partisan, commercial outlets presenting news aligned with their ideologies (e.g., Fox News, MSNBC). You don’t have time to evaluate and interpret the tremendous flow of facts and events that an unbiased news source would present, he reminded the audience. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who shares your views do that for you? Doesn’t it make sense, Baross suggested, for you to follow an ideologue from the mainstream media who thinks the way you do? Besides, it’s impossible to be truly neutral, he reasoned. Even when a news source is simply presenting facts, judgments and evaluations occur.

To illustrate that point, Baross told a story about two monks in a monastery.

One of the monks goes to his pastor and asks, “Pastor, am I allowed to smoke while I pray?”

“No, no, how dare you!” responds the pastor. “You are desecrating a sacred activity!”

Another monk asks the pastor, “Pastor, is it okay if I pray while I smoke?”

“Of course it is, my son,” the pastor says. “Praying is an activity to be done at any time, all the time, whatever you’re doing.”

Just the framing of a question, what comes first and what comes last, changes the way in which a situation is perceived. “Even in a world in which you simply tell facts, you can’t avoid implying position; you can’t avoid bias,” Baross concluded.

“We agree,” responded Jones.  “You can’t have an unbiased news media source. But what you can do is, you can set up a primary news organization that has the overriding ideology of promoting unbiased information.”

Ooh, they’re good, those debaters from Great Britain.  Their arguments reminded me that, while we try to find ways to financially support excellent news coverage in this country, we also need to keep our eye on the prize — what sort of news coverage we want.

That task may have become a little bit easier this week. For in this world in which we live, in addition to objective news and partisan news, we face a new player — fake news.  At least we can all agree that we don’t want that. The advertising revenue that legitimate news sources so desperately need should not be shared with purveyors of outright lies.

This week, The New York Times reported that Google and Facebook now say they intend to choke off advertising revenue that has been helping to support the producers of fake news.

“Google kicked off the action on Monday afternoon when the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Hours later, Facebook, the social network, updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.” Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites

At least we can agree on what we don’t want and work to snuff it out.  It’s a good start.

The benefit of one-to-many dialogue

The traditional daily shares its soapbox with readers.

Have you ever sat down, in a fit of opinionated passion, to pen an epistle to the editor of the local daily?

I have — when I was upset about an event I had witnessed, when I wanted to thank people for help I had received, and when the newspaper’s editorial was too slanted to be tolerated.

(Tiny confession: I’ve sent more than one letter for the last reason.)

Traditional dailies reserve two pages in each edition, the editorial page and the op ed page, for venturing into opinion. It’s where readers turn to find out who’s riled up at whom.

The pages typically contain the publisher’s opinion (the editorial of the day), an editorial cartoon, letters to the editor and pieces by nationally syndicated columnists.

It’s usually an interesting read. Some dailies try to make it even more so. When I was the wire editor of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor many moons ago, my job included laying out the opinion and op ed pages. The Monitor had recruited a stable of local experts in various fields, and I managed their scheduled submissions. It was fascinating work. They were the content experts of the day, blogging, as it were, through the paper. But I digress.

A block of space on the opinion pages is reserved for letters to the editor. It’s foolhardy to engage in a writing war with a publisher who buys ink by the barrel, but many march in with the courage of conviction.

It does take courage, for most newspapers require your signature and will publish your name with your letter. That tends to raise the level of discourse.

(If you don’t believe me, just compare the letters in the local daily print edition to the anonymous comments posted in an online edition.)

It’s a community benefit, this public opportunity for a one-to-many expression of ideas and opinion. It’s also an individual benefit for any reader who, in essence, is allowed to borrow the publisher’s press for a day.

The benefit of high walls

Advertisers’ ire and publishers’ opinions must stop at the newsroom door.

The integrity of news content in a traditional daily is protected by walls (virtual and/or physical) that surround the newsroom and separate it from the advertising staff and the paper’s opinion writers.

Editorials and columns that appear on the paper’s opinion and op-ed pages may be based on facts reported in news stories, but decisions about which stories the newsroom covers and how it covers them are not influenced by the paper’s editorial stance.

Advertisers may pull their ads from the paper when offended by a negative story about their company or industry, but the newsroom’s editors do not withhold negative stories from publication for fear of their effect on advertising revenue.