new newspaper websites fail to impress - shock

There has been a makeover for regional newspaper websites under the Local World banner. That's the part of the industry owned by an organisation formed earlier this year between Northcliffe and Iliffe Media. It's fair to say that not everyone has been bowled over. Here's one comms officer's take...

by Theresa Knight

One of the first jobs of the day (after making the coffee) is to check out what’s been happening by browsing the local newspaper’s website to see what they’ve done with that press enquiry.

It’s a task many comms officers in local government do. So imagine my curiosity when I read how Local World had started to roll out their new websites.

In great anticipation I typed in our local paper’s name – only to be greeted with a home page that made my jaw drop.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the former ‘thisis…’ series of websites and I was ever hopeful of improvements.

However it seems to me that they’ve taken a step backwards. You only have to read the comments holdthefrontpage to see others feel this way – and colleagues’ comments are similar.

Local World says the sites are designed to have a more tabloid appearance with an uncluttered style and plans that much of the content will be user-generated in the future.

But, I feel, unless some features are changed then users might not feel they want to contribute.

The banner headline is too big – and stays the same when you go to the next page when looking through the news, making you wonder if you have actually gone to the next page. Adverts appear to be placed randomly throughout the home page and it’s hard to differentiate between news and sport.

And the ‘our tube’ for videos needs some work. There’s no explanatory text on the home page under each image to encourage viewing, although this does appear when you go to the ‘our tube’ page.

But it’s not all bad. For those of us in areas covered by former Northcliffe Media sites – the ‘thisis…’ ones – it makes finding the websites much easier. This is because they’re all using their newspaper titles as their web addresses now – much more user-friendly.

The mobile version of the websites is better than the old. However the text is too small – and it seems the website has been squashed when I read it on my smartphone, making some of the buttons hard to see and use.

It appears Local World is listening to feedback. Since starting writing this article and finishing it, some small changes appear to have been made. The big red banner has disappeared – although replaced by another large one - and the home page has had some alterations.

I’d be interested in whether or not the site developers engaged with users. Having developed two public sector websites – and currently involved in a third – customer feedback is crucial in getting it right before ‘go live’. If we didn’t, we’d be accused of failing to listen to people.

Let’s hope Local World continues to listen to its customers as its sites develop – and that we, as users, continue to give it to them.

Theresa Knight is pr and communications officer at Nottingham City Homes.

Picture credit.