July 3, 2009

Sun-Sentinel; All The News We Can Hide Away

Before I dig into the problems with the Sun-Sentinels' new website, I want to comment on what they did right: the basic layout of the individual pages. Overall, those pages are much improved over the old site. Could they stand some improvement? You bet! But it's still better than what it replaced, even with the way the pages lurche when you're scrolling through them.

It's in site navigation that the Sun-Sentinel falls flat on its face. And let's face it: if you can't find what you're looking for, you go somewhere else.

The thing is, it should be a no-brainer. Newspapers have been organizing stories into sections for a couple of hundred years.

The traditional sections:
Major News
- stories with the widest impact or importance, National and International stories.
Local News
- stories that hit close to home
- everything to make you happy
- what people think about the news
- nuff said
- investments, stocks, discussions of the business world
Real Estate
- what to look for, hot deals, good neighborhoods, listings.
Home & Garden
- taking care of your family: food, fashion, health advice, and so on.

Seems pretty familiar, yes? Let's look across the Navigation bar for the "new and improved" Sun-Sentinel:

In case you have a hard time seeing the picture (stop using Internet Explorer!), the options are:


Now, which of these leads to the TV listings? It's not under "News". It's not on the "Home" page. It's not in "Views." "Going Out" seems to have replaced "Entertainment," but of course, you don't "go out" to watch TV, which you usually do in your living room. And naturally, the TV listings are not there.

It seems to me that there must have been some discussion of where to put the TV listings, since there's no really obvious place to put them anymore. And it seems to me, that when they realized it didn't fit into an entertainment section labeled "Going Out," there should have been some discussion of the dubious wisdom of sticking with that label.

Instead, they stuck TV listings and articles in "Life&Family."

Let's look for a new house! A new house for our Family to spend its Life watching TV.

Let's look over that menu bar:

Hmm, no Real Estate section. It's not under "Life&Family." It's not under "Broward" or "Palm Beach." Wait, "News" has "Condos and "HOAS." No, "HOAS," not "WHORES." Don't sweat it, natural mistake. Hmm. This leads to a list of stories by Daniel Vasquez. Wait, what's that at the top of the list?

OK, so we click on "Realestate" which takes us...to a big page labeled "Real Estate." It's a subset of Business. Hmm, there's no "Business" section, but there's "Money" so....we click on that.

Your Career
It's Your Money Blog
House Keys Blog
Personal Finance
Consumer Blog
Real Estate
Condo & HOAS.

I suppose that Real Estate does have some financial ties. But if you're looking for a place to live, you might not be thinking along those lines. If I want to rent a place, can I find that here? No? So where are the Classifieds? OH, they're a submenu of HOME.

On the Feedback page, a lot of people complained about not being able to find Palm Beach or Broward News stories. That's because they were looking in NEWS, instead of the big BROWARD or PALM BEACH menus on the navigation bar.

So mouse-over those bars: You end up with a list that exactly coincides with those weekly Community sections the SS tucks into appropriate editions. It's easy to conclude that that is the purpose of those buttons.

They have put them back under NEWS, too.

So what else is under NEWS?
Hurricane HQ
Condos & Whores, em, HOAS
News Tips
Broward County
Palm Beach County

Why is "Condos & HOAS" here? "Blogs?" Let us see what they say about "Blogs;"
About our blogs
On our blogs (short for "web logs"), Sun-Sentinel journalists escape the confines of the printed page and newspaper production schedules, and publish immediately on the World Wide Web.
We keep you current every day with the latest news and sports, the liveliest features and opinion.
Interesting. Why don't they just publish the news stories into news? I mean, they are a news paper, aren't they? Isn't this the entire reason they exist? They have to shunt the best and latest news into a blog? Really? No wonder they're going tits-up losing readers. I'm not opposed to blogs, but they work better as opinion or "color," not the guts of the paper.

Not sure why they need the Dolphins on the menu bar, when they are already listed under Sports.

But then, the goobers at the Sentinel also tucked "travel" under "Life & Family" instead of "Going Out." After all, I'm pretty sure you have to leave the house to travel...Just like you have to spend Money to shop, and yet the Shopping Blog is also under "Life & Family."

Also under "Going Out," we find the Gambling Blog, which should absolutely be under Money. Music is also under "Going Out." Well, if it's concerts, I guess that makes sense, but you don't necessarily "go out" to listen to tunes on your CD/MP3 player... and hey, where have they hidden the book reviews?

Under "Art/Stage." You are supposed to magically know that the Sun-Sentinel staff believes that this is a clear label for "culture," which of course includes books.

There's no explanation of why HEALTH isn't a subset of Life & Family; it has no sub-menus, which to me is a clear indicator it should not be its own section. But wait, CNN has a Health Section, or actually a "Dr. Gupta Says..." section. So I guess that's why: because CNN says.

So we're down to VIEWS. Which, logic dictates, is where all the photo galleries are...what the-! There are no VIEWS at all! It's all opinions!

So this is where they hid the Opinion section. Why call it "Views," which has other meanings, when you could call it "Opinion," which is pretty specific to what's being publishing there?

Keep it clear, keep it concise. Give us sections with logical names, with a logical set of sub-categories under them. Don't make us dig around to find the stories we want: because frankly, it's a lot easier to go the the Herald and Post than to dig around the jittery mess you've made of your website.

And honestly, I'd rather have the old website and most of the reporters you fired. I'm tired of discovering stories I read elsewhere, and earlier. It's not news if I've read it somewhere else, first.

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