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New “Australian” website

Well, when I said a few months ago that I really liked the layout of the Australian‘s website, I have to take it back. Not because I don’t like that design anymore, but because they have changed their website.

This coincided with the introduction of their pay-wall just a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think it was really necessary, especially when the new layout simply looks washed out and perhaps even amateur. But then again, that is just my own opinion. I know that some people really like that ‘clean cut’ look, but it just looks to me like there’s space to fill and they don’t know how to.

Oh well – it will be interesting to see how many other major Australian news outlets will soon follow suit and begin charging for content.

Reflections

You know, it’s interesting. Before starting this particular blog, I had started a couple of others, but they didn’t really have a specific purpose to them; they were more like an online diary. As such, I started them and wrote a few entries, but never really kept them up – but then again, I was never good at maintaining even a handwritten diary when I was younger.

That being said, I have really enjoyed writing this blog, and having something specific to discuss in each post. I really think that I could be diligent enough to maintain a blog if it had a certain theme, rather than a general ‘what is happening in my life’.

I have also enjoyed the general research and reading that I have done to inform myself enough to write about the things I have talked about. I love being able to read different articles and forums and gain a better overall understanding of something. I have even come out with a different perspective on online media as a whole after this.

I very much look forward to continuing this blog and developing a greater understanding of different aspects of the media.

 

Is there anything that you feel is not talked about enough in today’s media, or something about the media that often gets forgotten?

 

I know that I have spent some time and energy on this blog talking about how the internet has drastically changed the way that society accesses and interacts with the media and changed how media is managed and produced. But I am seriously reconsidering this. I was flipping through a book called Style: the Essential Guide for Journalists and Professional Writers, which was put out by News Limited. (For those of you outside of Australia – News Limited is the big scary Murdoch owned conglomerate that owns basically all of the Australian print media).
Anyway, as I was reading through this book, and more specifically, the chapter about the internet, I realised something about news production: it’s still very much the same.

Yes, a key difference between print and online news is deadlines and printing times – but even online news has a strict deadline to adhere to when they put out their daily newsletters. Another interesting thing that I realised, was that in printed newspapers, particularly with broadsheets – there is the emphasis on important stories being placed ‘above the fold’ of the newspaper. The interesting thing about this is that even for a news website, there is still an ‘above the fold’ line (when you can see a story/headline without having to scroll) that holds the place for important stories.

At the same time, the concept of a deadline has changed within the new generation and within the general media culture. Because so many online news sites are 24-hour, the concept of a deadline can be hard to define. Obviously there is deadline pressure in uploading important breaking stories as they happen, but traditional deadlines as print or broadcast media know them do not exist in the online medium.

I also feel that many of the things I have mentioned in previous posts relating to design and layout, show that online and print are still very similar in some ways, such as the way that images and headlines are very prominent features in both formats.

Do you think that there is a drastic difference between print and online, or do online aspects (such as commenting) simply enhance the news experience as a whole?

Headlines, captions and images. Newspaper design is as a key factor in readership, and other than the news itself, these two things are what makes up a newspaper, in fact they are actually the most important parts of designing a page, regardless of whether it is print or web.  But why are headlines and images so important?

Images are the first thing that the eye is drawn to. It gets the attention of a wandering eye, and so many people prefer to read an article with an image attached to it than one without. It is also easier for the reader to have an image to reflect with and help focus on what the story is about, as well as visualising the situation and being able to imagine what it was like to be there.
From a publisher’s perspective, images help fill out a page, make it more aesthetically pleasing, and help make it look like it’s worth the money the readers are paying.

Because headlines are the second most prominent element on a page after photographs, their role in layout and design is crucial. However, headlines are more important in online publications than in printed newspapers because online readers tend to scan the text. Often headlines will be the only thing an online reader uses to determine if they will read a story or not and so headlines should be as sharp and direct as possible. Similarly, captions are also especially crucial in the online world. It has been said that effective caption writing is more important in an online context, than with a printed newspaper, because more photographs can be posted online than printed in a newspaper.

I personally love news photography. There are so many pictures that define our news and history, and seeing one image can conjure up so many memories and emotions. Of course there is the iconic photo of the Tiananmen Square protests, and the man with his shopping bags standing in front of the tanks. Any one in the Western world can look at this photo and know exactly what it means and the story behind it. In the same way that anyone in the world can look at  a photo from September 11, 2001 and feel so many emotions.

The most harrowing image for me in recent times, was during the Pike River Mine explosion in New Zealand late last year. It was the front page of the Advertiser in South Australia following the second mine explosion that confirmed that all those trapped in the mine were dead. The image took up 3/4 of the front page, and was a photo of a woman in the moment of shock and grief at finding out her loved one was gone. I feel that it is images like this that make the news. There is no way that anybody would ever be able to write well enough to convey the multitude of emotions that these people were feeling, but one single picture can convey so much. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an online copy to show you – although a quick Google search will give you plenty of pictures of grief-stricken family members.

Online Design

Now, I have spent a bit of time talking about blogs, but I said in my introductory post that in this particular blog, I would also be talking about issues relating to design and publishing, so I thought that I may as well start with the basics.

Although many of the design principles and features of print media are able to be transferred into an online format, it is important to remember that they are two very different mediums. The presentation of online news must balance traditional design principles with the new capabilities of the online format. Although, interestingly enough, most online producers focus on the content of a news site, rather than with its layout.

The first important thing to do is make sure that your readers know where to find what they are looking for. With a printed newspaper, people tend to know the rough order of stories, and where to find what they are looking for, whether it is world news, sports or the comics. But if they don’t know where something is, they can just check the contents page.

With an online medium,  there is no contents page, so the page needs to be presented in such a way that makes sure that the reader knows instinctively where they need to go to access what they are looking for by having a clear presentation.

I personally really like the layout of the Australian‘s website (www.theaustralian.com.au). Not only do I find it aesthetically pleasing, but I like the way it doesn’t give too much focus to images and that it’s ‘above the fold’ links include not just major stories, but breaking news and opinion pieces.
However, my favourite aspect would be the contents listing in the banner across the top of the page. Not only does this make it really easy for anyone to find what they are looking for quickly, but it is organised so well that even when you click on a heading, there are sub-headings within each category.

So, what news sites do you find most user-friendly? Do you prefer more content-based sites, or image and video based ones?

Something that I particularly love about news articles being available online is the ability for people to comment on stories.

With a hard copy of a newspaper, there is really only the ‘Letter to the Editor’ option to have your opinions heard, and only a few of those are ever published. The ability for anyone to comment on stories means that the author is able to gauge public opinion. However, online news sites have capitalised on their almost unlimited space by sponsoring online forums and comment threads on key stories, as well as introducing online polls and surveys. Many news sites also encourage readers to submit their own pictures and/or information that might be used in the news production process. This level of audience involvement in the news process is unprecedented and is a major draw card for news consumers.

Tell me – whether you are a student, journalism professional, or just someone interested in the world around you – do you like the interactive element of online media? Do you think that everybody being able to give their own personal feedback and commentary is a good thing, or does it simply make journalism less professional?

Well, I thought that seeing as I started talking about the credibility of both authors and sources of information in my first post, I would continue that discussion here.

The thing about having a blog means that anybody can write what they want, regardless of facts. Some can be commentaries or observations on a particular subject, or they can simply be more of an online diary, but many blogs are written by professionals or experts in a particular field, and the information you find may be a useful resource. This can also be applied to general news sites. Obviously the more reputable ones are the ones you have probably come across before, particularly with a hard copy of their paper, but with new ways of accessing news, such as news.google.com, you need to be a little careful in trusting what you read.

However, some useful tips when checking the credibility of information are:

1 – Check the Date – sometimes information can be really accurate and informative, but the thing with the internet is that data is permanent, and as such, what you are reading may be wildly out of date.

2 – Research the Author – yes, people often use aliases or don’t put up an identifiable name at all – but often there are professional journalists (or other professionals) that are just elaborating on their stories and will put up their name and as such, a quick Google search will allow you to recognise that this person can be a trusted source of information.

3 – Read comments – often other readers will point out inaccuracies (if there are any), or just generally comment on what is discussed in that post.

4 – Strength in Numbers: try to find the same general piece of information or idea somewhere else, so there is a supporting argument. Even if both of these are less than credible sources, there is a better chance that it’s not just some crazy person making things up on the spot if someone else is saying the same thing.

Of course, all in all, you should just use your common sense.
Yes – material to be found on the internet in general is becoming more and more credible, but there is still a lot of unverified information that people are posting all over the place.
But if something doesn’t seem right, then you should go with your gut.

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