Deconstructing the news and destroying the criticism

Jul 28, 2011
Deconstructing news localization and the criticism surrounding it: A cool designer's critique and an engineer's debunking, revealing insights and observations on the broken news business.
An article by a cool designer on how publications poorly handle the localization of their news was published last week. Despite the article being maximally furiously slammed by several people, it raises interesting questions and some of them could be observed by management scopes of information companies. There's a lot to think about.
Andy Rutledge, the cool designer, says that the "news business is broken." He is not wrong, since the commodity has become a burden thanks to the stupidity of the companies themselves who tried to kill the competition through a system of **dumping. They succeeded, but like a bad antibiotic, they created new competition, immune to the bacteria of dumping. He was doing very well in his criticism, talking about the difficulty of integrating design with the user's need to read the news, confusion with ads, etc, when he had an unfortunate idea: to try to crucify the NYT's website.
Okay, the NYT is not the best site to read, it has some pollution, a questionable paywall policy etc, but it's not complete trash. Then, Rutledge began to make a criticism that was very similar to what a professor from USP (or another good university) would probably do, talking about how absurd it is not to have a photo editor in the newsroom who could discuss, story by story, which is the best photo to be used. In other words: something from someone who doesn't know what the profession is, hides in fear in academic life and criticizes - without knowing how to do (obviously, not the case of all academics, but certainly, of a considerable part).
An engineer who worked at the Times for seven years destroyed the cool designer's criticism making him look like a complete idiot. After feeling embarrassed for him deciding to write anything, I read the designer's text again and found, free from emotion, that many of his observations indeed had a basis and certainly apply to the incompetence that journalistic companies have in getting rid of cultural heritages that come from previous industries (like, er…newspaper). Here is a list of some of Rutledge's observations that can be useful.
Very long menus: indeed, some blogs that aim to encompass the universe end up making menus that never end and that rarely manage to have another function besides a telephone list of contents. They are only useful for the user who knows what they want to search for. In this case, an Ajax search at the top of the page would solve it. Good taxonomy and categorization would provide 99% of the menu's precision, which with 7,242 items, is not viable to use.
"People search for...": a syndrome in website management. "People want to know where the videos are." Actually, these are usually observations that the people in charge make in their own homes, unaware of the power of research or statistics. If people search for "videos", something is wrong with content distribution. Usually the user is interested in a subject. No one enters a site thinking they want to see a video, whether it's of Osama Bin Laden or Ronaldinho's goal. The same goes for other Rutledge observations, such as giving prime space to the print version (remnants of the cultural heritage of the newspaper), the newspaper's topics (cultural heritage) and the most read (an issue that should guide the home edition).
Ads noise: here, Rutledge got it right and wrong at the same time. Yes, the way ads are sold is an enemy of the user's attention index, but the fact is that if the commercial sold, it's law. Yes, newspapers should strive to create non-invasive spaces and convince advertising agencies to step out of their comfort zones to actually try to help the client (ok, here, the utopian delirium is mine. Sorry, it slipped). Each gum ad that comes in before you know what you wanted on a home page creates proven aversion to the site and the advertiser and this should be taken into account).
Headlines: the headlines on a site are the publication's turbine. Some Brazilian sites, managed by mollusks in a coma, think that in the headline they can "deceive" the user by selling more than they have, but this is not the rule, it is the consequence of the equation bad education in university+ poor salaries+budget squeeze.
Edition: cultural heritage of the newspaper. Nowhere should there be mention of "edition" because there is no more deadline. The deadline is now.
Popularity: it can't be treated as editorial content, as Rutledge argued, but it's indispensable in terms of audience. If people vote for a candidate because he is ahead, imagine how they behave to choose news. Life is tough. It has to be there - but without a characterization of "editorial".
News x Social media: one of Rutledge's grossest mistakes ("News is not social media"). Originally, when they emerged centuries ago, news was "social media" (see the brilliant Economist special on the news industry). Cosmic foul ball.
"Quality news" is vain and therefore has to have a cost": fact. The question is how to charge for this cost. Rutledge makes another mistake by suggesting that "special" stories ("Featured") do not exist. This is exactly the way to charge for a story (a logical adaptation of the excellent system that charges the user who reads a lot and not the one who reads little).
Opinion: it has to be separated from the news because it is not the same thing. It's true, although the editorial management of this can be done so that benefit can be drawn from both.

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