Don't kill the messenger
Unfortunately, the news he’s bringing ain’t very good. In fact, it’s downright bleak for those who were hoping the new site would miraculously revert to its former manifestation. In about two weeks worth of missives to the public, the Web editor confirms what many tech-savvy folks have known all along: the mind-numbing misers at the Journal Register Company are mainly to blame for the molasses-like pace of the Saratogian’s new site and that of its sister paper, The Troy Record.
Amazingly, a user can fully load all Web sites belonging to The Saratogian’s competitors before its own lethargic site can finish loading the Associated Press videos no one ever watches. Even when the site finally does boot up, the content is so badly skewed it’s nearly impossible to navigate with any degree of accuracy. Stories aren’t listed chronologically and many are missing. The archives –one of the few valuable tools the paper once boasted –are indefinitely disabled. And if there is any Sunday news content, it’s lumped in with Monday’s postings, which usually go online Tuesday.
To some extent, the Lake Avenue follies don’t seem to be playing an active role in the new site’s spiraling descent into ruin. In fact, it’s tough to gauge exactly what role The Saratogian editors played in the grand scheme of the so-called redesign. By the Web editor’s own admission –and in classic Saratogian fashion –he only received his post the day before the paper launched its calamitous updated site, which was largely engineered by corporate. He came aboard the sinking ship before ever accruing any experience with the program he was hired to administer; or even as a Web editor for that matter.
“I got cursory instruction on application with which we manage content my first afternoon in the office –along with the rest of the newsroom,” he stated in a blog entry. “The site went live my second day on the job.”
So in other words, management entrusted the redirection of the paper’s future life blood to a candidate grossly inexperienced for the task at hand. Mind you, this has nothing to do with his ability to learn or work in the future. But in terms of management’s leadership, it’s probably a good idea to pay the extra money and get someone who isn’t learning Web design on the fly, especially if your paper’s site is regularly getting nuked out of the water by a local weekly founded not even three years ago. Pundits call this “a sound business decision,” which is a phrase that must read like Chinese to both the nimrods running the paper and the foolhardy penny pinchers at corporate.
Still, the fledgling Web editor seems to think there’s an even split between readers who like and dislike the site. Mind you, even if the new site did load in a flash, the content posted on it is so convoluted that even a bleach-skinned techie toiling amidst the bowels of some darkened subterranean uber-server would be hard pressed to find information on it quickly.
More than a month has passed since the redesign and there doesn’t seem to be any reprieve for online users. The aforementioned editor made an honest attempt to describe why the site content becomes such a malaise of useless information, but simply came across as ignorant to the real problem: local content isn’t being added on a regular basis or in a way where it can be access. This was something even the diminutive site from before had going for it.
Another key problem no one at the Saratogian seems to realize is that there are hardly any folks who navigate any local newspaper Web sites for news from the AP. In fact, when a story breaks outside of the coverage area, most folks simply use a remarkable advent called Google News, which doesn’t take a half-hour to load, is easily searchable and provides results that can be filtered in several different ways. On a more personal note, try Barb. You’ll be blown away.
So to read that the new Web editor is busying himself with putting up “more AP stories and photos, filling in some of the pages that drop lower on my list of priorities” is a bit disheartening to say the least. To put this in an analogy, not too many people are concerned about dusting knick knacks after a fire rips through their house.
The JRC firestorm did some pretty massive damage to the Saratogian’s once secure niche in cyberspace. Now is the time to start bailing out the ruins and building it anew; a great start would be to impress upon corporate the dire circumstances caused by their slow-to-load site; one disgruntled reader on dial-up even lamented he is now unable to load the page, much less read anything on it. Then in the local arena, to inform recalcitrant editor and documented technophobe Barbara Lombardo of her need to get more local stories online instead of garbage video files no one watches.
Most of all, it’s the public’s job to get on the messenger so that he perhaps understands the tenuous situation facing his publication, which already boasts a print circulation dropping by up to 500 subscribers per year. There’s no need to bludgeon the poor fellow; rather give him a bit of guidance so as to make an ounce of change that the site might serve the community better. And most of all, to make it known among the hacks at JRC their buggering is about to make the term profit seem like a distant memory.