Earlier today I posted on Twitter that I was “Wondering why more news orgs. don’t have a preview.example.com domain where they can experiment and gather feedback from users.” While I was largely thinking of professional news outlets like The New York Times or the Washington Post I think the same applies for college news.
I think that a question facing a lot of newspapers (college, corporate, and local) is how can we innovate without causing detrimental effects to our online presence? Redesigning homepages, advertising schemes, and premium content is certainly something that’s necessary but I think a lot of news organizations are worried that while they’re working out the details of innovating online they’ll scare away thousands of readers.
The solution to me seems to be creating a preview.example.com domain and to use this as a forum to experiment with new ideas as they arise. This site could operate off the same database as the standard site, thus pulling all new articles without having to upload them twice.
While what the New York Times is doing with its Article Skimmer is good it still misses some key points. A newspaper’s preview site should at the minimum:
Be well advertised from the standard homepage (I’m thinking something like “See what we’re working on” or “See where we’re going next” would work).
Provide a clear means of feedback (perhaps one of the Get Satisfaction “hovering bars” that some sites already use).
Provide an alternative to the entire site. Don’t just display the homepage differently, push yourself to create new ways of displaying articles, forums, category archives, etc. Create a consistent feel that is all new and don’t just send people back to the standard site when they want to actually read an article.
The conversations about how dead large (and small) newspapers are is starting to get old. Part of the problem with the traditional and current mode of news is that it’s too slow to react. Newspapers can talk all they want about how they will gain more revenue, but the reality is that they need to start implementing ideas and doing that quickly.
By creating preview sites news companies would be able to get a lot of ideas out in a short period of time. Also, if feedback were seamless and easy they would be able to quickly get a sense of what is working and what isn’t. I plan on doing this for the Whitman Pioneer this summer but I think it’s something that would get better with the size of a newspaper.