Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Broken links just one more example of Madison.com's decline into irrelevance

I have a long history with Madison Newspapers, now Capital Newspapers, the corporate home for The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times and their increasingly intertwined operations, including the combined website, Madison.com. I was a State Journal carrier as a kid, back when kid on bikes delivered papers instead of adults in cars. Both papers published some of my first freelance photos. I was a Cap Times subscriber right up to the bitter end, when the daily print edition went away. But I've had it.

The internet is sweeping through print journalism like a tidal wave. I've long thought that, as local news coverage migrates to the web, daily newspapers are the least likely to emerge as major players on the local scene. They have their legacy print operations that are bleeding money to worry about. Good, user-friendly design has never been their forte and is important on the web. They just don't think in web terms and face a host of competitors who seem more nimble and comfortable with the conventions of the web -- ranging, here in Madison, from Isthmus and Dane 101 to a host of local bloggers and, increasingly, the rapidly improving news websites of the local TV stations, and who benefit from being able to promote those sites on-air.

The redesigned Madison.com is the last straw. Just when I start thinking that, as a disappointed former print edition reader, I may be too hard on them and should be more sympathetic, they prove me right all over again.

It's not mainly the redesign itself, although I find it cluttered and confusing, and it doesn't run well on my older computer -- something that for some reason is not a problem on either TheDailyPage.com locally or NYT.com nationally. It's not even their restricting access to their older archives. Sooner or later, we readers will have to start paying for content in some way, if we want to keep receiving content. (Though I do think they have an obligation to make the archives available -- and affordable -- for libraries.)

No, what really ticks me off is that they broke all the links to their existing content during their website redesign. Every link to a Capital Newspapers story in Letter from Here is dead. This violates one of the most basic tenets of good netiquette -- you don't just break a lot of links for no good reason. Sure, stuff happens and some break over time. But wholesale slaughter like this? Just one more example of how the organization doesn't like or understand the web. To them, I guess it's just a high-tech printing press, to do with as they like.

So that's why I won't be linking to them anymore. I'm just one little blogger, but I suspect I'm not alone. Why link to something that may just disappear with no warning? And that -- broken link by broken link -- is just one more way a website slides into irrelevance. It's a matter of trust.

9 comments:

Jesse said...

Dane101 has adopted a similar policy of being conservative with our links to madison.com. This actually isn't a new issue with the website. For a long time they would have "topstories" (something like that) in the url and once those stories moved from the top story section they would change the url leaving a broken link. This is consistently frustrating and completely unnecessary. We just redesigned out website and while we have some issues with the formatting of older stories all of the links are the same.

My bigger issue with madison.com is it seems to have become simply a reciprocal for rewritten police reports. I find much more interesting stories that impact my daily life on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It is baffling to me that as the capital city publication madison.com doesn't seem to have a reporter under the dome.

Nick Heynen said...

Initial disclosure: I work for Capital News.

I share your frustration that links to old stories were broken with the switch to the new design. However, most of those links were likely already broken. In the old system, news stories would have between one and three URLs when they were initially posted, all of which would be broken within a week as they were transfered to the archives and the story was given an archives URL. I know this because I found I couldn't bookmark stories I'd written and return to them after any significant period of time. It was a continual frustration for many people and one of the highest priority changes we wanted to see with the new design. I realize this is a strange defense, but the new site, by breaking with that system entirely (and consequentially breaking what few intact links you and others out there had), has--hopefully--remedied the situation.

With all of that said, there surely is plenty of criticism to be had with the redesign. The potential bright spot with it, however, is the people who make and maintain our site listen to criticisms and try to act on them. I highly recommend you write to cpmod@madison.com or madisonadmin@madison.com.

Anonymous said...

Among local IT people, Madison Newspapers is well known to have one of the worst IT departments in the city. It's sad but true that lack of basic web skills will doom them to extinction.

Anonymous said...

This whole town is nuts. It's like nobody's willing to try to hard at anything, and it stretches from the individual who can't operate a bike safely and responsibly, to the institution that can't anticipate issues like you discuss or make the effort to address them after the fact. A culture of half-assedness from top to bottom. Weird place.

George H. said...

As a long time reader of Letter from Here and even longer time reader of Dane 101, I have to say I agree with the criticisms of the website. And I agree with my co-worker Nick that it seems as if there is a good-faith effort to admit mistakes and try to fix them. Jesse is wrong, though, when he judges the journalism. Every MJS story he linked to this past week from the dome were stories covered as well as or better by the WSJ's capitol reporter, Jason Stein, who has also recently broken stories on political job-brokering in the capitol. Judging the WSJ's coverage by its website is like judging Jesse's journalism competence by his shoes.
On LFH's relevant issue, I wouldn't burn the bridge yet, but you should know that no one is more interested in getting a better web site than the people who try to put real news on it.

Anonymous said...

They dont understand their product, their market value, or their future.

its sad, but i dont expect any less from any newspaper. as long as they keep trying to make their old business model work, they will continue to alienate people.

Irish Frog said...

I'm with Jesse though. I had a folder containing over 50 bookmarks to articles on either the Cap Times or WSJ. Stories I wanted to link to, or send to someone, or use in the future. I dumped the whole folder, because I'm not going back to search for all of those things.

The lack of understanding of how the net works and how users interact with content makes me wonder if these papers will stick around on the web.

Also, and this is just a personal thing, but why are the WSJ stories so short? The Cap Times writes nice long articles containing links to relevant pages. JSOnline also has much longer articles, as does the NYTimes. Why are WSJ stories so short? You guys know that length isn't limited right? And that the story in your paper doesn't have to be identical to the one you put out (and update) to net users?

Nick Heynen said...

@Irish Frog

Regarding our story lengths, that is limited by the news space in the paper each day, as you surmised. We've had several discussions about the merits (increased web traffic, better journalism) and disadvantages (possibly driving people from the paper--which pays--to the site alone--which pays less) of posting longer versions of our stories on our web site. It's not an easy question to answer, and the debate is probably not over.

Dave Wilcox said...

I was involved in a minor consulting role when Capital Newspapers was preparing to stop the print edition of the Cap Times. I admired their goal of an active, vital online newspaper. When they made the leap a year ago April, I went out of my way to link to the CapTimes site for my own blog and posts I made on Daily Kos and other sites. But, alas, broken links were so common that I limited my linking to only those stories that existed nowhere else.

Sadly, the CapTimes online version has really fallen short. The initial plan I remember hearing made it seem like it would be a frequently updated source of very current news and information. Not even close.

Unfortunate.