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Web Analysis – The Online Press

Introduction

With the advent of the Internet, newspapers have had to reassess their roles and adapt to the changing media environment. The aim of this article will be to determine the current state of the online press by analysing the coverage of one story across three newspaper websites; The Age, the Guardian and the International Herald Tribune (The International Edition of the New York Times). It will analyse how well each website uses web writing and publishing techniques, and decide which is the most successful in reaching their target audience. More specifically, three broad categories have been selected to evaluate each website: textual content, interactivity, and design. This study will be will be divided into three main parts, one section per newspaper website and all sections will analyse the coverage of the recent indictment of three internet hackers who stole 130 million credit and debit card numbers. This evaluation was carried out between the 18th and the 20th of August, 2009.

The Age

Textual Content

The headline, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’: ‘soup nazi’ hacker’s motto”, is attention grabbing. Yet, with only one keyword, ‘hacker’, the headline is almost meaningless. Without reading the entire text of the story, where it is explained that ‘soupnazi’ was one of many online nicknames that the mastermind hacker, Albert Gonzalez, used; and “get rich or die trying” is the label Gonzalez gave to his hacking operation, the majority of readers are likely to be unable to identify what the article is about.

The impact that keywords have on newspaper websites like The Age is immense. Nicola Cowen explains that newspaper websites are already fairly low down on the list of online places that people go to look for news (paid content), instead preferring specialist websites like ESPN for sports news and so on.

Additionally the article’s text is not straightforward or coherent. For instance, the first paragraph describes how a former Secret Service informant complained to his associates of having to manually count $20 bills. It is not until the forth paragraph where the author states the news that Gonzalez and two Russian men have been indicted this week for stealing credit cards. This may cause The Age to lose readership since a study by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen found that users like organized sites that make information easy to find.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks

There are two hyperlinks within the article and neither have link text which explains where the link will lead. For instance, one hyperlink text is simply the word “reported” and it leads to an article about Gonzalez from the New York Daily News. While the link provides readers with a greater context of the story, it would have been beneficial for the link text to describe what to expect from the link so that readers are guided rather than startled. In their book ‘Creative Editing’, Dorothy A. Bowles and Dianne L. Borden similarly argue that “readers don’t want a surprise after waiting for a page to download”.

Multimedia
There is one photograph of the mastermind hacker, Gonzalez, embedded into the text. And there is one short video of a former hacker, Kevin Mitnick, explaining how modern-day hackers work and how Gonzalez was able to steal credit card numbers. The video capitalizes on the Internet’s ability to broadcast like television.

Discussion
The invitation to type comments about the story on Twitter without restrictions should be commended since some online US newspapers have taken a strict, rule-laden approach to social networking sites like Twitter (paid content), as reported by Joe Strupp in Editor and Publisher. However, after following the link to Twitter, it appears that no one has actually made a comment. Thus, though The Age has attempted to become interactive, people have failed to make use of it.

Design

The page is cluttered with external advertisements on the top, bottom and right side of the page and the excessive cross-promotion of other Fairfax Digital websites and articles. This could be detrimental to the sites success because users like clear and scanable pages. Figure 1 shows the crowded rows and columns of cross-promotion that The Age includes at the bottom of the article’s page.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Furthermore, in terms of navigation, I was able to find the link to the story quite easily on the homepage of The Age’s website under the heading ‘Technology’, with a thumbnail photo of Gonzalez.

International Herald Tribune

Textual Content

The headline “3 Indicted in Theft of 130 Million Card Numbers” (free subscriber only content) is straightforward and includes key words like “theft”, “130 million” and “indicted”, immediately encapsulating what the story is about. However, the headline could have also included the keywords “credit card” and “debit card” since those words are repeated multiple times in the body of the article.

The text is written in an inverted pyramid, listing the newest and most important information first and descending into other details as the article progresses. This is effective because the inverted pyramid writing style has been validated as the preferred norm among internet users.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There seven hyperlinks within the article’s text, all of which serve to provide context to the article. Six of those seven links are internal and the only external link connects to an article by Wired.com, which provides more detail about Gonzalez and the lifestyle he led. Since most of the links are internal, it appears that the website is avoiding external links.

That said, beneath the article, there are links to ‘related articles’ from both the New York Times and external websites, each under the corresponding headings. This works to give readers the option of viewing a range of opinions about the story. It is also important to note that the website does not cross-promote other websites owned by the New York Times Company under the list of external websites that it provides.

Like The Age and Guardian articles, the International Herald Tribune‘s link texts provide no explanation as to where links will lead. One example of this is the link text “the indictment”, which directs readers to a PDF file of an official court document stating the charges against Gonzalez. There is no indication that the file is in PDF (Portable Document Format).

This link is also interesting because it is an example of the International Herald Tribune‘s attempt to keep people within their site. This is because the court document has been converted into a New York Times file rather than remaining as an external link to the United States District Court file of Gonzalez’s indictment (PDF).

Multimedia

There is one photograph of the Hannaford Brothers supermarket, one of the companies which were infiltrated by the three hackers. This visual is helpful because readers like to see graphical elements accompanying news text.

Design

The page is broken up into two main columns: the left column contains the article, and the right is filled with advertisements and links to the 10 most popular technology articles. Additionally, there is a break embedded within the article’s text with a list of links to related articles. There is also more cross-promotion of other sections of the New York Times with links to those sections, as shown in Figure 2. This is similar to that which appeared in The Age, but to a lesser degree.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Guardian

Textual Content

Unlike The Age, the headline “US hacker charged with stealing 130m credit card IDs” explains exactly what the story is about, and includes the key words ‘hacker’, ‘US’, ‘credit card’ and ‘130m’, which are later repeated in the body of the article.

The kicker provides further detail about who was involved, a “former secret service worker” and “retail companies”. And like the International Herald Tribune, the article uses an inverted pyramid writing style.

The Guardian’s article is easy-to-read and internet jargon is explained. For instance, malware is explained as software that “systematically steals data” and sniffer programmes are described as “programmes that look for financial information”.

Interactivity

Hyperlinks
There is only one link within the article’s text. Again the link text “hacking” is not helpful in telling readers where the link will go, and leads to the “hacking” section of the Guardian’s website. The link functions to cross-promote other Guardian articles about hacking.

Multimedia
There are no photographs, or videos accompanying the text.

However, the Guardian article takes advantage of the Internet as a medium and does not restrict itself to the perception of the traditional form of the print newspaper, by giving readers the ability to adjust the font to larger and smaller sizes.

Design

In comparison to The Age and the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian is the most clutter free, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Additionally, while there is cross-promotion of other Guardian articles and external advertising, the simple design makes the Guardian page easy to navigate. Respectively, a study by Carlos Flavia’n and Raquel Gurrea (paid content) found that people are more likely to visit newspaper websites if they are easy to use.

Conclusion

This analysis has found that like many online newspapers, the three newspaper websites analysed have not taken full advantage of the Internet’s interactive capabilities, or linked extensively to external locations, or written adequate link text. A content analysis of 100 US newspapers by Tanjev Schultz similarly found that media organizations have not yet exploited the Internet’s interactivity effectively and have neglected to provide adequate interactive forums like chat rooms and videoconferencing. Likewise, Steve Paulussen’s study found that interactivity, external hyperlinks and the integration of text, audio and video is yet to be improved in Flemish newspaper websites.

The target audience for all three websites is likely to include readers of the print editions of the websites and people in search of online news. Thus, the goals of the three online newspapers would probably be to make a profit, to publish news in an online format, and to be as user-friendly as possible. This would mean that they would have the goals of creating articles which are concise, skimmable, hyperlinked and interactive.

Hence, overall I think that the International Herald Tribune is most successful in reaching its target audience. The combination of its easy-to-read, inverted pyramid style textual content, fairly organized design, and moderate use of interactive and multimedia content make it more successful than the cluttered design and incoherent text in The Age, and the many hyperlinks weaved into the text and greater use of multimedia make it more successful than the Guardian . A comparison of the three websites on Compete.com illustrates that the New York Times also has the most online traffic compared to The Age and Guardian (Figure 4).

Figure 4

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