About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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July 09, 2009



If you've not seen this already, Mark, you're going to enjoy it:


Kevin Matthews

Brilliant post.
The trouble in most newsrooms at the moment is that the primary focus is on the printed edition.
Add that together with newspaper websites which have been created by techies, not journalists or designers.
This means that most newspaper websites are next to impossible to navigate with poor layouts.
I agree, it would be reolutionary if the senior editors dumped the print edition (even for a short two week period) to concentrate on the content online, and how it is deliverd and read by the readers.

Adrian DeVore

This experiment reminded me of an assignment that I was given when I took journalism classes at Iowa State University in the 1990s. The assignment, from my recollection, was to go for a weekend with any form of media and write a paper explaining it to a bunch of aliens. It was a tough assignment to pull off because I really needed to be connected to the outside world. I don't remember the exact grade that I received for this assignment but it was in the "B" range.

Howard Owens

To, me the test presumes a WAY too complicated news site.

There's really only one question that needs to be answered: "Tell me what is going on in my community right now."

The problem with newspaper sites is they're all built around the paradigm of the newspaper -- a packaged good with all kinds of goodies in it.

The best web sites have much narrower focuses.

Any test like the one above should be reduced to no more than six questions.

David Feld

Mark - You're right. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Jason Joyce

This is a great point to start talking about refining our own site. Thanks. I saw you speak at the AAN convention in Tucson a few weeks ago and I'm wondering which of those points you'd eliminate and maybe which you'd add for an alt-weekly site.

Mark Potts

Thanks for the comment. Good question. I hadn't thought about how specifically the test applies to alt-weeklies, but I'm not sure it's substantially different. They should also be providing easy-to-find access to things like packages tracking long-running issues, or local entertainment listings, or local restaurant databases. In fact, that last point was born specifically of a problem I had trying to find a restaurant list on an alt-weekly site!

Catherine Rose

I have two other, much simpler, tests on subjects that frequently drive me potty.
1) Try looking for a news piece that appeared in YESTERDAY'S paper. You know the subject, you know the title, you even know the author. It can take about ten clicks and a lot of scrolling through search results.
2) Try to find a specific letter from yesterday's letters page.
The reason why these are important is that people will often want to comment on, or respond to, or send to a friend something they saw in yesterday's paper, but will want to do so online. They didn't have a computer with them when they read it - but they have now. So how do they find what they're looking for?

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