Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Standard-Examiner Wipes the Dust Off Its "Live" Website

Video spotlight on Emerald City's unbudgeted railroad car/Frontrunner information center

As noted in the update to our previous article, the Standard-Examiner has been doing some interesting things with its newly redesigned free online site recently. The most recent case in point: today's hard copy edition carries a front page teaser, with minimal prefacatory text, referring readers directly to StandardNET live for the rest of the story. The topic is that derelict railroad dining car that's being refurbished to serve as a Frontrunner station visitors information center.

Once Std-Ex readers navigate to StandardNET live, the story is presented solely via video clip, sans any accompanying article text. This is highly innovative behavior, we believe, for a news organization whose main product has been the written word for the past 120 years.

This rail car project has of course been a topic of discussion here on Weber County Forum; and it has raised various questions in its own right. For instance, on 11/27/08 gentle reader WhatWardRUin wondered about the ultimate cost to the taxpayers, and the mysterious source of funding. Similar questions were posed by reader Anonymous Employee on 11/29/08. Inasmuch as this project appears to be clearly over the originally announced $35,000 cost estimate, these readers' queries are deserving of answers, particularly since this project has never been approved or funded by the city council, according to our infallible recollection. Yes, there are many questions to be explored in connection with this story. Yes, we all need to know whether Boss Godfrey has squirreled away a secret Pet Project Slush Fund.

Nevertheless, what's most interesting to us at this point to us is the Std-Ex's newly demonstrated interest in reviving its heretofore mostly moribund "live" website. For the past three years or so the site has for the most part gathered cyber-dust. We're therefore delighted to see our hometown newspaper indulging in experimentation and taking more full advantage of this potentially robust online resource. We're eager to welcome the Standard-Examiner into the 21st century. And who knows? At the rate they're proceeding, that day may arrive very soon.

22 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Thanks, Rudi. I completely missed the teaser in the dead tree version of the paper [my preferred means of accessing the SE].

Still wondering, since we're on the SE as topic, if the SE has noticed what's happening up on the mountain... Mr. Peterson's road building... and if not, why not. And if so, why the editors have not, as yet, deemed what is happening up there newsworthy.

RudiZink said...

I have it on good authority, Curm, that Mr. Schwebke has indeed been making inquiries re the "Peterson Scar" project.

BenJoe said...

I personally think every aspect of the Standard Examiner website is crap. Did they buy the template off of ebay? I read a number of only newspapers and I have seen high school paper websites that are better than the standard.

dan s. said...

The S-E web folks seem to think everyone has a T1 line; they have absolutely no regard for users with limited bandwidth.

I often browse the web on my iPhone but I don't even try to access the S-E site from it.

Video is essentially inaccessible to home users who still have dialup (still the only affordable option in some locations) and for those who opt for Qwest's cheapest DSL service. I'm on slow DSL right now and it took me 2 minutes, 20 seconds just to load the digital edition front page.

Curmudgeon said...

Well, I like the digital edition because it offers the print version, page by page, unlike say the SL Trib on line pages. Especially useful when I'm out of town. I get to read the same SE that's back home on my doorstep, not an on-line editor's selection. If I have to choose, as a subscriber, between the SLTribs on line version and the SE's digital, I want the SE's digital. Every time.

Curmudgeon said...

Rudi:

Thanks for the heads up on the SE and the Peterson Scar project.

However, this strikes me as exactly the kind of story the SE could/should have been reporting, at least in preliminary fashion, fast. It's not available on cable; it's not being reported by wire services; it's not on TV. It's been a home-field advantage story for the SE since the cutting of the road/path/whatever started several weeks ago.

But good to know they're on it.

dan s. said...

Curm: Once again we'll have to disagree on this one. The digital edition is not only slow and password-protected, it's also very awkward to link to from other sites. Rather than exploiting the advantages of the web, the S-E has made its web site horribly inconvenient for most users, all in the interest of cosmetically mimicking the print edition.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

You are right. We do disagree. The digital edition is password protected because it's available only to subscribers. Not much reason for people to subscribe if they can access the full daily content of the print version free on line.

Second, the digital edition does not "cosmetically mimic" [whatever that means] the print edition. It puts up photocopies of the print edition. Same thing, page by page, article by article, same layout, same content, ads included, which can be useful. It IS the print edition, available to subscribers on line. That's what I like about it.

As for linking, I've never had trouble accessing it while on the road, usually at public library sites since I don't have a laptop, but sometimes at hotel business center sites. Comes right up.

If the alternative is the SL Trib on line version, which does NOT include everything in the print version, and which [from experience] does not index everything in the print version [making it at times very hard to find things], I'll take the Olive software SE full-print-edition version. Every time.

dan s. said...

Curm: Without belaboring the points on which we simply disagree, let me add a couple of points and clarifications.

First, somehow the Salt Lake Tribune is still in business, even though it gives the public free access to its web site. As far as I'm aware, this web site contains the full text of every news article that appears in the physical paper. I know it omits some photos that are in the physical paper. Are there other omissions that you care about? Surely you don't need to see all the same ads.

Second, when I say "linking" I mean linking directly to an article from another web site, as we frequently do here on Weber County Forum. To link to the Trib, all I have to do is copy the link from my browser. But to link to the S-E, I have to tell it to send the link to my email account, then copy it from there. This is much more laborious.

Finally, another advantage to the Trib's site is that most articles appear on it before the print edition is even available. So the news is more timely. I know the S-E puts some articles on its live site before they appear in print, but that's very selective and I find it awkward to visit the live site just for this purpose.

Perhaps I should explain that I still read the print version of the S-E. If I had to rely solely on the web version, perhaps I would prefer a facsimile of the print edition. But when I'm away from home, and I know the print edition is waiting for me at home, I'd prefer a quicker and more convenient way of pulling up the most interesting articles.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

The SLT has a substantially larger reader base than the SE, and a substantially larger advertiser base. The Trib, therefor, can make more revenue by selling ads on its "free access" site based on the larger number of hits from its larger reader base than can the SE, with its much smaller reader base. It is possible, then, for free access to pay in a major metropolitan area in ways it will not in a smaller metro area. [I also note that the Trib underwent substantial layoffs to stem losses this past year.]

Second: I have not always been able to find on line every article in the print version of the SL Trib... sometimes when I've got the Trib dead tree edition right in front of me, but I want to send a link to an article to someone else. This has happened more than once. Possibly glitches and the intent is full coverage, but there it is: I've not always been able to access on line what is in the print edition [and no, I'm not talking about pictures].

Third: Since the SE digital edition is provided to subscribers only, the link via email address seems to me a reasonable way to make a particular item behind the subscription wall none the less available for sending to others or posting on a site like WCF. Doubtless, if the SE made all of its content available free, direct posting of links like SL Trib, or the stories that appear on the free on line SE page, would be the norm. But absent abandoning subscriptions for the digital edition and putting the whole paper [digital edition] up free, the present system seems a reasonable workaround to me.

dan s. said...

Curm: You could be correct in suggesting that the S-E digital edition is the only option that makes economic sense for a paper of its size. I hope you're wrong, but I honestly have no idea. I would note that the S-E has been downsizing lately as well, by not replacing its outdoors reporter or even its editorial page editor (in both cases spreading other staff thinner to cover the vacancies).

Even if you're correct, of course, the point is irrelevant to the original question of which format we (as readers) would choose.

If they want to survive, though, they absolutely must do more to address the market of mobile device users. Their recent trend toward videos and Flash-based delivery (both of which are inaccessible from my iPhone) is the wrong direction for that purpose. The "live" side of their web site does have a mobile version, but its coverage is just as restricted as the rest of the live site.

BenJoe said...

I was talking to a S-E Staff member a few months back. We had this same argument. She explained she was in the meetings when the decision to go with the current format was made. The vendor that sold them was very convincing in that all papers would be going to this format. I guess not, I wonder if they bought some amway products right after.

One last thing about the digital version. They tend to cut pages out! Yesterday it went from A7 to B4. I wanted to read an article featured on B1 and it wasn't on the free version. I ended up buying a paper at the gas station to read the whole paper. So if I am going to pay for the digital version I dang well better get the whole paper.

RudiZink said...

I've been reading with interest all of the comments here re the pros and cons of the free online edition versus the digital edition.

I believe both Dan and Curm's views are valid, within the range of their individual personal preferences.

Dan would like to see a system resource-friendly site whereby individual articles can be conventially linked... and one that's also operating system friendly for mobile devices.

Curmudgeon likes the look and feel of the traditional newspaper layout. Neither of these guys can be faulted for their own system feature preferences.

Dan argues a very important special point, BTW, when he points out that the Std-Ex webmaster assumes that everyone who accesses the paper has the latest hot chip and fastest bandwidth.

Rule #1 for any website designer: Backcheck your new system with older hardware before you put the hot new software edition online. If most of your potential readers can't even load your software during a reasonable amount of time, your new software becomes a deterrent to your main mission, which is to efficiently maximize page loads (and ad views.)

As for your blogmeister... I'd like to see a more robust (but system resources sleek) free online site. As I've argued before, most of the good stuff the Std-Ex has posted over the past three years has been hidden behind a "paid" firewall. The Std-Ex cuts itself out of the online information game, to the extent it hides its best stuff from the web.

Here's the main feature that I like in the Digital Edition however:

Once I've linked an article from that site... it stays up indefinitely.

Unlike most newspapers, who delete their online articles within a few weeks... every single article, photo or ad that's been posted in the Standard-Examiner since September of 2005, remains archived and available through Olive Software's most excellent article search engine. The Olive Software articles that we post here stay put.

One of the things we're doing at Weber County Forum is to establish a historical archive of the important political events since we fired up this blog in May, 2005. Thanks to the Standard-Examiner digital edition, we can do that, so long as the Suits from Sandusky still offer the Digital Edition.

As an aside, and for you, BenJoe, I say this:

#1: The NEW Std-EX free website is far more sleek and user friendly than the clutzey previous one. Remember, BenJoe... old time print journalists must take "baby steps."

#2: The Std-Ex webmaster (Adrian) could easily make the online free site much more friendly to older machines and mobile devices simply by changing the option on that infernal video frame from "on" to "off." One of the major obstacles for slow machines is loading the Std-Ex online home page: The infernal video data which loads automatically.

dan s. said...

Rudi,

That's an excellent point about linked articles staying put. I wouldn't count on them being there forever, of course, but three years is much better than the usual week or two that you get with some newspaper web sites.

BenJoe said...

Rudi,

Great Points. So I need to post my last complaint. Sometimes I log on about 6 am to read the paper and they haven't even updated it yet. It still has yesterday's paper.

Weird.

Curmudgeon said...

On this winter morning, as we watch the US careen steadily through the Bush Recession to the Bush Depression, came across a wonderful P. J. O'Rourke column, demanding a federal bailout for print newspapers. Hoot and a half. Here's an excerpt, full link follows:

Moreover, rescuing print journalism is a twofer. Not only will America's principal source of Sudoku puzzles and Doonesbury be preserved but so will an endangered species: the hard-bitten, cynical, heavy-drinking newshound with a press card in his hatband, a cigarette stub dangling from his lip, and free ringside prize-fight tickets tucked into his vest pocket. These guys don't reproduce in captivity. And there are hardly any of them left in the wild. I checked the bar. Just Mike Barnicle, as usual. How's tricks, Mike? Where'd everybody go? Sun's over the yardarm. Time to pour lunch.

Full link here.

Moroni McConkie said...

Speaking of the digital edition of the Standard's skipping from A7 to B4 -- today's (Friday) edition completely omits the Weber/Top of Utah link, so one can't read the page B1 update on the proposed Windsor Hotel demolition. Can anyone suggest an alternate route?

RudiZink said...

By coincidence I just sent off an email to the Std-Ex webmaster on the subject, Elder McConkie. I guess we'll have to see how it all shakes out.

I've also noted that the digital edition has omitted the Davis version several times in the past.

Perhaps today's omission was some kind of weird cyber payback.

ozboy said...

Nitpickin pack ain't ye?

I think the free on line stuff from the Standard has improved in lay out and quantity quite a bit lately. Of course now the reporting and editorial (since Porter bailed out) still suck.

Nobody has commented on the DNews site. I think it is hands down the best news web site in the state. The KSL site is pretty good as well. Those MoMo's seem to have the techno news game down pretty well. It is also the KSL free ads that is hastening the doom of the print newspapers. If you are not familiar with those classifieds you ought to check them out, they are pretty impressive.

WhatWardRUin said...

According to the project manager on the train car welcome center the low bid for the remodel is $118,000. The City Council has approved about $34,000 thinking that that is the total cost as was promised by John Patterson. Patterson also pomised the consessionaire that the car would be ready for occupancy in mid-November. As usual, Patterson is over promising and under delivering again. As far as where the additional money is coming from; that's part of what the City's budget cuts are going towards, train cars and downtown parking lots. The train costs $5000 to move it from the original spot to the City yard and another $5000 from the City yard to the Frontrunner. The concrete foundations were $20,000, the utilities were $22,000, the new roof and paint was $12,000. They haven't even begun to work on the windows, doors, HVAC, interior finishes, and appliances. $34,000? No wonder West Valley City gave Patterson the boot. Of course there was that little indiscretion with his secretary too, but who's counting.

nikki said...

RudiZink,

For someone who attempts to come across so well informed you end up falling incredibly short.

I find it also extremely humorous that you think the St-Ex's webmaster has any say about whether that movie player is on the front page. Being a webmaster myself for several sites, and if you knew anything about the true title of the role, you'd know the webmaster does what she's/he's told and rarely do they make the call on something like that. They're typically the code junkie who codes and designs on demand. I'd be surprised if this were any different. If you look at the actual source code of the website you'll notice it's all highly optimized CSS and SEO'd quite nicely, I have respect for whoever their coder behind the curtain is, but I would hardly hold them accountable for things such as the way the site is presented concerning the content.

I remember speaking to someone in their web department when I complained about the autoplay on the video player and was told that's the way they were ordered to make it.

If you're a true long time reader of their site then you can at least appreciate how much better it's been recently, at least I have. I think the new St-Ex is much more friendly and the speed, well, on pages without the video player, it's significantly better.

Judging from what it used to be I'll take what they give now.

I know for a fact Lee Carter, their publisher, has insisted they also don't supply obituaries on the live site in an attempt to drive people to the Digital Edition. I've also found this to be true of "hot" or "lead stories". I remember when my mother died I called to ask where they were located on the site, and was told they aren't supplied. What a crock.

RudiZink said...

"For someone who attempts to come across so well informed you end up falling incredibly short."

Funny. I'll say that never in my life have I ever fielded a complaint like that from someone named Nikki. Perhaps you just need to get to know me better {wink}.

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