Saturday, October 16, 2004

Postcard from a SwiftNews tourist

To get a better feeling for what is and is not common practice (and by extension, whether website features that minimize the appearance of opposition were likely to have been implemented deliberately), I went looking at other SwiftNews newspaper websites; most of them seem to use a similar, though not identical, website template as The Union's.

Special virtual award to the Greeley Tribune's site, for three reasons:
  1. They show they care about their site users: rather than silently provide incomplete information, they've posted this message on their Archives page:
    MAINTENANCE NOTICE: You may may have difficulty finding articles when searching by keyword. While we work to resolve this issue, try searching by date or for a word or words that appeared in the headline. We apologize for the inconvenience.
    The Tribune Technical Staff
  2. Their editor has a weblog, Virtual Greality, in which he does the usual "editor's column" stuff, but in addition,
  3. he provides his readers with "the civic gestures we call links" relating to the topic at hand, even to 'outside' sites like other newspapers (e.g. in this post).

    No comments section, but if his community is anything like ours that's exceedingly wise.

Another SwiftNews paper, the News-Review in Oregon, has a group weblog - which might end up working better, since it shares the work[for no pay]load among several people. They used it to warn their readers as early as Oct 11 that their website was having problems.

With respect to treatment of aging letters to the editor, I only checked out the Greeley Tribune. It is simultaneously less informative, more consistent, and less misleading than The Union - in that:
  • Unlike The Union, when you use "Search for a specific date", none of their letters to the editor show up in it.
  • on the other hand, unlike The Union, none of their letters show up in it - there isn't (as there is with The Union) a group of "second-class-citizen" letters that's hidden, while the presence of other letters leads you to think that you're not missing anything.

So, what does this tell us about nefarious motives of 'chortling cigar smoking back-newsroom cronies' (lurid fictional imagery) in Grass Valley?

Answer: It tells us that there's enough variation in handling of letters that the selective-slide-into-invisibility of letters critical of The Union's coverage is not likely to have been deliberate. But I can't help but think that, were the Greeley Tribune faced with a similar situation, then - just as they took the extra step to inform their readers about the Search problem - they would likewise make an effort to report the community response in less evanescent* manner. They seem to "regard the reader as a master to be served"**.


* Wrong word. Request: if you run across a better one, send it my way.
** John Carroll quote

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