Please ProJo, Fix Your Website

projo Consider this an open letter to the Providence Journal.

The people of Rhode Island need your newspaper. A lot is at stake here. Imagine what would go on in this state, and in the cities and towns, if the paper were to fold. With all due respect to the great investigative reporting done at the local television stations, the Providence Journal has always been relied upon to take on the long-ranging, in-depth investigations that have ferreted out the entrenched corruption and criminal enterprises that continually plague our state, cities and towns.

We know that with subscriptions dwindling, newspapers have to make money from their online content, but why not just adopt the New York Times paywall model, which charges when a reader crosses a certain threshold of article views? Felix Salmon has written an illuminating piece on this subject for Reuters. Turns out that a somewhat porous paywall system is working just fine for the Times and several other papers as well.  (“How the NYT paywall is working” 8.12.11. I also found another recent Reuters piece very helpful in understanding this issue — “The year of the newspaper paywall” by Clay Shirky, 1.6.12.)

But the current online ProJo set-up, a bifurcated mishmash of mini-reports and hidden content, is confusing and frustrating. Nobody can find anything or link to anything. Just yesterday I sent a link to friends of a video-feature taped on Monday night and posted hours later — and it was wonderful — but the video was swapped out in under 12 hours and has evaporated completely. No archive, nothing. So the link didn’t even connect to the video, it connected to the video space. This just isn’t how people would ever use this.

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Furthermore, bloggers  — and yes, we have some ownership of this problem, but here we are — can no longer send traffic to your site by linking to the articles and opinion pieces. You have disappeared from Google searches completely — whatever the opposite of ‘search engine optimization’ is, you’ve got it. Here at the Dose we find ourselves linking to the Providence Business News and even the Boston Globe for local news. Your numbers in this regard must be plummeting.

So I urge you — publishers, editors, and owners — bite the bullet and scrap this model. And please figure this out soon; the thought of Rhode Island without a newspaper is too terrifying to even contemplate.

17 thoughts on “Please ProJo, Fix Your Website”

  1. “you cant make money off a free website in an industry that relies on sales of the physical product”

    I thought advertising was where newspapers made their money. Now that online ads undercut and outperform printed ones, they’re taking it from both sides.

    Still, the right way to do a paper that has an online component is to offer a digital version that’s BETTER than the print one (features) via mobile apps that you can charge subscriptions on content for.

    I’d gladly pay $0.50/day for a Projo app that I can load onto my Android, PC, and iPhone. I actually ditched the paper itself because I didn’t like having a pile of dead tress accumulate in my house. People today don’t sit down and read the news, they absorb it all day long. Projo needs to Get With The Program.

  2. Exactly, thats the point. Throw out a teaser and hope that people buy the whole deal.

  3. The website is designed poorly in many ways. What is most appalling beyond what has already been mentioned, is the fact that the column width for the article is so narrow that it limits each line to 7-10 words, making it incredibly difficult to read. Any idiot could recognize this failure before letting the site go live! Especially a designer! The advertising column is nearly equal in width to the content area. Worst design I’ve ever seen for a newspaper of its size. Though the previous version was horrid, even it was more readable than this one.

  4. You are all missing the point! The website is designed to be crappy and hard to use so it will all drive us back to actually buying the paper.

  5. I have long enjoyed reading the projo online for free and there were great articles and good local coverage.

    Spin it any way you want, but you cant make money off a free website in an industry that relies on sales of the physical product. The projo is still the best local news product and I wouldn’t mind paying a reasonable price for it.

    The current version of the website sucks, yes. But if you buy an online subscription, you might help the site become better. Try subscribing instead of wanting free stuff without considering the economic consequences.

  6. ‘m a librarian and it is totally frustrating not to be able to find stuff I know was in the paper – the places to search are so limited. Plus they seemed to have dropped all the features they were keeping long term – like their stories on the mob, the flood, the I-way, with lots of great photos – all seem to be gone. Or if they are there I can’t find them and I’m pretty good at formulating searches

  7. Sarah Morenon

    I was thinking about writing this same message to ProJo for months. It’s been universally considered terrible for years and it still has a really lousy search function. Why? I get a print daily paper and then try to use the website to print up occasional articles. As someone said, you can put in the article title and still not have anything come up. Ridiculous!

  8. Suppose anybody’s reading these comments in Texas?

    Worst Newspaper Website Award Winner, hands down.

    Loads slowly, news items of the day are cleverly hidden, search function is incoherent, event listing uselessly inflexible/unresponsive, whole thing seems to be designed to drive away users.

    Perhaps a quick look at any other newspaper site might give the Belo folks clues for improvement.

  9. For me, the projo website works great. All my appetites for horror movies or dystopian fiction are satisfied by an occasional browse of the comments.

  10. Damon Campagna

    Don’t forget — the ProJo is NOT a locally-owned paper. It is owned by A.H. Belo Corporation, based in Texas. The new website appears to be based on the same (or similar) template driven system used by another A.H. Belo paper

    In fact there was a job posting at looking for a web developer to maintain all of A.H. Belo’s newspaper sites in Providence RI, Dallas and Denton, Texas, and Riverside, California.

  11., just make it like that. I feel like I designed your website projo, and I don’t design websites.

  12. Christina Bevilacqua

    Thank you for this post, Beth. The old ProJo website was exasperating enough – I have lost count of the times I typed in the exact headline and date for a search query and came up with nothing – but the new one is even worse, something I would not have thought possible. There have been times where my print version of the paper is more up to date than what is showing on the website. Completely maddening.

  13. As an agency employee who represents a major advertiser on their site and in their newspaper, I sent them a long list of complaints about the site just a week after it launched. It didn’t even merit a response.

    Even the head of their digital strategy team couldn’t even give me one than a curt one-line response when I complained about the lack of mobile access to newspaper content. (His response? Quite simply: get an iPad.)

    The top three men there have been with the paper for a combined 85 years. It’s a pattern of groupthink and a complete lack of innovative thinking that has sent the paper into a tailspin. Their disastrous website is the icing on the cake. The ProJo is digging their own grave.

  14. I’m all about PBN, WPRI,, The Valley Breeze, and others now. I was ready to pay for the Journal paywall, but they A. have a product no one would pay for and B. haven’t even announced pricing yet.

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