I have always been enamored with website redesigns. I’ve gone through a few myself and I’ve never walked away without feeling a little sore about something.
The issues tend to come at you sideways in a redesign launch. Most issues are only revealed after the publish button has been pressed. Adding to the difficulties of a redesign launch is often the numerous stakeholders. Even at the smallest of companies, they can (and sometimes do) veer a project off its intended path. I saw this happen with Boston.com when it relaunched in April 2014. (They’ve rebounded nicely in the past year.) So there are many issues to combat just to get off the ground, let alone launch. And that’s all before readers rip the final product to shreds. Because, you know, the Internet. I’m pleasantly surprised to see there have been few issues with the redesign of ESPN.com today. The sports behemoth has more news, info and commentary than any other website imaginable (and readers, too, with a self reported 91 million users in January), and yet it somehow figured out the shadowy pathway to handle this truly immense project with an unknown number of people likely shepherding it through today’s unveiling. Hats off to their digital team.
I think what is reflected in this redesign, which deserves some outside studying, is that despite competing interests for a wide range of verticals and subsections, there are some basic tenets that digital organizations are going to focus on no matter what. Tenets that I believe are key to any successful news operation today, regardless of size or scope. Here are five:
1. Mobile first — ESPN says 61 percent of their visitors came from a mobile device. This is in line with the overall trend for digital news enterprises. More and more readers are accessing content via their mobile devices while declines are being recorded for “desktop” only users. So it’s no surprise that ESPN focused on making a responsive website. (There appears to be three tiers, one for the full fledged site, another for the middling tablet and the last for mobile devices).
2. Real-time updates — Again, ESPN has more daily content it can possibly ever use being pumped into the Bristol brain trust. I’m sure, like it is for most major websites, the fight to get on the homepage is intense. What we’ve seen is that news organizations that have developed a stream — like Boston.com, for example — are able to quickly display new content on a site’s homepage without ever having to involve a curator of the homepage’s content. Readers will see more content this way, with links to articles, tweets from writers, videos, etc.
3. User experience — No website can ever underestimate the user experience. There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into this particular redesign, the flow of the site and its navigation. I’m sure with the changes made this will also be the top source of ESPN’s complaints. Designers can remark better than I on the pluses and flaws they see. But for the purposes of this post, it is extremely important to take care and respect the sensibilities of your readership. Digital savvy readers expect beautiful, modern and easy to read websites. Oftentimes that’s tough to do given all of the competing priorities. I would say that ESPN has successfully adhered to this tenet.
4. Video — The redesign’s emphasis on video smacks you in the face. More and more publishers are making the costly investment in video production, hoping to bank on increased ad spending on mobile video. With its vast array of digital properties, ESPN was already in a position to take advantage of the two concurrent trends at play here, and this redesign represents another step toward that.
5. Personalization — For ESPN, that means surfacing content on its users’ favorite sports teams. Translated for smaller news organizations, that means news your readers can use from their community. It’s certainly easier to address the personalization problem with sports and much harder for any general news organization, both to find and target content for fragmented audiences. The easiest way you already see this being done is with localized weather forecasts based on the location of your IP address. There’s certainly opportunity for innovation here.
I certainly expect ESPN to make some tweaks and changes in the days and weeks to come. Hopefully, they won’t take six years for another redesign. But I’m almost positive they will adhere to these five points of emphasis because that’s where the trends are heading. All news orgs would be wise to acknowledge as much in their next redesign.
The last year has been a journey for me, transitioning from a digital producer role at The Boston Globe’s Boston.com to editing a TV news website as the manager of web content.
Over the course of this year, I’ve had the great privilege to see and contribute to the inner workings of a very different brand of journalism and contemplate how different the broadcast ilk of my trade approach their digital properties vs. the print folks. Without factoring in the size of my station’s operation as it relates to other TV markets, there are some striking differences that deserve mentioning.
1. Dependent on Facebook — Not just Facebook, but really all social media. Unlike newspapers, which are often the bedrocks of the communities they reside in for news, the finicky nature of television viewers does not engender the type of repeat visitors and brand loyalty online that I’ve previously experienced. There is always a FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC to turn to when watching TV. In Boston, you can add in a regional news network (NECN) as well. Those options are always available to viewers. And when it comes time to seek out the news online, either to catch up on reading or for just a breakdown of any particular news event, TV audiences continue their perfidious behavior, playing around until they find their fill. So instead of a sort of dependence on the other guy to screw up, or for the local newspaper to possibly fail to fill the needs of its online readers, there is a heightened focus on audience development through social media. If one TV station can align itself with a concentrated brand awareness campaign and pay vigorous attention to best practices on key social media platforms (read: Facebook), that station’s site is more likely attract new and repeat readers, and in turn more viewers of its broadcast. (And make no mistake about it, Facebook is where this war is being waged.) I’ve come to see more clearly how all TV news sites have developed these come-from-behind strategies based on leveraging Facebook for readers. Obviously some stations have better strategies than others. But what’s been interesting for me is comparing how much more important Facebook is to TV than newspapers, especially considering all of the other aspects that go into a complete content strategy. Gone are the conversations about tremendous story angles to pursue and how to produce them online, replaced by the boilerplate, “this will do well on Facebook.” Unfortunately, that is the end of the conversation for some.
2. Whose byline is this? — As a digital editor, my job is to maintain the integrity and freshness of the site and our station’s mobile apps, then market our content aggressively on social media. That also means being first on breaking news and weather (a core tenet of our station). That’s the simple part. But what initially vexed me when I took on this job was the station’s reporting process. There is a dependence on the assignment desk for details, sources and contacts with public safety agencies that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. (Producers, to my surprise, spend a considerable amount of their time sketching out each show.) This is nothing like what you may experience at a newspaper or magazine and nor is it like the experiences others face at smaller stations from what I’m told. But it’s indicative of a vastly different process. For the digital producers on our site, the responsibility to write, self-edit, edit, and evangelize content is paramount. However, all of the details that make up their stories — the ones you see online at any given moment — are passed along from our assignment desk. Our digital team is fashioned more like the old re-write desk of newspaper lore. It’s also very similar to when our TV reporters file their stories. Their scripts are written for the broadcast, oftentimes in broadcast speak. Our digital producers edit those stories to align them with a more conventional online writing style (a custom mix of AP and our own). In contrast, in previous posts at newspapers I edited fully formed stories for online publication while working on my own stories on the side. So who’s doing the reporting? The station, of course. Pay no attention to the byline.
3. Mobile app wars — Again, the name of the game is audience development. If you don’t know where your audience is, you’re not paying attention. ComScore, one of the leading marketing and analytics companies in the country, pegged app use at 52 percent in December 2014. That’s not just consuming news. That’s 52 percent of all time users spend online. Strategically speaking, TV stations pay a good portion of their time considering their mobile apps with good reason, tweaking and toying with their mobile offerings in order to better serve their readers. That’s just not the case for print publishers, who have what I would consider a lackadaisical approach to their mobile apps. Pay attention to any ABC owned station and you’ll see very quickly how central the app is to the entire news organization, with push alerts coming at all times of the day. In Boston, you’re beginning to see every TV outlet move in this direction with tremendous benefits in page views and repeat visitors. The push/text alert is more important than ever. Digital staffers for newspapers sites are still catching up to this aggressive momentum.
Of course, there are many other obvious differences that speak to the online editing process in going from a newspaper to TV station. But in my journey, these few are considerably more important because of the success or failure they represent for any digital news operation. They are, what I would consider, translatable. A keen eye on audience development and editing will always be important and I’m glad it is a heightened focus in my current medium.
Happy New Year’s friends, family, and strangers on the internet. May peace and blessings find you in 2015.
I fear, much like I did at the start of 2014, that I may not be able to exceed the level of joy I experienced in the coming year. With the birth of my son, Jalil, and the new job at WFXT FOX 25 News, 2014 was a year of dramatic change for the Berrys.
And with the changes I’ve experienced, both of which have made wholesale differences in my personal and professional life, I see a greater shift in my New Year’s resolutions, which I proudly post in this space each year.
(To the pessimist, I say, endear yourselves to those that are goal-oriented and who engage in the New Year’s resolutions ritual. They are, in my view, openly optimistic about self-betterment, which characterizes strong moral fiber. Ernest Hemingway wrote: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”)
It’s not that I don’t want to continue to write for myself. (I hate the fact that I haven’t written on this site since Dec. 7, Jalil’s birthday.) Or that I don’t want to work out. I’m always striving to be more consistent – as a writer, editor, and online manager – and improve upon myself each day. That’s my obligation to the myself and those that look up to me. But I see in these changes an opportunity to focus on others. However important it may be to put focus on myself, in terms of self-betterment, Jalil’s presence demands that my priorities change, even if just slightly.
So this may sound lame or corny even, but it actually reflects how I feel: In 2015, I want to focus more on my family.
With Jalil and Claudia, the Berrys now have a whole team on the east coast. I want to make sure as much as possible our family is strong and stable. For me, that means being both a provider and a steward. This year, with this new role as a father, I see nothing as more important. So while I resolve myself to focus on my writing, my personal health, and professional development each year, this year I will add yet another important and intangible goal, one I believe will also be among my New Year’s resolutions for the rest of my life.
So, what’s your New Year’s resolutions?
I’d like to welcome my newborn son, Jalil Noel Berry, into the world. Meet Jalil.
I’m happy to report Jalil is a healthy 6 pounds and 0.1 ounces. Claudia is healthy, too, after a lengthy induced labor. I couldn’t be more pleased with both of them after we started this process on Saturday around 1 p.m. and finished more than 24 hours later.
What’s in the name?
Jalil is an Arabic name and it means great or revered one. Given that the name is not too popular (it’s currently not ranked by BabyNames.com), I felt that it was fitting for our first son because he will most certainly be revered in our household and hopefully his individuality will always remain strong.
Noel, which means Christmas or born on Christmas day, is an ode to the due date that Claudia and I originally received when we discovered she was pregnant. We had been working on the assumption that she would give birth close to that time and we found it fitting to have a name associated with such a special date.
Right now, I’m feeling an intense sensation of joy and relief. I’m absolutely thrilled that we can finally get going as parents after what felt like an endless pregnancy and it’s nice to have the anxiety of an induced pregnancy behind us. There’s so much to be thankful for and happy about, I don’t know where to begin. So I’m just going to be a proud dad and shut up about it, dig into these parenting books, and get to my job as a father. I might take a few too many photos in the days ahead. But hey, that’s what comes with parenthood. And you can be sure that’s how we welcomed Jalil.
The other day I did a Skype session with students at my alma mater Chico State to discuss what a web producer does as well as my path from college to where I am now.
It was a productive conversation that allowed me to break down what still is an analogous position for much of the public. It’s not anyone’s fault they don’t know, the job is dramatically different from one shop to another. And it’s kind of nice to explain it to at least a few graduating seniors who will quite likely have their first opportunity in the business as a digital producer, given the way hiring is happening nowadays. And of course, I love the questions students ask. They’re varied and well thought out, ranging from how I could pull off moving to the east coast and what it was like covering the Patriots. But then I got hit with a question that I think I’m going to continue to ponder for quite awhile, which is what I want to explore here.
I was asked, and I’m paraphrasing, “what are some of the tools that I’m seeing out there that are really going to change the game for digital journalists going forward, and what can those going into the job market do to prepare themselves for the inevitable changes?” In the moment of the conversation, I deferred to a couple of fairly new search tools and devices, including Geofeedia and Banjo, both of which allow users to find social media posts in specific locations as they relate to news events. They’re both on our radar at my news outlet. Large scale news events (at least large in the sense that they draw a ton of people) definitely require greater attention and resources, which is why tools like these two can be immensely helpful in tracking down images and video. (Just take a look at our Keene State coverage from Saturday, which includes photos scrounged up from users on the ground using Banjo.) Other than that, I told the students storytelling is the most important factor of any new digital tool and how that storytelling is woven into the digital space matters. But I almost feel like those two shiny items and my thoughts on storytelling really aren’t sufficient for what news organizations really need going forward.
Later on, when I really thought about it, I kept circling back to this crazy idea of an elections tool. That would be cool. And useful for news orgs without the dev resources to build their own. Unfortunately though, that wouldn’t really fix some of the intrinsic problems for digital journalists. For instance, how would a massive data oriented tool, like one for elections, be implemented on different websites? The question is what drives me to write this.
Of all the things that come to mind, the bellyaching seems to unnaturally revolve around the content management system in place. And while most CMSs do an outstanding job of compiling stories, wire feeds, video, etc., all while making the stew appear presentable, there are consistent deficiencies for front-end users that keep popping up. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when some organizations are in a battle over rich text editors within their CMS that won’t allow for easily embedded HTML. Or woe is the org that decides to compile some data, in table format or otherwise, and there is no means of displaying it on the site because the CMS doesn’t support it. Don’t even think about inserting a table of data within the body of a story. The headaches can be endless, especially for those who want to be creative.
These are things that web producers deal with on a regular basis. Finding solutions for these problems has become an integral part of the job. Support is often barely in place. That’s a frustration I think many individuals in my position have because you end up wasting time figuring out what you can do vs. figuring how to make awesome content. And if you can, is it easy to do? (Working in Methode while at Boston.com, the process for dropping embeds into stories was a lengthy one.)
The CMS, the most basic and often complicated tool for digital journalists, is where the disruption is needed in the industry. It’s where the advancement is both called for and necessary. It’s where news orgs can win back disillusioned digital natives, who often have to muster along with early 2000s technology. And it’s where, in its most basic form, the creativity can either thrive or die.
Life update. I hit 30 this month. I changed jobs. All this change and more is swirling around me and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. So I figure I ought to make some changes around here, too.
I’ve been looking at this site for a couple of weeks now and I know that I need to re-think everything about what I do here because the dynamics of my personal brand of journalism have changed. I’m no longer a sports writer and that changes everything as far as how I view myself and how I should be represented online. The old habits of posting my Patriots columns and other football related items here made sense. If a reader couldn’t find my work on Boston.com, they could find it here. But that’s just not necessary anymore.
Instead, now I believe that this site will revert more to what it was when I was in Grass Valley, Calif., a laboratory for ideas and exploration. I know, it sounds lame. But it’s fun for me.
I think it really hit me that I needed to change the site when my wife made a comment about its staleness. I haven’t posted in weeks. I figure people didn’t want to read all of the local crime I’ve been writing about on MyFOXBoston.com. And I figured nobody was paying attention. (I actually have a healthy amount of passive traffic to this site. But I haven’t cultivated those random readers into regular visitors.) So I wasn’t sure it was an immediate concern.
But then another thought popped in my head, something my wife mentioned. The site looks old. The design, the WordPress Twenty Thirteen theme, was lame. And I couldn’t argue with her about it. How could I let something so generic and old come to represent me? Claudia’s comment followed another designer’s comment to me about the site in August, about my personal brand and what I was trying to project with the free theme and its abhorrent color scheme. I didn’t have an answer then, other than to say it’s something that I needed to address. Well this is a good time to address it.
I’m going to be making some dramatic changes here in terms of design and content. I don’t yet fully know where that’ll take me. But as any long-time reader of mine knows, it’ll be interesting and the moves will be full of rash decisions. (Notice I’m already onto WordPress’s Twenty Fourteen theme.) I’m sure we’ll enjoy some experimentation together. Or at least I will. That’s all that really matters.
FOXBOROUGH — If the Patriots’ performance against the Oakland Raiders is to be considered anything close to the team’s best effort, there needs to be a careful rethinking of the roster, particularly on offense.
Only the special teams unit played up to its capabilities Sunday as the Patriots beat the Raiders, 16-9, in New England’s home opener, with Stephen Gostkowski contributing three field goals. Ryan Allen averaged 48 yards per punt. There were no miscues from long snapper Danny Aiken, a sign of a job well done. Matthew Slater had a stellar tackle on one punt. It was seamless execution all around.
The defense, which managed to shut the Raiders out of the end zone, struggled on third down (2 for 4 in the first quarter) before pinning Oakland down and eventually being bailed out (thank Vince Wilfork and Logan Ryan), marking yet another slow start. (Oakland finished 5 of 13 on third downs.) But the unit at least got the job done, allowing only 241 total yards, including 67 rushing.
Unsurprisingly, the Patriots offensive line struggled. Tom Brady did not look like he was commanding a Super Bowl contending offense, let alone appear as if he were a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.
It’s all concerning, which is our focus in these five takeaways from the game.
1. The Patriots are having a hard time spreading the ball around — The Patriots had all of the offseason, training camp, preseason, and two regular season games to prepare for Sunday. That means they not only had the means to get on the same page as far as plays go, timing, and chemistry, but also had extensive time to determine which players could put them in the best position to operate at a high level, something akin to last year’s seventh ranked offense and 10th ranked passing offense. (News flash: They’re not anywhere near that now.) Despite this opportunity, one player coming back from a serious knee injury garnered six targets (three receptions), while underutilized players like Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Tim Wright languished. Between those three, Brady targeted the group three times (one each), resulting in two completions for 26 yards. Amendola hasn’t had a reception since Miami in Week 1. It’s starting to get weird the way in which Brady eyeballs Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman while ignoring everybody else. I think we all understand that feeding both Edelman and Gronk is a good thing, but balance for the offense — which was discussed at length this week — should be the priority because it benefits the offense as a whole. Based on their snaps, the team believes Amendola, Thompkins and even Wright can help contribute to fixing the offense’s woes. Brady just needs to get them the ball, something he has acknowledged now on multiple occasions.
“I think we’ve always gotten better as the season has gone on and as players, gained more experience in what we’re doing,” Brady said. “We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening. We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing and trying to understand the things you’re good at. And then ultimately as the season goes, you work on the things that haven’t been going well and you try to stay real ahead of the things that you are doing really well at and then at the end of the year, you’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs and do those types of things.
“Right now we’re building our team,” Brady continued. “We’re trying to make improvements. It hasn’t all gone right. It doesn’t go right when we have penalties or turnovers or negative runs. We’ve just got to do our assignment, do our job. We’ve got to do it better and then ultimately that’s going to lead to more scoring.”
This excuse that the Patriots are still building as a team, particularly among its skill players, is quickly wearing thin. The Patriots won’t be afforded the luxury of figuring it out in the weeks ahead when they face the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.
2. The offensive line’s talent is unbalanced — Bill Belichick spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of using an extra offensive lineman and an unbalanced line, along with its history in football, on Wednesday. But after Sunday’s game, it appears the Patriots are using that extra offensive lineman to mask some serious deficiencies in the group. Nate Solder has seemingly regressed. Jordan Devey struggles in pass protection. Dan Connolly has made significant mistakes at center, including letting pressure right up the middle on Brady Sunday. Even with an unbalanced line at times, utilizing Cameron Fleming as a tight end, the Patriots have struggled to set blocks on the edge. (Fleming was overpowered by Oakland’s Khalil Mack.) So they turned to other gimmicks, running a hurry up offense at times to make the game difficult on the Raiders’ pass rushers. But there’s no escaping these problems and there’s no way the team can pretend like the loss of Logan Mankins, as well as Dante Scarnecchia, hasn’t been devastating.
For the rest of my takeaways from the game, visit Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.
It’s OK to call this the bounce back game.
There’s so many players on the Patriots roster that bettered their efforts Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. The 30-7 win was sparked almost entirely by the defense, which accounted for four interceptions against former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel, as well as a blocked field goal.
Here’s our takeaways from Sunday’s win, the Patriots’ first of the year, with the defense almost entirely in mind.
1. Chandler Jones much better on the edge — We’ll remember, probably fondly, Chandler Jones’ blocked field goal, which he scooped up and returned for a touchdown. It’ll make the rounds on the highlights. But of greater significance for the Patriots this season will be his play as a 3-4 linebacker. In Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots opted to use him as 3-4 defensive end, something that did not go over well, despite a couple of quarterback hurries. (Two penalties for roughing the passer and $16,000 fine later, it’s really something he even wants to forget.) But on Sunday, as the outside linebacker, Jones showed Matt Patricia exactly how he should be used on regular basis. Not only was Jones able to get to the quarterback, recording two sacks and three hits while tying the team lead in tackles. As that bigger outside linebacker, he was able to brush off tackles, tight ends, and fullbacks to insert himself into running plays, something he couldn’t do as an interior player. That kind of promising effort is only enabled by the healthy return of Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga. Siliga, in his second game, was a regular alongside Vince Wilfork in the 3-4 for the first time and Chris Jones returned for his first action since hurting his ankle in the preseason. It’s safe to say that with this healthy quartet, this is the lineup of players you can expect going forward, much like you can expect Chandler Jones to dominate the edge for the rest of the season.
2. Swapping wide receivers … what’s the difference? — It was nice to see Aaron Dobson make his season debut for the Patriots but it came at the expense of Kenbrell Thompkins who, like Dobson in Week 1, was a healthy scratch. Dobson caught one pass for 13 yards on two targets. In Week 1, Thompkins caught five passes for 37 yards on 10 targets. You can be the judge for yourself on who was better. But my eyes are on Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, both of whom didn’t record a reception and were targeted collectively once. Something’s gotta give.
Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.