Friday, 30 April 2010

The assault continues!

Now, this blog (or, more correctly, the people reading it) has made something of a comical celebrity out of*.

But I would like to think that while it has served as the butt of many jokes and much ridicule, the fact it has attracted attention is a positive thing - and it is a largely positive site, offering decent news, despite being presented badly - as are most news sites, let's be honest.

However, one thing they have now done which I'm confident will serve only to increase the amount of ridicule they receive, is to launch a blog from their 'digital publisher' (see earlier blog on meaningless web titles for more information!), Matt Holmes.

An admirable step, you may think. Well, I did too, but on closer inspection, it could simply serve to show what a hap-hazard approach newspaper groups (in this case, Northcliffe) take to their online offering and the total lack of respect shown to web readers which would never happen to those picking up the printed product.

Think I'm being awful? Well, let's have a look at the blog regarding the launch of the new site...

It's all nicey-nicey stuff, Matt letting us know that he is "used to pressure".

He then goes on to prove that this really isn't the case. I mean, do digital publishers at Northcliffe really believe that getting to work at "6am loading up [does he mean uploading?] the olf TiG and then starting to upload the new one" is pressure? I sincerely hope not, as I dare say many thousands of web professionals and early-shift reporters would have something to say about that.

And why be uploading a new site on the launch day? Honestly, I'm sure a group as large as Northcliffe would have known when the sites were going live, no? Start early kids, just ask anyone who runs a website; preparation is the key.

But enough of semantics, the points made are also just as representative of a policy paying very little heed to the user.

People are having problems posting comments apparently. As I'm sure all 'digital publishers' are aware, commenting is potentially THE most valuable commodity to a news website.

However, we should all be reassured as the crack team at Northcliffe is on the case ("that is in hand and should be resolved soon").

Forgive me, but a group-wide relaunch of sites for the second biggest regional newspaper group in the country, probably costing millions, and the comment facility doesn't work properly?

Please, spare me.

It all points to a ridiculous lack of interest in the website.

The blog goes on to admit, and I use that word purposely, that there are fewer channels (news sections basically) and that it is "incredibly complicated" sorting things out and that launching a new site is "actually quite stressful".

All this is news to a 'digital publisher' responsible for one of Northcliffe's bigger sites? Shocking, truly shocking.

Speaking to various friends and from some experience, to have someone responsible for a launch as big as this who doesn't know how stressful a launch will be, is foolhardy at best, downright irresponsible at worst.

Yet we are supposed to be comforted that more news channels will appear in the "coming weeks and months". Well thank God for that, for a minute there I thought I might not be able to find anything I want to read - like 'health' and 'education' perhaps, both on the list for "the coming weeks and months"...

I'm sorry "TiG" (how quaint) as I am sure you are trying your best, but I am more sorry for your readers, and the readers of other Northcliffe sites where this is undoubtedly also happening.

Northcliffe must ultimately be held accountable I would guess, as surely no self-respecting 'digital publisher' would have overseen a relaunch in such an ill-prepared, disorganised manner?

It appears your publisher (and their apparently-web-ignorant 'digital publishers') no longer cares about you, as the blog itself points out ("phew, it went live", "there are bound to be a few niggles", etc), and the whole Northcliffe setup is clearly in denial about the falling quality of their sites.

Still, we'll have another look in the "coming weeks and months" and see what wonders have been worked.

Oooh, before I go, I just wanted to point out perhaps the best example of this lack of care than any of my ramblings.

The header placed on the new blog is an attempt at mirroring that of "TiG". Yet, despite no end of digital expertise I am sure, the font that has been pasted over a stock masthead by the looks, is completely wrong**... See for yourselves below.

* For the record, I happen to think the journalism and much of the content on (pre-relaunch) is pretty good, in comparison to many thisis sites.

** The thisis font has always been Myriad Roman, if anyone cares.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Ridiculous web stuff for April 27...

Here are some web gaffs spotted this week - thanks to all those who flagged them up.

I would imagine the Salisbury Journal had a blinding day of web figures with this as their most-read story...

Taken from on April 26, 2010.

And it's lucky Northcliffe have unveiled their new-look sites this week, as the latest entry from our old favourite,, shows that the old system simply wasn't working...

A photo gallery from months ago (unless it is snowing in Stroud?), one picture on the entire front page, all complimented by the fabulous intro beginning: "AN stretch of road in Stroud..."

New sites, new misery, same old mistakes...

It's something I've been looking forward to, I must admit.
The relaunch of the thisis template for Northcliffe's huge network of sites has been unveiled.
And while you would always expect some technical difficulties with any launch, despite probably having some time to sort themselves out, either nationally or regionally stupidity cannot be accounted for.
First up though, the layout.
In a word; confusing. The new-look, Flash-designed headline panel - designed to eliminate the old issue of ridiculously small images no doubt - is just annoying. Combined with the ads encircling it, the Flash is just overwhelming, not focusing the reader's eye on anything, instead making you recoil in horror as too many things change at different times.

So, off to a bad start.

If you do manage to find a story you want to read and catch the Flash in time to click on the image or a headline, what we are presented with doesn't fill you with joy.

The layout seems unstable somehow, although I'm not really sure why. I think it could be the way the template alters to allow portrait images (again, a response to the hugely underwhelming display of images previously). It just means the layout seems flimsy, unreliable...

Also, what is that ad doing way out on a limb on the right-hand side of the page? Madness.

But my biggest issue - and one that could cause Northcliffe some serious issues I would guess - is the image caption.

Now, I understand this is probably automatic (I believe the 'sending' of stories is done automatically now, so just what are these 'Digital Publishers' doing?!), however to upload such an in-depth caption from the default image file is probably not a good idea.

How long before some hapless subject's phone number appears? Or a hilarious caption comment by a photographer taking the piss out of someone or something goes live to millions?

The whole automated system, as many of us have learned, is dangerous. Yes, it may save time and money (in theory) but how long before a court case outweighs that saving?
Now, it's early days for the new look, so I'll leave it there.
But, technical issues and unfamiliarity aside, the first glimpse of these sites immediately brings to light the problems brought about by Northcliffe's latest money-saving drive.
There is no creativity, no personality, to these sites. Now, while this is probably one of the main reasons newspapers are still going, it has been completely ignored in the digital sphere.
I'm sure AND (Associated Northcliffe Digital, if that's what they're now called..?) would argue that the flexibility is there in the back-end to stamp each publication's personality on the sites, but...'ve just got rid of web-only people and replaced them with unskilled digital publishers who wouldn't know HTML from HIV, or a jpeg from an iphone. So what are we expecting? A sudden boost in quality from thisis?
Somehow, I doubt it... But watch this space.
On that bombshell, I'll post some funnies found this week.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Winner of the Stating-the-Bleedin-Obvious Award 2010?

This cracker from - and may I thank this otherwise decent website for a rich source of stupid mistakes for this section!
Taken from on April 12, 2010.

Web caption of the week...

Lovely stuff from the Daily Mail - a real oldie-but-a-goodie of an error...

Taken from on March 23, 2010.

Blog off during the election...

What is the current fascination with blogs on news websites?

I understand the elections - both national and local - can be difficult to cover; finding new lines, anything interesting from the dull manifesto, recycling old stories for lists of nominees etc, but is there really a need for every reporter/editor/cleaner/tea lady at a newspaper to 'blog' on the matter?

Even worse, they insist on calling them blogs, present them in the most basic manner and simply recycle what they read on a Sky News blog that morning, or worse, one of the BBC's awful, awful election space-fillers.

I'm racking my brain to think of where this proliferation of political expertise has come from and the only conclusion I can come up with is that, for local and regional rags in particular, this is the first time they have had this wonderful tool called 't'interweb' to use during a general election.

And so, while scouring the land for ways to make themselves feel like they are covering the main event (when in fact we all know that regionals should'nt be interested in "Call Me Dave" and "Hardy Gordon"), they have stumbled across blogs by the likes of Adam B at Sky and Nick R at the Beeb and decided to copy it.

Yet another clutch at the ever-fruitful straws provided by the internet by an industry reaching further and further into the abyss of cutbacks and slowly but surely disappearing up its own arse in a bid to claim it is "innovating" to any foolhardy MD who will listen.

Anyway, I'm going to post another few cracking mistakes that perhaps the next political reporter wannabe can have a look at sorting before attempting to wax lyrical to me about his theory on the Tories' strategy... Check 'em out shortly.