Some quiet (so far) upgrades to Boston.com

If you’re a regular visitor to the Boston Globe’s Web site, Boston.com, you may have noticed some new features creeping into view during the past week. Media Nation has obtained an internal e-mail written by Bennie DiNardo, the Globe’s deputy managing editor for multimedia. Here is what’s going on:

• A one-and-a-half- to two-minute daily video of news headlines, called “GlobeToday,” will appear on the home page every weekday from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. I viewed a sample on YouTube and found it to be slick and spritely, though limited by the extremely short length.

• A new section called “The Angle” is described by DiNardo as an “online news magazine that pulls together the most provocative content on Boston.com that day and engages readers to join in the conversation on these hot topics.” It is produced by the editorial and Ideas sections.

• A particularly promising new feature is “Thought Leader,” a gathering spot for blogs by a variety of folks in the community — from ACLU of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose to Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce. Other contributors thus far are my “Beat the Press” colleague Kara Miller, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, Boston University journalism-department chairman Lou Ureneck and music buff Ben Collins. I am told that the bloggers are unpaid, which could limit the amount of work that folks are willing to put into it. But this bears watching.

Other new features include “App Sampler,” a blog in which Hiawatha Bray will, you know, sample apps (it doesn’t appear to be online yet); “Munch Madness,” some sort of interactive attempt to tie together the NCAA tournament and eating; and improvements to breaking news and sports coverage.

As is generally the case with Boston.com, a lot of this stuff could be easier to find. But what’s impressive is the air of experimentation, and the New York Times Co.’s willingness to invest modest amounts of money at a time when other newspaper companies remain in cutback mode.

I also think it’s smart that Boston.com continues to move in the direction of being a different product from the Globe. Since the idea is to maintain paid print and electronic editions alongside a free Web site, they should each offer a different experience. To that end, I’ll repeat what I’ve said in the past: I would get rid of Boston.com’s “Today’s Globe” feature. Though I think all (or most) of the Globe’s content should be available on Boston.com, it shouldn’t be packaged exactly the same way. (By way of comparison, BostonHerald.com has a very different look and feel from the print edition.)

Good news from an organization that appeared to be on the ropes a year ago.

9 thoughts on “Some quiet (so far) upgrades to Boston.com

  1. BP Myers

    “. . . engages readers to join in the conversation on these hot topics”

    So whichever thin-skinned Wellesley intern is manning the moderation queue that day can delete anything which offends their delicate sensibilities.

  2. Brian Beaulieu

    Any change at boston.com, and other media sites, is welcome. What they really need is a complete redesign.

    The Globe, Herald and New York Times web sites are static (read boring), and every first-year journalism student knows that you have to change the layout every day. They seem to have just one template, and some intern apparently pulls out one story or photo and pastes in another. But what is much, much worse is the blue type. What graphics genius decided to go with small, BLUE type? It is hard to read, and it gets much worse if you want to figure out who wrote a story: the agate bylines in the Herald and Times are HALFTONE BLUE. There is no need for this stingy design, since there is a limitless amount of space on the web. The headlines and body type should be bold and flashy and attractive – and different every day.

    There also is no need to repeat the same story or photo on the same page as the Times and Herald often do. I realize that the Times categorizes stories, but having the same story on the same page three or four times seems extreme. It’s a sure sign that your web site needs a makeover. At the Herald it’s even more annoying, as in, we don’t have enough news to fill this space.

    The Herald and the Globe also jumble news and ad copy so that often there is no distinction. You can’t get away with this in print.

    Most newspaper web sites that I visit are an embarrassment. An exception is the Los Angeles Times, which is orderly and attractive. The Times site appears to be put together by a real editor, the others seem tossed around by an intern or, worse, a graphic designer.

    Web sites are a great opportunity to steer people to the printed product, and expand on it with videos and slide shows and in-depth references. Give us something attractive that inspires brand loyalty. Stand out from the crowd; stop following the pack.

  3. Al Fiantaca

    @Brian Why would you suggest changing the layout every day? It would seem to me, that having consistency of appearance, would be a good thing, not a bad one. When I visit a site, I don’t want to wander around looking for the kind of information I want. You wouldn’t expect sports to move to the front section of the print paper, nor the editorials and op-ed section to the middle of the sports at the rear of the paper. The changes would be in the news items. That being said, I’m not suggesting that the site be static, just that changing the layout daily isn’t called for. Did I miss your point?

  4. Brian Beaulieu

    Al, I think you have to mix it up. Maybe a half-dozen templates. Otherwise you wind up giving the same weight to many different stories and you lose any sense of urgency. It shouldn’t look like a newspaper, but it should act like one. Some days sports stories are on the front page. Check out the LA Times site. It does a good job of shuffling the mix without losing familiarity.

  5. Jerry Ackerman

    I agree with Brian’s endorsement of latimes.com – it’s clean, straightforward and easy to navigate.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Brian and @Jerry: I see a lot of similarities between LATimes.com and WBUR.org. What do you think?

  6. Brian Beaulieu

    Yes, WBUR is clean and organized, but a little too cookie-cutter for me. Don’t you think it’s time many web sites reinvent themselves? Dan, what do your students think? Couldn’t they do better? Do they care about this stuff? Seems to me there could be a bright future for some of them in this area.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Brian: My students are not designers. We do have a design and graphics class, but I do not teach it — which is a good thing!

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