The whole user generation thing isn’t a great business plan for a newspaper company when users can slam your new product on the day of its launch.
Yesterday Media General split the Times-Dispatch.com from InRich.com, and dozens of comment on the Times-Dispatch’s ridicules the layout and usability. Before Thursday, if you typed in www.timesdispatch.com, you would get bounced to InRich.com, which seemed mostly like an online newspaper with a few bells and whistles (including some video).
Richmonders don’t seem to be buying the new site.
“I am actually blow away by how bad this site is,” writes “Eddie”. “First of all just to post this comment I had to register, check my email, find the article again, log in, and then post. This site is now a GIANT ad with tiny bits of news in between. Is it not supposed to be the other way around? I am a website developer for a living and I think this site is just awful. You guys make it hard to read the news.”
What are the head honchos thinking?
It’s unclear why the company has three local websites now. The Times-Dispatch.com has a slideshow with news, some akwardly placed ads, and a weather map. I can’t find some of the stories from the paper online, including ones from the front page.
And don’t forget that Media General bought Richmond.com last month, for the trifecta of confusing.
InRich still exists, but now has more lists of stories and some new button-ish features. Just below the masthead, InRich displays five buttons: horoscopes, forums, TV listings, traffic cameras, and restaurants. Does the company think more people are interested in horoscopes than the news? That would be the equivalent of putting horoscopes on the front page.
Obviously these are tough times in the newspaper business. But can someone explain the strategy to me? I live and breathe this stuff all day and I can’t see this ending happily for the company, or the employees. My one guess is that they think they can sell three times as many ads with three websites.
But a launch isn’t very effective when it presents such a mediocre product. And it’s not even new. This Times-Dispatch.com layout is one the company has used for smaller papers around Virginia for a while. I’d guess a year, although I’m not positive. And it’s one I’ve never liked. The stories don’t pull up cleanly, and it already seems antiquated – like looking at arrivals and departures TVs at the airport. You do it, but you don’t enjoy it.
From a story that posted online on Thursday, General Manager Michael Fibison said that the “TimesDispatch.com’s mission is to carve out a franchise online based on breaking and continuous news throughout the day. TimesDispatch.com will serve the audience who already reads the newspaper in the morning and who wants to check in throughout the day to find out what has developed on the big stories and what’s happened that is new.”
How many times a day do they think people will check this? How many times a day do they project will make the website a solid money-maker?
Please share your opinion of the new Times-Dispatch with us, and maybe we can learn some and put them to good use when we re-launch our site in early 2009.
For readers who are interested in the business of media, Mike Ward wrote a great backpage column in Style Weekly about the workings of Richmond.com before it was sold to Media General.
“Looking back at the Richmond.com experiment, it endured fleeting success and ultimate failure for a few reasons ..
Because most of our business decision makers hadn’t taken journalism ethics 101, there was no wall between editorial and advertising. We chose our battles, axing a negative review here, writing a story to satisfy a sponsor there.
It was easy to rationalize because we were all broke. Once while writing a news story on home heating assistance, I realized that my income qualified me for the program. That said, without Richmond.com, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to get paid for what we loved to do …”
Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. You can reach him at [email protected]