Newspapers and paradigm shifts

When I was fairly young, I learned a detail about newspaper advertising.  The space on the lower-outside right-hand page was worth more than lower left inside page (i.e. along the fold).

If you think about how folks read and flip threw newspapers, this makes sense.  It’s an area more likely to be seen than others.

With news, there’s the term “above the fold” and “below the fold”  Obviously, you want the big news article on the front page, above the fold where it’s most likely to be seen.

When laying out a newspaper, there is over a century of experience in how to do things.  You don’t jump a front page news article to a page in the middle of the sports section; for the most part, you don’t run box-scores on the front page (unless perhaps it’s an upset at the Super Bowl or something else that will garner eyeballs); you don’t scatter sections of your newspaper across didn’t pages.

Years ago, I was proud to be part of one of the first newspaper web application service providers, “PowerAdz” (which later become PowerOne Media, and then later most of it was bought by TownNews.)

Even back then, I realized much of what was known about newspaper layout was going to have to change. There was no longer a physical fold in the newspaper.  There was a bottom edge to a browser window, and that still meant you needed the important news at the top.  But, how long should it run down the “page”.  How many pixels did the viewer have before the bottom edge of the window?  What was the width of your front page?

You also weren’t limited by a physical size to a page.  Articles could run on as long as readers were willing to scroll.  Or was having a reasonable sized page with links to following pages better?

Much of this is still in flux. And I suspect will continue to be for years to come.  Heck, just the fact that articles can have hyperlinks to other articles, or background information makes news on web pages very different from the traditional print medium.

What reminded me of this today was seeing yet another comment on a CNN fluff piece that was linked off of the front page.  The commentator was complaining that “this is news?”

Someone replied it was under the Entertainment section. Another rebutted “yeah, but it’s on the the front news page.”

That reminded me of these thoughts. What is the front page any more? Even though you can click to different sections of CNN, it’s not like a traditional newspaper where you have physically separate section, each with its own front page.  Now it’s all virtual and a front page is simply as you define it.

I think ultimately we have to let go of our definition of the front page of a news site and accept that links to news, fluff pieces and the like will all end up there.  Sure, there will be sections within the page, but to complain there’s sports, or entertainment, or other non-traditional news links off the front page will be like complaining you don’t have to unscroll the papyrus in the correct direction to read it: a sign of an older time.

Times change, but more importantly the medium changes, even if the message doesn’t.