Dear Traditional Media: Why Must Your Websites Suck?

by Ken Mueller on April 26, 2012 · 5 comments


I’m sorry, but I just can’t take it anymore.

Yesterday I wrote about the notion of “information overload” and why I don’t think it’s necessarily a real thing. Or at least doesn’t have to be. But now I need to vent a little, and while it’s not information overload I’m concerned about, it’s sensory overload.

Tuesday was primary day here in Pennsylvania, and like a good little citizen I walked around the corner and down the block to the Lutheran church to cast my ballots for President, a few statewide elections, some local positions, and for delegates to the convention.

Since there were no real big races, I didn’t stay up late to follow the returns. But yesterday morning I got up and decided to let the local news do what they are in business to do: report the news. I went first to our local newspaper site, and almost had a seizure. There was this huge jumping banner ad at the top that kept making the page move up and down. Or as my friend Sean noted on Twitter:

“Oh, this article looks interesting…Oh, wait, where did it go?

And as I dug around the site, I found a few articles on two of the larger races, but no list. I couldn’t find the information I was looking for, and the site made me want to cry. Or kill something. Or both.

So then I went to the site for the biggest local TV station. Again, the organization and layout is horrible. Things were happening all over the place, and none of them involved a quick and easy link that said something along the lines of “Local Election Results.”

Seriously, as a former journalist, is it too much to expect that a traditional media website would have this kind of information?

I don’t hate traditional media. Honestly, I don’t. I spent nearly 30 years in traditional media. But why must the websites of traditional media outlets be among the ugliest and least user friendly sites? I think a lot of it comes down to a fear of new media (and why are we still calling it “new”?), coupled with an inability to figure out how to monetize on the Internet. They try to apply the same financial model online as they do offline, and it doesn’t work. It just muddies things up.

This is endemic to the world of traditional media in its attempt to embrace the online world. There is a lack of creativity when it comes to the web. What works offline won’t always work online.

And it’s not just their websites; this includes their understanding of how to use social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The social media mindset and the traditional media mindset are not only different, they are often polar opposites. This is why both radio and television stations have had ongoing problems with the issue of how to deal with sharing their original content online.

There is a complete retooling of the mindset that must take place. Management and ownership need to understand this. Only then will traditional media learn how to properly occupy the online space.

One final thought: all is not lost. There are some traditional media outlets that do get it. Generally, however, they fall into the realm I would refer to as “non-traditional traditional media”. Go now and Google your local public radio or TV station. There’s a good chance you’ll like what you see. Your senses won’t be assaulted by an urge to tell you everything on the home page.

How do your local, traditional media websites fare? Do you have examples of traditional media outlets that are going a good job online?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Ok Mr @KenMueller here is something you will like to hear. I agree.


Especially when it comes to mobile reading. So many are not mobile formatted. But normal net too. The fact every article doesn't have an easy way to share blows my mind.


I wouldnt chalk it up to fear so much as I would an inability to see past their traditional ways. My local paper online looks very much like it does offline and while I do enjoy the print version, this just doesnt work online. Same goes with the social channels, you need to evolve your approach. Same news, but different way to share and publish it. Like you say, traditional media is fine but you cannot slap something designed for print onto an online canvas and call yourself digital. We expect something different.


You hit the nail on the head of the underlying problem with the way these sites are set up. They didn't address the advertising revenue from the user perspective, rather the advertisers, just to keep them happy. The 'how can we make money on this attitude' keeps these sites in their 6-10 year old content management systems. The paper is fine using the CMS because it creates the revenue needed, yet they ignore the 'new' ways the web is evolving. I personally have a problem with the way papers force readers to look at multi-page articles. This is not good for the user at all, but it creates a tiered structure for ad sales and revenue.


It all boils down to having to look at their site from the user perspective instead of the advertiser, something a lot of companies have a hard time doing. It's especially hard to put yourself out there and have even a small focus-group or communications audit (these are not perfect, I know) give you feedback. The fear of hearing the negative keeps companies from reviewing their own practices.

KenMueller moderator

 @C_Pappas well, there is fear. I've heard it and seen it from the inside. But agreed, the traditional approach just doesn't work.

KenMueller moderator

 @lwmace great points. I think yo're right on in that they are trying to please the advertisers ahead of the end users: customers. 

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