The group's report judged newspaper sites on their web features, design, aesthetics and general usability. Topping the list? The New York Times website, followed by that of the Washington Post and USA Today.
Surprised? I'm not -- I've applauded The Times' website before and the others follow as the major, important American papers they continually aspire to be. But what's missing from this list, which includes the Houston Chronicle, Denver Post, Knoxville News Sentinel, Fresno Bee, Austin American-Statesman, Tennessean and San Jose Mercury News?
The other major, national newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and regional fortresses (some of which used to be considered national in scope) such as the Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle.
Hmm. Is it possible that, in the next phase of "the media," the WSJ, LAT and Trib will be left behind? Let's see why the NYT made the cut and these did not, according to Bivings:
We love the general feeling of the NYT site, which is pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. The site is loaded with great features, and, as of August 7, the website dropped its paid-for content, TimesSelect, which is definitely worth bonus points.
Okay. So pleasing to the eye (looks like a newspaper?) and layout are important, online-only features help make it distinct from the paper and paid-for content detracts from the experience.
Let's see how the others compare:
- The Wall Street Journal: Original typefaces are there, the design hints at the paper's layout but there's a lot of wasted space that makes it hard to get to the content. The site certainly has online-only content, but readers have to pay up.
- Los Angeles Times: Bland, but the content's easier to get to than the WSJ. Needs more images; too text-based.
- Chicago Tribune: Also bland, but the layout is more dynamic than the LAT. In low resolution, links to News and other major sections aren't even "above the fold," losing digital real estate to the classifieds, shopping, and a postage stamp-sized weather map. C'mon, guys.
Of course, the Bivings Top 10 list isn't complete or authoritative (and neither is my criticism above), but it makes me wonder how the "major" papers can compete when other smaller papers' websites like knoxnews.com and tennessean.com are mentioned before the other biggies.
It's a digital world now, baby, and the biggest newspapers are bookending the challenge, either as the best or the worst. It's becoming clear what kind of decisions are being made from the top.
The bottom line? If the website is the front door -- the front page -- why haven't the bigger papers put in the elbow grease?