Monday, 11 February 2008


You can now find me at a new, more up-to-date blog.

See you there

Friday, 5 October 2007

Analysing Web Design - Four Four Two

After attempting to create a basic web page using Dreamweaver in class, it made sense to go off and look at how some of the professionals do it. The Four Four Two website is the online accompaniment to the successful football magazine of the same name. The site attempts to add some of it's print content from the month latest issue onto the site, whilst at the same time keeps it up-to-date with breaking football news and other fresh content.

The site design itself is very simple. In terms of information architecture, the design takes the form of the standard 'inverted L' shape. The header at the top of the page contains the title of the site, whilst along the left hand-side of the 'L' is a menu of links. These all link to various sections of the website, including interviews, columns, reviews, your shout, and gallery. Along the right hand-side of the page, are numerous adverts, which is again fairly standard for website design.

In the middle, main content section, the page leads with the '5 things you need to know today', again adding to the immediacy the site offers when compared to it's sister magazine. Below this are again links to different features and sections on the site, however the inclusion of graphics makes it more visually pleasing, and serves as further enticement for the reader to click the link.

In terms of interactivity, the site is fairly simple. There is a 'vote' that readers can vote on and see the results, whilst clicking on the news section 'planet football' creates a scrolling news bar at the top of the screen. There is also a link in the menu bar, to a football quiz, which trust me can keep an avid football fan happy for hours. One neat touch, is the inclusion of a small 'V player', at the top right of the main page, that allows you to watch highlights from the latest games, courtesy of Virgin Media. Who needs Match of the Day?

In terms of navigaton, I think the sites design is fairly successful. The menu bar on the left serves as the main navigation bar, allowing a user to go from section to section, and always have the ability to click back to 'home' if they get lost. the layout is quite small, in terms of the fact there is only a small scroll when looking at the entire website. To aid this, some features are given less space, but included is a smaller scroll bar, which allows the user to scroll down the feature, instead of scrolling down the actual website. This allows for more content to be included in a smaller space, which I feel works well online.

The website as a whole is very aesthetically pleasing, keeping a simple colour scheme of white, red and black, which stays true to the 'Four Four Two' colours, thus adding to the brand identity. The use of pictures is subtle, and often the same pictures appear in the magazine. This and the clever use of white space, allows the site to feel less cluttered than other sites I have visited, and adds to the ease of reading.

With this site, I feel Four Four Two have the perfect accompaniment to their magazine, which by the looks of things is their main focus. The site is very low maintenance, and there isn't a great deal of content that will keep you coming back for the entire month. Yet, I don't feel with this site they were trying to achieve a online football behemoth, such as Football 365. Instead, it serves as either a preview of what you can expect to find in the magazine, a refresher, for those who have missed certain features in the current issue of the magazine, or a 'quick-fix' for those who want to read a little more about football whilst at work, or in their lunch break. Take nothing away from the design. It may look simple, but its extremely usable, and that is something all novice web-designers, like myself, should take into account.

Friday, 28 September 2007

'New News' retrospective: Online news and its full potential

Since the concept of online news first began, the internet has grown and evolved at speeds only known to the Japanese bullet train. So it was never going to be easy to predict and make promises of what web-based news had to offer. However back in 1995 a group of tech-heads tried, and a piece written by Nora Paul represents a good analysis of how right and wrong they were. She explores how far we have come, and whether online news has truly reached its full potential.

Paul argues that most of the predictions made over a decade ago were based around the theory that the internet offers a "limitless newshole," an endless space that satisfies the 'give me more' that reporters thought news seekers were craving. Looking at online news today it is clear that this is not the case. Too often, news organisations recycle stories from other media platforms. Paul recognises that the text on screen has often already been edited for print.

This is sometimes true for newspaper websites, but visit a broadcast site such as the BBC, and its vast array of news articles are written specifically for the site. As more and more money is ploughed into online news, this could one day be common place. For now, editors of print publications are happy to get their writers to write content that is suitable for both print and online, meaning the task of getting their stories online a mere 'uploading exercise'. This also means that the promise of the 'limitless newshole' cannot be reached, as we are constantly being fed a "downstream product."

Central to this 'limitless newshole' was the trailblazer's promise that people would be hungry for context and looking to the net for deep content on the latest news issues. In reality when it comes to reading the actual text people just want the quick hit. Paul describes the web as an "alert service", where people with little time come to to get their quick bites of the latest up-to-date news. We have realised that long, time consuming articles are not suitable to be read on the computer screen, and instead the reader just wants a short, sharp fix. I agree with Paul that where news sites are taking advantage of the "give me more" factor is in the use of multimedia and hyperlinking.

We can see this evident with almost all online news from the major news sites. Take a look at the latest news developments offered by Sky News in regard to the Burmese murders protests. They have their story, as up-to-date as this morning, the internet has been blocked in Burma. On the right of the screen they have a video player, allowing you to watch the broadcast report from Burma. They also have numerous hyperlinks, linking to related stories, videos, reports and images. More strikingly they link in the main piece to a blog, written by ko htike, a Burmese citizen attempting to bypass the state controlled media. The blog adds to the news piece a frighteningly close perspective of the events in Burma, and thus succeeds in fulfilling the 'give me more' desire whilst at the same time only being a few clicks away.

The above is a prime example of online news today. From this we can see that they were right in predicting that hyperlinking would be the biggest enhancement. Links have provided the audience with a greater context, and the link to the blog is proof that slowly but surely, big news sites and others are not scared to link to another site. Paul is correct in saying that most are still 'linking away' somewhat conservatively, and instead attempting to link to related stories and multimedia that is present on their own site.

However, even in the short 2 years since Paul published her article, there has been a growing acceptance that if you offer a good, insightful link away from your site to your readers, they are more than often likely to come back to you again, as they begin to build trust and familiarity with your site. This relationship can be further enhanced online through the communication between reporter and reader. Paul argued that back in 1995 they predicted through online news there would be no longer a "us and them" relationship, and instead the news will be democratised. Paul seems a little sceptical on how far we have come in regard to this issue. It may be that she wrote the piece in 2005, but I feel the web has allowed for a much greater and effective relationship between reader and reporter than that she gives credit for.

Sure, you can e-mail the writer, and are unlikely to receive a reply. However, comment facilities are ever-present at the end of online news pieces now, where readers can quickly leave their views and opinions, and reporters may post a comment in reply back. Blogs have rightly brought a "new wave of communication linkage" between reporters and their audience. And to disagree with Paul, almost all have comment links, creating live, emotional debate. Some news sites such as the Guardian, devote whole sections to blogs, such is the desire for them, and I feel they can adequately be up their punching their weight with the various discussion forums in the "community conversation" stakes.

Paul goes on to discuss how online news was thought to be able to offer a new expressive style, allowing the story to be told in a non-linear way. This is often not the case, because as said before, much of the online news text is the same online as its offline counterparts. However, blogs are a clear example of a new expressive form, allowing a more informal, intimate writing style.

On the whole, Paul offers a good insight into the growth and adaptation of online news over the last decade. However, one commenter on the piece offered a valid point. Paul had seemingly been blind to the numerous 'online-only publications', where all the news is written purely for the site, and many of the 1995 predictions have been convincingly fulfilled. Maybe at the time, sites such a CNET news were few and far between, but now there are many online-publications that clearly have one sole focus in delivering solid, interactive, online news content. In an attempt to generalise online news as a whole, she makes it feel that online news in it's entirety fails in fulfilling certain predictions, when in fact, there are probably news sites that are doing it, such is the vastness of the internet.

Possibly, online news has simply adapted to the demands of it's consumer. Many of the ideas brainstormed back at the "New News seminar" back in 1995 can be seen in online news today. Yet where certain ideas are not present, let us not see it as online news not fulfilling its true potential and instead see it as an example of how up-to-date, relevant, and ever changing online news is. Hey, that's half the appeal right?

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Blogs and the news agenda

After looking at Easongate I thought it would be appropriate to think about the blogosphere and it's effect on the news agenda. Clearly in the case of Eason Jordan, bloggers played a huge role in creating the news agenda.

It was a blog post that unearthed the controversy, and it was a mass collection of non-stop hounding through blogs that forced the head of a major cable network to resign. So, is this the end for the mainstream media? Not quite yet, but blogs have earned their place alongside it, and they for sure are here to stay.

Blogging is personal. Blogging is instant. Blogging is relentless. You set the agenda. As with Abovitz, you don't have to abide to journalistic codes and conventions, covering up the truth for the sake of it being 'off-the-record'. Before, blogging was seen as a tool to criticise what people were listening to and reading in the mainstream media. Bloggers would listen to what the MSM had to say, and through their blogs agree or disagree. Blogs were and probably still are seen as heavily critical to the MSM, creating tension between professional journalists and bloggers.

However, as we have seen with Eason Jordan, one cannot always rely on the MSM to deliver the goods. Often it's duty to give us the facts is hampered by some under pining agenda. Whether it be influenced by advertisers, government, whoever, the MSM have set 'THE NEWS AGENDA' for years. However, as evident through the cases discussed in class (Jordan, Trent etc.) blogging has allowed the little guy, the people, to set their own agenda, and chase the truth.

Some think of bloggers as a regulatory body. This may in some cases be true, however they have become so much more than that. Through their quest to uncover what they feel is being wrongly kept from them, or simply missed by the MSM, bloggers are helping to shape the news. Bloggers are gaining in stature, with hundreds of readers logging on for their daily dose of comment.

The instantaneous nature of blogs allows bloggers to react to a story as it happens. Leaving the papers in their wake, readers are forced online as stories break throughout the day, and can comment there and then on what the blog has published. One links the story to another, who links to another, and so the process goes, as the story gets thrown across the blogosphere. At each turn,with each post, with each comment, the story is shaped into something the MSM could never be able to create.

And now it seems everybody is having a go... even me! Seriously though, even the MSM companies and corporations have tested the water with their own blogs now. They are slowly becoming intergrated into the media as a whole. Whether bloggers like this is another thing, however it does go some way to restoring some power back to the people.

The MSM is no longer the gate keeper. It can't restrict access to what the people want in the ways it once could. Today, the MSM may even look towards bloggers for a story. The citizen journalist has become a necessity within the media, and in a world where people want their news more personal, more conversational and ultimately more accessible. This is the agenda the majority now seek, and is a product of the ever growing influence from blogging.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Eason Jordan - The man brought down by Bloggers

Eason Jordan was the former chief executive of CNN. He was forced to resign from his role as a result of the pressure from campaigning bloggers, following a controversial blog post by Ronny Abovitz, who was covering a World Economic Forum event in Davos, Switzerland.

Abovitz' post commented on an 'off-the-record' discussion, at the meeting, in which Jordan reportedly admitted to knowing of 12 journalists who were targeted and killed by US troops in Iraq. Abovitz asked him if he had any true evidence to back up the claims, as "if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park". After, Abozitz' remark, Jordan backtracked and seemingly wriggled his way out of what was a very difficult situation.

However Abovitz, a man who had never written in the mainstream media, and who was writing his first ever blog, decided to take the 'leap of faith' and ignore the notion taken by most journalists present that the subject was 'off-the-record'. He went away and created the post, headlined: "Do US Troops target journalists in Iraq?". The rest as they say, is history.

The post caused a huge stir in the blogosphere, with right wing activist bloggers swarming all over the story, keen to present Jordan's comments as evidence of a self-hating head of a liberal network. In a later post, Abovitz offers Jordan solutions, and casts slight doubts over the ethics of the bloggers who were seemingly hunting him down. He talks of the power of the 'new order' and calls for the truth from all mainstream media, or risk the wrath of the blogosphere. With no substantiation to back up his claims, Jordan was eventually forced to resign.

The whole episode is seen as a classic David vs Goliath triumph. Some would argue that the bloggers hounded out Jordan, collectively ganging together to force their predominantly right-wing agenda. Others see the essence of the story, of how a blogger went against the 'cover-up' of the mass media and simply published the truth - what was said. When Jordan's comments didn't make the news, one blogger took it upon himself to force the issue.

Abovitz subsequently wrote; "This is not a left- or right wing phenomenon." "The story is much, much bigger than Eason Jordan. This is John Lennon's Power to the People, but turbo-charged and amplified. The people want a voice, and now they really have it. Their own voice, unedited, and unfiltered. It is not pretty. The people are quite irritated, mad, and upset."

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Workplace Blog - Pizza Hut Team Member

When looking at Personal Journalism we were taken to a blog written by James Richards. He looks at Workplace blogs, and has collected a mass of different blogs at which to look at. Some may argue that due to their diary-like nature, they cannot be read as true journalism.

However, some of the personal experiences written in these blogs often have larger social references, and discuss matters that effect our lives on a day-to-day basis. Within a larger context, workplace blogs can take us to a world we don't know, whether it be the life as a paramedic, or what it's like to work in a restaurant. Either can tellus something new about the world in which we live, and in events that we actively participate in. With this in mind, I feel that workplace blogs have to be considered as a form of Journalism.

When browsing through the list, I happened to stumble upon an amusing yet intriguing blog that offered an insight into the world of restaurants, and more specifically Pizza Hut. 'Pizza Hut Team Member' is a blog written by an anonymous male who works in a Pizza Hut Express restaurant in a shopping centre somewhere in the UK. The blog seems to be well read, with the writer having 294 profile views, and each post averaging 4 comments. There is an obvious 'select' of hardcore readers, who read and comment on the blog almost daily.

The blog takes on a similar format to other retail/restaurant workplace blogs. The writer describes his day to day tasks, the various troubles he has with annoying customers and their range of requests. His writing style is short, sharp and conversational, and through humorous anecdotes he takes the reader through the 'daily-grind' and all the stupid and funny things he hears and sees whilst working.

He in parts also takes the form as a 'whistle blower' (although of course reveals nothing of any major importance), revealing newsletter comments, statements from head office regarding their situation on bird flu, and any new menu changes. He also gives us a look into some of the things that actually go on within his restaurant, whether it be the manager out back having a Red Bull and a fag, or the till being £10 down.

Some of his posts have larger social references. He speaks about Bird Flu (see link above) and the impact upon his restaurant, and Heelys and their various annoyances, both of which have been big news even in the mainstream media.

Overall, Pizza Hut Team Member is a very enjoyable blog to read, and anonymity permitting, I think the writer will be delighting us refill mishaps and ice-cream machine mayhem for some time to come.

Commenting on a Blog - Who Ate All The Pies

I read so much Online, yet as of yet have rarely crossed the final-frontier that is the comment box. This of course has to change, and so I went back to my favourite blog, Who Ate All The Pies. I done a short review of this blog right at the beginning of the course, and have been reading it ever since. However, I have never felt the urge to comment. This was until last night, when I was greeted with one of the funniest posts I have seen on the blog (and there have been a few of them).

The post was simple, but effective. A picture and matching humorous caption. Like the competitions you see in magazines and phone-ins on TV. You know, the 'insert a funny, ridiculous but perfectly suited caption here' competition. I saw it before the game and laughed. After the game,I felt compelled to comment. With Lampard gone, Gerrard put on a one man show that ultimately saved Macca's job.

My comment prompted other comments, especially from a suspected Chelsea fan who was keen to get behind Frank Lampard, and point out that in his opinion the win was meaningless and other still weren't performing. The Editor, Ollie also added a few immediate comments, which I generally agreed with. It was good as it added to the interactivity of the blog, as the commenting tool was acting like a forum. The comments went on to discuss the best team for the next match against Estonia. Team selection is always a hot topic, and didn't fail to provoke the pub-like banter you get with your mates on a night out.

After losing my commenting-virginity, I now crave more. Everyone has an opinion on everything right? It's time for us all to let it be known. I'm off to my beloved 'pies' to checkout some more of the post-match reaction.