My favorite part of being a Communication major is that I get to talk about myself the entire time. I get to apply my experiences and opinions to the way I interpret and analyze media and advertisements. Not only that, but I was at a bar the other night and tweeted about my favorite beer for homework (my pre-med friends rolled their eyes).
And now I sit on my living room couch, coffee in hand and blanket on lap, ready to write a blog post about something cool I learned this week. Meanwhile, the same pre-med roommate is memorizing words I can’t pronounce. But that’s okay, because my strength isn’t memorization or taking blood pressure; my strength is analyzing the way humans communicate with one another to get from point A to point B.
If communication does not happen correctly or ethically, point B can be a really nasty place. But, if students like me grow up to be influential media journalists, public relations practitioners, advertisers and promoters, maybe everyone can be on the same page. Maybe getting to point B will be more like a Jamaican cruise than a carriage pulled by a pooping horse.
Speaking of pages, this week’s assignment was to analyze and edit a popular news webpage based on criteria the class has read in “Writing and Editing for Digital Media” by Brian Carroll.
The rest of this post will be dedicated to assessing the impact and success of The Christian Science Monitor centered around three major themes:
- Design. Are media layered in an interactive and understandable manner? Does the site layout focus on users’ needs?
- Accessibility. Are articles easily accessed by a simple Google search? Can users easily navigate to and from the site’s pages?
- Interactivity. Does the site use a variety of media to engage the user? Is content compromised for entertainment, or vice versa?
Before I dive into a critique, it’s important that I share how much I like The Christian Science Monitor. I find their news to be relevant, unbiased and worldly, which are qualities I look for in a news organization. Of course, every company has strengths and weaknesses, so my critique will be an attempt to identify gaps where The Christian Science Monitor can perform even better for its followers.
Advice from Brian Carroll recommends at least 20% white space on a given webpage to give readers “air” from content and clutter. While the CS Monitor seems to have about 20% white space, the balance between negative and positive space makes the top page feel cluttered. From top to bottom, the site begins with the organization’s logo and, below it, a naviagation bar. Immediately below that is an advertisement followed by large photos of news highlights. Although I like seeing news highlights at the top, white space needs to break up these three sections from one another so that the reader can smoothly skim the screen.
In addition, the news highlights are very inconsistent, which may confuse readers about where to direct their attention. At the far left is the CS Monitor’s new iPad app press release. The headline for this article is bold, justified to the right and (at my best guess) 16 point font.
Compare this highlight to the one on the far right titled “Are you smarter than an atheist? A religious quiz.” The image associated with this story is more rectangular than its counterpart on the left and its font is justified to the left instead of the right. Although The Monitor may be going for a centered and streamlined look, headlines and highlights should be formatted consistently and clearly display a hierarchy of importance.
I also prefer a slideshow of news highlights to keep me engaged and interested or one, specific highlight boxed off much like The New Yorker does (notice how much cleaner the design of this website is; readers clearly know which articles to focus on and their eyes run smoothly down the screen).
In regards to accessibility, The CS Monitor’s article headlines are very accessible. They clearly identify the purpose of the article so that the reader can decide whether or not to click on them. I also tried to see how well specific articles appear in a Google search and The CS Monitor appeared right away. However, this test is extremely unreliable because online marketers track your browser history so that websites you frequently read appear first. (Well, I think that’s the case. Correct me if I’m wrong!)
Navigating The CS Monitor is extremely intuitive and easy because of the top navigation bar with detailed drop down menus. If I want to find out more on global warming, all I need to do is hover over the “Energy/Environment” tab at the top navigation menu and click “Global Warming” from the dropdown.
The organization of CS Monitor categories makes the site extremely easy to access. However, as mentioned before, the website design, typography and photo size choices hinder accessibility by cluttering the page. Besides that, I find The Christian Science Monitor very accessible.
The CS Monitor’s interactivity is average. Compared to many other websites that are text-heavy, it does a wonderful job. On the other hand, superior news sites employ innovative web designers that engage readers in the content, trapping them on the site for hours on end. Compare The CS Monitor’s visual elements with that of The Chauncey Baily Project (I found out about this website through Carroll’s book). News is presented in a variety of ways: interactive timelines, slideshows, video, photos and old fashioned text. The stories are also easy to read because the site has a clean, straightforward design.
Overall, I would give The Christian Science Monitor an A for accessibility, a B for interactivity and a C for design. Unfortunately, accessibility and interactivity are sometimes hindered by an inconsistent and cluttered design.
What do you think? Are there any online newspapers with superior design, accessibility and interactivity?