More than an ordinary church

 

  

The corner of Ninth and College street is the home of many family gatherings and meaningful traditions. Pillar Church overlooks this corner and is immediately noticeable. It is white and majestic, with four large pillars welcoming the community congregation into its doors.

We were curious to hear what was going on inside, so we walked up the sidewalk, beneath the pillars and opened the large wooden doors to be greeted by church member Kathy Dreyer. 

Today, Dreyer and other church members gathered inside to celebrate, mourn and, ultimately, come together in faith. 

“Today, Tuesday, we celebrate the life of a member’s mother who passed away on Good Friday,” said Dreyer. 

  

Although the room was quiet and sadness hung in the air, Dreyer was positive about the church community. She focused on the fullness of life within the church rather than death. 

“And this Saturday,” she said, “we celebrate a new kind of life of the marriage of two church members.” 

From celebrating the beginning of life to the end, Pillar Church has proven to be more than a community, but a family of believers dedicated to celebrating every step of life together. 

Teamwork tells the truth

The greatest thing I learned in gradeschool was teamwork. I got in trouble for stealing toys and crayons and was forced to go on “playdates” with my neighbors. On top of it all, I was a girl scout. I wore brown trousers held to my waist by a thin strip of elastic, and a button-up shirt with a too-tight collar.

From early mornings at school to late nights selling cookies, I learned how to be a part of a team. I found out that I could accomplish much more with the help of my friends, family and peers. When I teamed up with my neighbor Liz to sell cookies, I sold dozens more and even got a badge for it.

A cookie badge, can you believe it?! 

Now, as a budding journalist, I reflect on this lesson to a much larger scale. With teamwork, I can create stories that get more cookie badges than Oprah’s audience members get TV’s.

What I’m trying to say is this: a journalist can’t report the truth without a wide network of sources.

Like I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, crowdsourcing is one of the most powerful ways to advance collective knowledge. It not only gathers the perspectives, opinions and facts of others citizens, but it is often self-correcting. The journalist can rely on communities to weed out trolls and offer their most honest version of truth. And, with a bit more investigation, journalists can develop stories that would not have been possible without the public network.

One of the greatest examples of this is Paul Lewis’s Ted Talk on citizen journalism. By harnessing the power of social media, Lewis was able to investigate two deaths and persuade authorities that they were, in fact, murders. Lewis gathered eyewitness testimony, photos and videos via Twitter to eventually convict the men responsible for the crimes.

Likewise, journalist Brian Conley’s Ted Talk focuses on the power of local media. Through experiences in India and Afghanistan, Conley has connected with local people that want to tell their stories.

“They have no reason to feel positive about their lives,” he said, “Yet they’re really doing it. They really wanna make media. They really wanna tell their stories. And the question is whether or not you and other people will listen.”

He said that we can help people tell their stories by using new technologies, like cell phones, to connect with one another online. Citizen journalism, in this way, is the new form of journalism. It is changing the way people give and receive news.

I agree with both Lewis and Conley. We must utilize networks and involve the public to make news and tell meaningful stories. Although this requires teamwork between strangers, I think it is the most powerful and necessary type of teamwork.

Original image courtesy of girlscoutshs.org

Original image courtesy of girlscoutshs.org

By connecting with strangers online, citizen journalists can discover the truth together. Without collaboration, each news story will be one-sided and may ignore key details.

Without teamwork, journalists forgo the opportunity to create something revolutionary. Instead, they settle for a story that’s easy and ordinary like the “natural” death of a man that was actually a murder.

Sharing stories and networking online  is like selling girl scout cookies. It’s easier with a team.

Review of “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution”

97816094973161

“Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution” by Lisa Rose Starner. Photo courtesy of grandrapidsfoodaculinaryrevolution.com

“I always hear, ‘we ran out of food stamps because mom had to sell them all,'” said Amy Bowditch in the prologue of “Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution.” Bowditch is a member of the group Treehouse Community Gardeners that has received funding to grow a community garden in the southeast side of Grand Rapids. She meets the city’s children, mothers, fathers and more at this garden. She hears their stories and provides them with nutritious food.

Bowditch is one of many Grand Rapids residents featured in Lisa Rose Stamer’s paperback documentary. Stamer has background in anthropology and community health; her historical novel accurately reflects her expertise in this area while still giving voice to other Grand Rapids residents. She utilizes her knowledge as a platform to conduct interviews and research on the Grow Local and organic food movement, yet still partners with those on the “front lines” of the movement to tell the story.

“Delicious, fresh, healthy, local food. That is the mission of Lisa Rose Starner, to get as many of as possible to eat local. And there’s plenty of that happening in Grand Rapids, from community gardens to microbreweries to food entrepreneurs and artisans and so much more,” said NPR’s Cynthia Canty in response to the book.

For the most part, I agree with Canty. The author’s purpose for writing and passion for healthy food is extremely clear.

She covers all topics every Foodie is interested in knowing: How to cook organic, why we should support local markets (including benefits to the self and to the community), the development of farms and microbreweries in Grand Rapids and, ultimately, the cultural revolution that ties all these aspects together.

However, the attention her book has received may not be fulfilling the intent she clearly outlined in the prologue. The book begins with a heavy emotional appeal about strangers bonding over food in a garden and gardeners themselves helping the poor. But does the book move either of these items higher on the public agenda?

Ultimately, her novel achieves the goal of informing the public about local restaurants. I would agree that readers of her novel would be more likely to begin eating local than those that have not read it.

I don’t believe that it has assisted those with poverty that prevents them from buying organic food. Should her novel have been target to another audience? Perhaps she should have included lessons and seminars on how the Grand Rapids community can begin bridging the health gaps between rich and poor.

The bigger the better: How online networking can help social media wannabes

Before learning otherwise, I had a few assumptions about social networking online:

  1. That videos, images and blog posts went “viral” only if the author was already influential or “internet famous”
  2. YouTube celebrities that came to public attention because of only one video were probably discovered by someone that is famous. For example, Ellen DeGeneres often features her favorite YouTube stars.
  3. Social media serves those who seek entertainment or news, but nothing in between.
  4. Breaking into the social media bubble is nearly impossible for an ordinary college student because of everything listed above.

However, chapter 5 of “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online” by Howard Rheingold explained, step by step, how online networks form and how they can be utilized.

The way someone builds an online network is similar to the way media benefits human collaboration in the first place. Rheingold writes about these processes in chapter 4 of “NetSmart”, which I summarized in a previous blog post.

However, if you don’t want to read that whole blog post, the main point is the importance of collaboration through the internet. Because the Web can connect people of different intelligence levels, cultures, environments, experiences and so on, it benefits all of humanity from our combined power. Mass collaboration is possible because of the online world while the online world thrives and provides value for humanity because of this mass collaboration.

Mass collaboration is even more feasible after looking at the theory of online networking. First, most humans can connect with another stranger by tracing back seven people in his or her social network. Essentially, this happens when someone says, “my friend’s friend had an uncle whose daughter lived in Spain…”

Two strangers can, theoretically, find a connection to one another like this with only seven links in between. This is called the “small world phenomenon”.

However, the internet has multiplied this phenomenon. It utilizes small networks while reinforcing the usefulness of large, loose networks, such as followers on Twitter or Facebook. Although these followers are not in my personal network, they are still a loose part of the larger network of people, places and ideas I have access to.

With the amount of people who have Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, just imagine how many social media users’ large networks overlap.

That’s lots of networking. Lots of knowledge. And lots of potential.

My problem is that I don’t know how to access this potential. Like I said in the beginning of this post, I used to think that Hollywood and YouTube celebrities were the ones with the largest networks, the best ideas and the funniest jokes. However, Rheingold lays out eight specific ways an ordinary person like me can get involved online:

  1. Explore
  2. Search
  3. Follow
  4. Tune
  5. Feed
  6. Engage
  7. Inquire
  8. Respond

He goes into detail about what each of these responsibilities entails but the essential rule of thumb is to simply be involved. Be active. Treat followers like you would your friends: don’t leave them hanging, respond to their messages, talk back and don’t ask stupid questions. just like friends, online users can get annoyed and drop you like a bad habit. Rheingold’s example of this pertained to the seventh process, inquire. He encourages new social media users to avoid asking questions that are easily Google-able.

Communities that engage with one another ask genuine questions and solve them together.

This was the best bit of advice I found in chapter five. It was specifically helpful because I am not good at maintaining “lose” networks with strangers online. I am much better at intimate, small networks within my college and hometown. However, if I treat the online community as a place to learn, grow and invest my time in, I am confident that I can learn the true power of networking.

All for one (brain) and one for all (bigger brain)

Over the past few days, my interpretation of the World Wide Web has changed. I actually never thought about it for that long or hard as a human creation that, from the beginning, was created for worldwide collaboration and communication. In a world of selfishness and greed to land a hefty ROI on new inventions, the fact that the Web is so accessible truly amazes me. In fact, I’m currently writing this post at a coffee shop using free WiFi (although I did buy a coffee).

Ultimately, the World Wide Web makes us smarter. It gives mankind one giant brain to pull ideas, resources and answers from; it’s made me smarter every single day because of the intelligence of others.

The book that changed my opinion was “Net Smart” by Howard Rheingold. He defines five forms of mass collaboration in the chapter “Social-Digital Know-How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence” and, because his input affected me so greatly, I would like to summarize and reflect on each form of collaboration: collective intelligence, virtual communities, social production, crowdsourcing and wiki collaboration.

Collective intelligence

Henry enkins refers to collective intelligence as “a situation where norbody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given members knows is accessible to any other member upon request and on ad hoc basis” in his 2006 writing “Collective Intelligence vs. the Wisdom of Crowds.”

This definition depicts a process I notice every single week at The Curragh Irish Pub’s trivia night. The trivia questions are random and difficult, and most team members don’t know the answers by themselves. However, teammates will think about each question aloud and prompt informational recall in other players. Collectively, the group often answers each question correctly. But they only do so by working together to harness the intelligence of each individual.

The internet works in much the same way and allows whole communities to solve complex problems. A few examples Rheingold cited was the website Climate CoLab and the research conducted by The Center for Collective Intelligence.

Virtual communities

As the name implies, virtual communities are defined by Rheingold as “a group of people who may or may not meet one another face to face, and who exchange ideas through the mediation of computer bulliten boards and networks” (“Virtual Communities”, 1987).

The wonderful McLovin from “Superbad”. (Photo courtesy of themoviescore.com)

The first virtual community I thought of was Twitter. It collects and connects people from all over the world at the same time. One great example was the other day when I was watching the movie  “Superbad”. As the movie was playing on Comedy Central, a hashtag trended on the bottom of the screen, encouraging watchers to converse and “hang out” while watching the movie together.

As Rheingold suggests, these virtual communities are computer-mediated communications but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. The people that I talked with on Twitter felt like my friends for those few hours; I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie alone anymore.

However, my experience was not a true community as we know the term. Rheingold stresses that communities are longer term interactions, where people connect and feel supported on a regular basis.

Although I have not actually experienced this sense of virtual community, this new form of communication intrigues me. Understanding the fact that these communities are real, and not degrading those that participate in online forums, is a new form of media literacy essential to surviving as a respectable millennial.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is the third form of mass collaboration, and learning about it truly enlightened me. This concept reminds me of collective intelligence in that many people gather together for one purpose. However, in crowdsourcing, the purpose normally serves the greater good.

One example of this is the First Aid Corps iPhone app that used the experiences and mutual interest of the public to map where cardiac defibrillators are around the world. Mapping the location of these technologies through crowdsourcing uses many people to accomplish one task that, in many cases, can be lifesaving. This cause specifically resonates with me because of a local high school basketball player, Wes Leonard, that could have been saved by an on-site AED.

Crowdsourcing does more than map AED’s, though. It gathers people of similar interests to impact their community through collective action, donations and intelligence. Rheingold even cites instances in which websites utilize the public to contribute to scientific findings.

All the social good that can be completed through crowdsourcing is the essence of democracy. Learning about the power of the Web to enable crowdsourcing resassured me of the goodness of humanity. It’s beautiful.

Social production

Social production relies on crowdsourcing to normal processes of industrial production to form “commons-based peer-production”. Yochai Benkler proposed this form of production in 2002 as a process that creates data and resources for the open-source Web that anyone can use. Although some argue against social production because those that don’t contribute still benefit from the final product, Rheingold argues that this is not a true concern because the cost of “free riders” is significantly less than the overwhelming benefit of collective production.

One example of social production is Wikipedia, which Rheingold refers to as the fifth form of mass collaboration. I hadn’t seen Wikipedia as a true source of knowledge until taking the time to learn more about it.

Now, I think that Wikipedia is a reliable source of information. Anyone can edit a wiki page, but I think that this lends more reliability to the content; the way that Wikipedia operates with a “recent edits” tab, ability for editors to comment back and forth to one another and constant updates sent to main contributors -serves as a system of checks and balances.

In fact, I argue that Wikipedia should be encouraged as a resource for students to reference in their research papers. Wikipedia utilizes collective intelligence and perspectives to come to a conclusion. I cannot say the same, however, for textbooks and research articles that are written by one or two authors. Although these authors may be more educated and “reliable” than the general public, they are also human and humans are prone to bias. Whether or not we would like to admit it, every “scholarly” source will have information in it that others disagree with. In order to be the most fair and reliable, why not reference a source such as Wikipedia that was written by multiple authors in the first place?

I would be interested to see how recent events have changed Rheingold’s interpretation of collaboration. Is it still relevant? Does Wikipedia still function the same way or has it encountered more problems that offer validation to anti-wiki arguments? Although I haven’t done much research beyond Rheingold’s writings, my personal experience with the online world is that it does still encourage mass collaboration.

Overall, Rheingold’s book “Net Smart” has truly changed my opinion about the beauty of the Web. I now see it as a source of innovation, collaboration and unity in a world so often ravaged by arguments and warfare.

Blogging for no one to read. Why bother?

Sometimes blogging is like sticking my head in an empty pot of honey. It’s supposed to be sweet and satisfying, but it ends up empty. “Hello! Hello?” I yell, and no one responds. Sometimes blogging is like Winnie the Pooh. Why even bother?

Photo courtesy of roamingrosie.com

 

I’ve heard that Twitter functions in much the same way. It’s like “shouting into the void” due to an overabundance of information. Almost anyone can have an opinion nowadays and become a professional blogger or social media superstar.

However, I still believe that quality can outshine quantity.

The history of blogging is proof of this. Josh Micah Marshall analyzed major political news and, because of it, removed Trent Lott from the Senate Majority Leader in 2002. Likewise, the blog “Power Line” exposed falsified reports presented as fact by CBS News in 2004. Both of these bloggers showed what a powerful influence citizen journalism can be.

Within a few years, many more jumped on the bandwagon. It is now commonplace for people of all professions to have a personal blog (even if it’s not a good one). These wagon-riders, however, do not get the online traffic that media professionals do. Therefore, they are not fair to call “competitors” that widen the void professional bloggers shout into.

Although blogging has become diluted, it is still relevant and useful to those who use it well.

An example of this is live blogging. Those who are close to events and blog about them as they unfold are a great source of information.

“Journalism has been called the first draft of history, so a good journalistic live blog can serve as the first draft of journalism,” Brian Carroll said in his how-to book “Writing and Editing for Digital Media.” And I agree! Bloggers provide personal insight, emotional accounts and otherwise unheard perspectives that are useful for storytelling. They can help professional journalists collect sources for the nightly news, or they can help the ordinary citizen access personal perspectives about an issue so he or she can form an opinion.

Ultimately, some will be boring bloggers and some will be great. It is those who write well, research thoroughly and utilize the internet to its maximum potential are the reason blogging is still useful. Its gives media professionals feedback and serves as a system of checks and balances while giving ordinary citizens deeper insight into complex issues.

My advice? Keep on blogging! Give a bother about the topics that interest you. Research well. Write well. Engage with your audience. And don’t let the haters bother your bothers.

Photo courtesy of memegenerator.net

Pianos thrown in the dump actually went “thud”

I’ve been playing piano since I was about six years old. My dad bought me an electric keyboard and a beginner’s piano book, and I worked my way through “Three Blind Mice”. Since then, I’ve lulled my grandparents to sleep with Fur Elise and started parties with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.

With that said, it was hard to see pianos get thrown in a dump.

I recently read through the article “For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump” posted by The New York Times. The story features a family business, O’Mara Meehan Piano Movers, and how this business is reacting to the economy; because of electronic pianos, traditional uprights have declined in value so much that old ones aren’t worth repair. The piano movers have no choice but to toss the unwanted pianos in a landfill, rip them apart with a crane and bury them in the soil.

The story was communicated with an article and corresponding video. Although it was only four minutes long, it still provided readers insight into the life of the company’s vice president, Bryan O’Mara, and the process of throwing away pianos.

However, I don’t feel like the story did enough to interest and impact me as a reader. This is additionally disappointing because seeing pianos thrown away breaks little bits of my musical heart.

I’ve found that a better way to truly engage readers in a story is through multimedia journalism. This not only makes stories fun to read, but it captures the audience’s attention and keeps it there. Online readers have many stimuli grabbing their eye: ads, videos, hyperlinks and photos, just to name a few. So how can an online journalist make sure that readers keep their eye on the prize?

Multimedia is one of the best ways. It keeps and captures  attention by competing with the other “noise” rampant on the internet.

One example of an article that utilized multimedia well is “How the Jackie Robinson West saga unfolded (timeline)”. As the title implies, the article was written in a timeline format. It includes photos, dates and short snippets of information to update readers on a recent conflict in Chicago. It is easy to navigate and scroll through, which immediately informs the reader what he or she is getting into when clicking on the article hyperlink. There is no guesswork, no boredom and no wondering when the article is going to wrap up.

Another story package I found is much more elaborate, but still a good example of multimedia journalism to learn from. I came across the article “Rebuilding Haiti” on interactivenarratives.org, which provides a plethora of interesting reads, and was immediately hooked. Although the headline is not particularly creative, the deck challenges readers to become a part of the narrative and ropes them in. Next, the story provides a prologue rich with background information, photos and pull quotes to keep readers visually engaged. The most interactive piece of the story uses a quiz to guide readers through the material.

It’s genius, really. And extremely fun.

I would not say the same for the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Although it highlighted the impact of dumping pianos by using a documentary-style video interview, it did not keep me hooked. I felt that the content was redundant toward the end of the story, and I could have stopped reading at the first page. Photos and pull quotes could have helped keep me interested.

Another great option for this story would have been sidebar material or infographics. The New York Times’ graphic designers could have made an infographic showing the amount of pianos bought per year versus thrown away and donated. Likewise, a sidebar or slideshow of different perspectives, photos or more information about the value of pianos could have enhanced its effectiveness. Since I grew up playing piano, I know their worth. But would someone who does not appreciate pianos in the same way still comprehend the impact of the story? I’m not so sure.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but “For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump” went thud. The content was there, but it could have utilized multimedia in a more strategic, interactive way.

*Disclaimer: my post about interactive multimedia does not contain any interactive multimedia. But it’s okay. It’s just a blog post*

My reaction to “The American-Made Benny”

*featured image courtesy of MediaStorm*

My reaction to “The American-Made Benny” has many layers, like onions and Shrek.

If you have not watched this 25-minute documentary, it is well worth your time. Created by MediaStorm, a company of professionals and media students dedicated to digital storytelling, “The American-Made Benny” is the story of a Vietnam veteran living with PTSD, an unhappy wife, no job and a garage full of other people’s valuables. He is a self-proclaimed “garbologist” that his neighbor calls a “good guy” but his daughter calls crazy.

At the surface level, my heart was warmed by the ability for journalists to reach deeply into a man’s life and tell his story. It’s a story of terror and triumph -one that Americans can both admire and despise at the same time.

After peeling back that first layer I began to notice anger. I felt angry at the American government and upset that Benny lived a life that, frankly, I would not want for myself or anyone I know.

Lastly, I was confused. I realized that Benny’s story had more layers than a beach ball sized onion and that a 25-minute interview could not rightfully communicate it all. In fact, I began to feel bad for those involved in Benny’s life. I understood what made him so eccentric and harsh, but my skin still crawled when he called his wife “bitch”.

“On paper it sounded perfect: a former sanitation worker who now sells other people’s garbage out of his garage… but as is often the case, the reality was full of surprises,” said the documentary’s producer, Eric Maierson.

Although Benny seemed like a journalist’s dream come true, the production staff soon found their film to be filled with ethical concerns. First, Benny is an avid marijuana smoker that doesn’t “find anything wrong with it”. Second, he recollects moments in his life that may or may not have happened and, if they did, he tells his story with extreme bias (as all people do).

He talks about a time he was put in jail for three days after being wrongly accused of hitting his daughter. Benny claims he was breaking up a sibling fight and was simply caught in the middle, whereas his wife is the one that tends to hit him. True or not, it is difficult to present such accusations to the American public without hearing the wife’s side. What if community members saw this video and treated her differently because of it? What if Benny’s story is completely fabricated and the wife is viewed negatively because of it? In fact, the workshop leader of the production team,  Rob Finch, recalled a conversation with Benny’s daughter and wife: “It was clear they were concerned about the project,” he said, “They told me about drugs, alchohol, mental illness, verbal abuse, and general meanness.” However, Finch could not persuade them to participate in a formal interview.

The documentary provides enough information for the audience to notice that Benny is not a stable man. However, certain scenes generate pity or admiration from the audience. Should these scenes have been included if Benny is not all that meets the eye, as his family suggests?

Personally, I would not have publicized the documentary in the way MediaStorm did. Although the story is intriguing, which is the essence of journalism -telling a captivating story that, otherwise, would be left untold -I think that it could have been produced differently. For example, MediaStorm could have deviated from their typical storytelling template and included interviews of staff that worked with Benny. Or, at the very least, encouraged viewers to click “The Challenge of The American-Made Benny” immediately after the original film fades to black.

While discussing the challenges of production, Maierson admits that he still struggles with his decision.

“Did I provide enough clues to allow someone to make informed decisions, or did I simply say, ‘Here’s what Benny says; you figure it out.’? I worry it’s the latter,” he said.

Although it is a  journalist’s duty to report news and provide a voice to the voiceless, it is ultimately a reporters duty to depict the truth. In this case, the production team was aware that Benny’s interview may not have been an accurate portrayal of his life and, because of that, should have provided additional commentary or resources to viewers in order to justify publicizing a potentially unethical film.

Rating The Christian Science Monitor website

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.

Design

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.

CS monitor

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).

Accessibility

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 CS Monitor navigationMonitor 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.

Interactivity

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?