Friday, February 23, 2007

Local papers pump up the volume

I was asked to judge the Newsquest newspaper website awards a few weeks ago and this week,The Northern Echo received the accolade it deserved.

I worked my way through (literally) several dozen sites from the Abingdon Herald to the York Press during many idle hours before reluctantly deciding on the Darlington daily. I say reluctantly, because I know the bigger papers in these groups win eveything. Problem is, there's no getting away from the fact that, when a paper, to quote my rationale, "comes at the reader in so many ways, interacts with its local radio station and produces its breaking news in such a timely and relevant way" it's going to lead the pack.

Besides, any site that includes a blog from the ghost of a former editor, deserves a deeper look.

Nigel Vincent is doing a good job in leading the online development at Newsquest. Many of the smaller papers are telling stories with video and most are big on interactivity. That's important and Fleet Street can learn a lot from these people, particularly when it comes to developing online communities.

But I was particularly interested in the way they have now let costs run away with them and allowed editors to develop from a few pre-defined templates. This means most of the sites look the same but that's not an issue for the readers as there will be virtually no crossover. The backroom work done, the editors are free to concentrate on the journalism without looking over their shoulders for the next "zillion-pound" redesign.

I chose the South Wales Argus as runner-up for this reason and placed the much smaller News Shopper in third place, mainly for the sheer enthusiasm demonstrated by a handful of people in South London in getting to grips with a new medium.

But don't just take it from me . . .

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