Thursday, September 13, 2012

Repeatedly repetitious repetition

I pointed out at The Orion critique this week a problem with words and phrases that repeat. If a reporter finds himself or herself writing committee in two successive sentences, it's an invitation to
a) combine the sentences to get rid of one of the mentions
b) replace one of the committees with a pronoun, or
c) replace one of the committees with a synonym.

The same problem pops up on the website home page pretty frequently. Here's a screen capture from the other day:

Notice the duplicated photos. The headline (this time without the photo of the student cleaning up the river) is duplicated again farther down the home page. The photo itself appears in the Week in Photos module, too. One day earlier this week, a photo from the Brett Olson search appeared in the top rotator, the Recent Headlines slot in the top right corner of the page and as the first item in the news section list just below the photo rotator.

I hope it goes without saying that once is enough when it comes to the number of times a photo (or anything else) appears on the home page.

Blame the problem on the way things used to be done on the website. When most of the content was dumped onto on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the chance that a story or photo would be a featured story,  a recent headline and the item at the top of the news section on the home page was pretty slim. But now, as news is posted on the website every day and sometimes more than once a day, the old organizational scheme is a repetition trap waiting to happen.

The solution is to reconfigure the home page modules so they don't contain automatic feeds or placement modules, with the exception of the sports and news Twitter feeds. Instead, lay out the home page the way you'd lay out a new page 1A on a daily newspaper...with completely fresh content every day. It's a lot of work, especially if the home page is going to carry 40-some stories at a time. Which should lead to the conclusion that the page needs to get simpler and less crowded.

I'd be a fan of getting rid of the section modules (News, Sports, Features, Opinion) all together, leaving it to readers to figure out that clicking on the horizontal menu items just under the flag will magically transport them to content pages of the same names.

In place of the home page section listings, I'd position the things websites do best: a video module, a slideslow module, blogs (when you get 'em), polls and anything else interactive. I'd keep the latest news where it is, high on the page, along with the photo rotator and the daily webcast, another bit of content guaranteed to be fresh every morning.

Getting rid of the repetition will have the added benefits of making the page easier to navigate and making it easier to find what's new on the website.

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