Does Your Website Still Suffer from News Sickness?

News sickness is when web editors are forced to prioritize scarce time and resources, in order to write make-believe news articles that nobody reads or cares about.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails. And when the tool you have is a Content Management System (CMS) with a news article template, your website content look like news.

As a result of this, your website will inevitably suffer from “news sickness”, or the tendency to think of content production on your website in terms of news production.

That’s fine if you happen to run an online newspaper. Then you would be able to produce real news stories that are timely and newsworthy, and which have real sensations and conflicts.

But your organization isn’t a newspaper or a media company. If you pretend to be one, you’ll most likely end up producing organization-centric “news” that users couldn’t care less about.

Fake news

There are a number of reasons why this kind of “fake news” is the wrong format for your website content.

Organization-centric news articles are

  • short-lived content without any lasting value
  • seldom seen or read by the users
  • not suited to solving real user tasks
  • extremely costly to produce

And even worse: they end up clogging navigation and search results, which actually prevents users from finding the information they’re after.

Internal needs

Unfortunately, the news article format caters perfectly to the internal, political need that the organization should appear relevant and up-to-date.

Number and frequency of news articles also happens to look like the perfect Key Performance Indicator. Some web editors even have these numbers as a personal bonus target in their job description!

Because of this, and because “everyone else does it”, organizations waste time and money producing meaningless “news” every day.

Newspapers, on their hand, have an editorial organization, a business model (or they used to!) and a range of topics and sources to get their news from.

Most organizations do not have any of these elements in place. Yet do many still have news production as their main activity on the website.

No help at all

The fact is that the majority of visitors to your website have entirely other needs than reading your self-congratulatory news.

In contrary, they are looking for information that helps them solve specific task, like:

  • finding out if it pays to be a member of an organization
  • finding the opening hours for a local library
  • finding and comparing prices for cell phone plans
  • finding a particular project and contacting the project manager

News articles cater to none of these scenarios. As a user, if you’re lucky, you might find a news story that is related to the subject you’re interested in. But more likely, the article is outdated and without relevant links to what you are after.

And that is the gist of the news article: after a week it no longer has any value. It is forgotten, and lays rotting in the archive.

And if someone should stumble over it, it stinks.

I wrote this rant 12 years ago, but it still seems to be relevant for many websites and organizations. The cure for news sickness is to devote time and money to create core pages with lasting value for both the user and the organization. That’s why I’m writing a book about The Core Model. You can peek in on the writing process here: http://bit.ly/coremodelbook

You might also want to check out this related rant: The Tale of a Typical Website

Thanks to Bjørn Bergslien and Chris Atherton.

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