As most of you have certainly noticed, wibw.com has undergone a dramatic makeover in the past several weeks. We attacked the challenging task of redesigning the site focused on two often conflicting goals: to simplify the layout and increase the amount of information readily available.
While our two aims frequently clashed, we believe we found the right balance. The number of headlines on our Home Page leaped from under 25 to seventy, with more to come; plus we made it easier to find all the sections within the channel. Yet, when seeing the site for the first time, the vast majority of people comment on its newfound cleanliness.
We made sacrifices to maintain this harmony on the site, most notably, the amount of ad space on the front page. Others may have their reasons, but for me everything revolved around an ideal.
Firstly, the site should be aesthetically pleasing.
Secondly, this is journalism, as real as any other format.
In fact, the Internet provides an ability like no other medium. For the first time, the reader (or viewer) could choose what is most important to him/ her. That is a wonderful power for the user, but it confers to us the additional responsibility to make as much information as possible available.
To that end, we offer our readers hundreds upon hundreds of stories each month, hoping to ensure that whatever a visitor wants, they will find.
But no matter what, getting you story matters most of all.
We are a medium and our duty is to get you the story, as truthfully and accurately as possible. But we are not perfect and I recognize that. For that reason I made what I considered my most radical proposal for our Web channel: to include the top stories from our competitors, which would link readers from our site directly to theirs.
I intended no malice toward my competing media, while fully expecting their bean-counters to enjoy the extra viewership and their journalists to smile at one of the fullest expressions of the free press imaginable.
From every conceivable angle, this idea was a win-win. Our readers find more articles, in many cases they could find multiple perspectives of the same important story and our competitors would receive more traffic from viewers we referred. The only possible loser could be us, if our readers did not return. But, I had faith in our journalists, so I pushed for it and surprisingly won. They now sit at the bottom of our home page, as well as an entire page of news sources from across the state.
Then to my surprise, other local media do not share my views on freedom of the press and the importance of distributing information to the public.
Today, I was forced by the World Company to remove their television station (KTKA) and newspaper (The Lawrence Journal-World) from our page. While not censorship, since its not legally imposed, it sure felt like it. I cannot imagine why a company claiming journalistic integrity would fight so desperately to hide their stories from potential readers.
As any reader of many mainstream Web sites will attest, the process of linking from a headline to a story within another Web site, which appears to be the primary concern of KTKA and their owners, is common and widely accepted. Anyway, since we are linking to their site, they have full control over what the reader finds when they arrive there, including links to other stories and (don't tell anyone) their own Home page.
Now, if I entered the courtroom with this battle I do not know who would win, but I do know in the real world who benefits... and I guess I'll just have to learn my lesson about doing what our Founding Fathers asked of my profession and stop worrying about the public interest.