Effectiveness of Online News Hampered By Repetition

Online newspaper headlines are doing a poor job of presenting information to readers, said the editor of the online edition of the leading Colombian newspaper.

“If you have the attention of the reader, you need to present new information,” said Guillermo Franco, editor of ElTiempo.com, based in Bogota, Colombia. “There is a lot of information repeated.”

Franco presented examples during the International Symposium on Online Journalism from various major newspaper websites — such as the Washington Post, New York Times, El Mundo and El Pais from Spain, and La Nacion from Argentina. He pointed out how many of these sites repeated information presented in the headline in other sections, such as the subhead, summary and deck.

“Was it necessary to repeat information elements to deliver new ones? The answer is no,” said Franco.

Franco finds fault with many of the online newspapers because they use traditional print concepts for online content.

“They assume the reader reads everything word-by-word,” said Franco. “Is this the case? I don’t think so.”

He also talked about some efficient home pages, which he categorized as the ones that repeat information the least.
Franco said he has been trying to solve the problem and used El Tiempo as a good example of how a newspaper site can present information.

“Eltiempo.com creates one sole version of each (story), written according to the principle of the inverted pyramid,” he said. “In reality this means eliminating the headline and the deck or summary as they are conceived in print media.” Franco believes online newspapers can do a better job of presenting information by moving away from the print models that have been used regularly. Avoiding repetition in headlines and leads is a good start in changing online news design, he said.

“There are only basic guidelines (for writing online),” said Franco. “There are no complete guidelines for writing online.”

When asked if repetition could be beneficial to some readers in helping them better retain information, Franco’s answer was quick and short.

ISOJ 2004: Research on Online Journalism, from Knight Center on Vimeo.