“I want to tear my hair out,” said a caller last week. “Why are things so different and hard to find on your website?”
Her outrage was tongue in cheek, but she was expressing a constant complaint from loyal print readers: The Kansas City Star’s website, KansasCity.com, often differs dramatically from the print edition, in content and presentation.
But contrary to what many may believe, that isn’t because of disorganization or accident. The site is a different beast from the paper very much by design.
Both online and in print, The Star focuses primarily on news from the Kansas City area. When the staff looks at national and international stories, it’s generally to explain their impact or relevance to Kansas Citians.
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In the age of cable news and 24/7 Internet, that strategy only makes sense. Why should journalists in Kansas City chase stories from Florida, Maine or Paris? (And even though regional papers such as The Star used to maintain more bureau outposts in the past than they do today, they still historically relied almost exclusively on the wire services for that coverage even in their fattest days.)
But about 55 percent of the traffic to KansasCity.com comes from outside the region. That means the majority of online viewers don’t have ready access to a print paper. The two audiences are quite separate.
The website’s main page updates dozens, even hundreds of times a day. The story occupying the top spot is switched out frequently to give viewers something new to look at on repeat visits. Virtually everything that runs in print also shows up online, but there is much more content on the Web, where there are no space constraints. This is how it should work.
The paper has more permanence. Its editorial choice should be more measured, more curated. Readers often tell me one of the reasons they greatly prefer the print edition is that they want to know what’s most important by seeing what has been chosen for most prominent play. And that’s also why they sometimes quibble with stories they feel have been given too much or too little attention in that edition. Keep those judgment calls coming.
Maybe the most common frustration from print readers trying to navigate the site comes when they try to search for something they enjoyed in the paper and want to share with their online friends.
My hair-pulling caller last week was running into roadblocks while trying to find a story by using KansasCity.com’s (imperfect) site search function. She had understandably plugged the print headline into the site’s search box, but hadn’t found what she was looking for.
The reason was that the online headline was completely different from what ran in print. This is a common occurrence, as headline writers approach the two quite differently.
In print, headlines have tight physical limitations. The letters need to fill the allotted space, but not overflow. This is why we’ve grown used to newspaper headlines’ unusual linguistic conventions.
Online, there are no such constraints. Headlines can be as descriptive and as long as editors wish. The more keywords to guide search engines, the better.
The good news is that a redesign of the paper and the website is currently underway, and one of its goals is to make the two more concordant. They will never be identical (though the E-Star replica edition fills that hole: estar.kcstar.com). But they can — and should — resemble one another more than they do now.