News Editing and Design
February 13, 2001
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: a comparison of print and Web versions
- The overall design and perceived readership of the Web site’s home page appear distinctly different from the print version. Regarding design, the print version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (State Edition) is a broadsheet publication that has an underlying column grid but uses bastard measure extensively on its front page. Two of the most prominent stories are boxed in at the top.
The content of the front-page articles is business/political. One story, “Scientists hit the bull’s-eye in space,” would be considered news because of the novelty of a spacecraft landing on an asteroid. Also, only one of the top stories is aimed at a local audience, “Record taxes paid in state in 2000.” The others all focus on matters of national importance, and interestingly, none are about world news. Also, only two of the five major stories are by MJS staff writers. Two are from a wire service, Knight Ridder News Service, and the other is reprinted from The New York Times.
The far left column of the page is occupied by refers offering snippets of information about other stories on various subjects featured within the newspaper. Some of the topics given refers include sports, national news, world news, metro and state news, business, encore and Cue (entertainment sections), and MJSTech.com (technology).
The perceived readership seems to be, rightly, a statewide audience that is interested in more than what is happening in Milwaukee. I think that placing a photograph of Michael Bennett in the sports story refer, “Tailback Bennett arrested in Madison,” focuses some of the readers’ attention on that issue of statewide interest. However, it surprises me that a major metro-daily newspaper does not have a world-news related story on the front page, not even one involving our country, i.e. the president working with a council in some other nation.
The Web version of the MJS seems to aim at a Wisconsin audience too, with large refers about Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge, UW tailback Michael Bennett, etc. However, the content also covers national events like the Academy Awards. Unlike the print version, the online version utilizes world news stories, with story headlines such as “El Salvador quake kills 127 people,” and “Tokyo stocks fall 141 points.”
The content of the online version also extends beyond the political and business-oriented stories focused on in the print version. In the print version, sports, entertainment, etc. were emphasized in the side column refers; in the online version, the central part of the page (the white space between the two gray side columns) is broken down into news, sports, business, entertainment and Valentine’s Day sections. The online version serves as a summary of the entire newspaper; full-length articles are not provided.
Instead of full stories, three main stories are given refers and others allotted only headlines. Both side columns have refers as well. Also interesting is that the lists of headlines capitalize the first letter of every word, rather than just that of the first word and proper nouns (normal AP style). Also, due to the use of all headlines and refers, the online version is able to pack more stories (or the mention of them) onto its homepage. Fewer stories are mentioned on the print front page.
- As mentioned in No. 1, the print version of the newspaper emphasizes local and national political and business news content, while the online version focuses on a wide array of issues of local, national and international importance.
The most prominent story in the online version appears to be “Hoan may reopen Saturday.” It focuses on the Hoan Bridge, located on I-794 in Milwaukee County. It is a story of ongoing interest to readers since the bridge was closed Dec. 13 because of cracks that made it unsafe for use. The online version shows which stories are most important by giving them large paragraph-length refers while providing only headline links to less crucial stories.
The print version shows a story’s prominence by providing it with a larger headline, placing it near the top of the front page, and/or by using a large graphic to draw attention to it. The most prominent story appears to be “Napster singing blues after ruling,” since the point size of the headline font is larger than that of any other story on the page. The second most important story is probably “Bush urging military pay raise,” due to the larger font point size and the large photograph accompanying the story.
- Art is used more selectively in the print version than in the online version of the newspaper. The most prominent art on the print front page is that of soldiers shaking President Bush’s hand. It is a large, full color graphic. The color photo of tailback Michael Bennett is used to draw attention to a sports story of local importance. The Simpsons cartoon attracts the reader to a Valentine’s Day feature article, and the spacecraft illustration helps the reader picture that story’s subject more clearly.
In the online version, art is used freely. Advertisements for the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Show, various OnWisconsin services (OnWisconsin owns the MJS), swimsuits and other companies are done graphically or with a small amount of text accompanied by a graphic. Art also accompanies some of the same stories art was used for in the print version, such as the photo of Bennett or the Simpsons cartoon.
- The online version appears to be more than a “repurposed” variation of the printed edition of the MJS. The two prominent stories in the print version about President Bush and Napster are not nearly as emphasized in the online version. The Napster story is referred to by a headline in the business section, and the Bush story is not anywhere to be found. The Hoan Bridge story appears to be written especially for the online version. A different story about the bridge appears in the print version, but on the Wisconsin section’s front page (section B). The Bennett and Valentine’s temptations (Simpson illustration) stories are probably pretty much the same in both versions. However, the Greenspan and Academy Award stories do not appear in the print version. So the online version is certainly unique from its print counterpart.
- The writing in both versions appears to be about the same. The only difference is that each story that appears in the online version is given a paragraph-long refer that could serve as a nutgraph or lead in the print version.
- The daily circulation of the MJS is 268,153, and the Sunday edition circulation is 444,500. The online version of the newspaper keeps track only of the average monthly page views, which is 15,000,000 views/month. If one assumes there are about 30 days in a month, the total monthly daily circulation is 6,971,978 (268,153*26) and the total monthly Sunday circulation is 1,778,000 (444,500*4), bringing the grand total circulation to 8,749,978, not far behind the online version’s monthly “circulation.”
- One of the advantages of the online version is that the reader can skim the homepage and get an idea of the latest events in various areas of coverage, such as news, entertainment, and sports. Each area has a paragraph refer of the top story in that section, along with headline links to other stories. The print version, on the other hand, fills its front page with longer stories about hard news topics like politics and business. It provides refers to other sections of the paper, but only to one story in that section, not several. An advantage to the journalist, then, is that they have a better chance of getting a reader to look at their story in the online version where it may be given a headline on the homepage if it is not the top story. In the print version, their story would not be referred to on the front page at all.
The advantage of the print version is that it can provide the reader with longer, in-depth stories on its front page that may hook the reader and get them to read the rest of the article. The online version depends on its paragraph refers to get the reader to click on a link to read the whole story. Still, most likely a reader would rather click on a link to get the story they want than flip through the whole paper to find the section with the article they want. For example, in the print version, the Valentine’s temptations story with the Simpsons illustration is found in the second-to-last section of the paper, the Cue section, on that section’s front page. One of the most appealing advantages of the online version, then, is its convenience to the reader in terms of the speed of access to the reader’s story of choice.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the online version is that having so many headline links everywhere (in the central part, in the side columns) is that it can be a distracting and confusing format for the reader. It just looks messy. Having fewer, longer stories on the print version’s front page comes across as more organized and less “busy.” The advantage to the online version of having fewer full-length stories is that it can advertise other products and stories in the space where story text might have been.
One of the disadvantages of the online version to the journalist is having homepage space taken up by ads for the parent company’s services rather than important news content. A journalist working on the online version would have to have very strong headline-writing capability in order to convey what is most important in each story as well as being able to have them all an appropriate length. Overall, I don’t like the way the heads look in the online version; under “Latest Headlines,” for example, many of the headline titles run more than one line and finish in the early part of the next line, such as “Greenspan hints at interest rate cuts.” In a newspaper, most headlines run in one line, or the second line must go at least as long as the first line of the head, like in “Napster singing blues after ruling.”
- If I were offered a job at the MJS, I would prefer to work at the print version. I like the permanence of print: it does not have to be constantly updated throughout the day, and it can be saved and looked at later, whereas archived online articles are sometimes hard to retrieve. I also like the less “busy” feel of the print version and its minimal use of refers to advertise other sections of the paper. I also appreciate the front page’s emphasis on political and business-oriented news. It is the journalist’s way of telling the reader what they need to know, not just what they want to know. In my opinion, most feature and entertainment news does not belong on a paper’s front page, as it is on the online version of the MJS.