2007 HowardOwens.com best newspaper web site awards

Just as last year, I’m making my own subjective picks for various categories of my own choosing for web site awards. This is just for newspaper-affiliated sites, of course. And as last year, Bakersfield.com and VenturaCountyStar.com (because of my previous management of those sites) are ineligible to win, as well as any GateHouse Media site. Also, admittedly, my awards are entirely US centric, since that’s what I know best.

Best News Site: Knoxnews.com. Just as in years past, Jack Lail and his team continue to do an amazing job. You want participation? They’ve got it. You want an aggressive, wide-ranging and creative video strategy? You’ll find it on knoxnews.com. There is lots of blogging and loads of extra content. Knoxnews.com continues to do what all sites need to do — move further and further away from being just a newspaper online. This site is also one of the best designed and conceived in the business. This year, btw, I gave demerits to WashingtonPost.com for its highly restrictive registration system.

Rookie of the Year: New this year, this award goes to a newspaper site that probably none of us ever paid much attention, but sometime within the past year got its act together. The first-ever winner of this award: VictoriaAdvocate.com. This small-paper’s site is one of the most active I’ve seen in the use of participation and blogs, to the point of loading up the home page with these web-centric features. Here is a small paper site that isn’t afraid to break away from being merely a newspaper.com.

Come Back of the Year: Another new category. This award goes to a site that should have been much better than it was in recent years (if not forever), but made great strides in the past 12 months. It was tempting to give the award to LATimes.com, but sister site ChicagoTribune.com takes the honors. ChiTri is doing a great job of integrating blogging and video. I love their video chats, such as this one.

Best Site Design: NaplesNews.com. I don’t think there is a site in the industry, from a purely design perspective, that has done more to completely bury the news-print connection. There is no attempt on NaplesNews.com to be the newspaper online. Even the main nav communicates — we’re a web news site, not a newspaper site. Plus, the site, right down the play button on the video player, is just gorgeous.

Best Entertainment Site: AmpifySD. Is there another newspaper site with both live-streaming programming and a local music wiki? This site is caulk full of useful information to San Diego’s nightlife mavens (I was once part of that crowd), and plenty of ways to interact and contribute. And it’s a great design.

Best Multimedia Story: Rocky Mountain News, The Crossing. This package is the most thorough, well-conceived and executed multimedia effort I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it has a flaw, from the quality of its journalism, to its video, to its subject matter to its design and Flash implementation. I found the subject matter absolutely engrossing and it is so full of real life, real people drama.

Best Participation: DenverPost.com’s Neighbors. I’ve never been entirely comfortable — but didn’t mind the experiment — with the citizen-journalism-as-content efforts of NorthWest Voice, Backfence.com or YourHub. The Post, right in YourHub’s back yard, has taken a different approach — to create a conversation site, a place where local residents can discuss local issues, without any pretension that it is news. To bad the recent deal Media News made with Topix is likely to kill this effort. That said, the next time your publisher suggests you start a Northwest Voice/YourHub type of site, point him to Neighbors (if it’s still around).

Best User-Generated Content Site: TBO.com’s local artist database. This is a great idea — take a subject that people can be absolutely passionate about, where subjects care deeply about what they do and are eager to express it, and the ability to use web technology to create a very interesting vertical, and you have a winner.

Best Newspaper Video Effort: NYTimes.com. The Times has the resources to both go after long-tail video content (a basic idea beyond my own video strategy) and use better equipment and take more time editing to do it. The times produces some truly interesting video and video blogs, but never tries to be like TV. Also, the video gallery page is well executed.

Best Revenue Effort: LJWorld.com’s Marketplace. You can just look at Marketplace and see that it is smartly conceived and executed, not to mention the fact that many, many local advertisers have obviously bought packages in Marketplace. The clincher for me though is my own personal experience: Several weeks ago, when I visited Lawrence and dropped in on a local furniture shop, I was impressed by the implied endorsement the shop owner gave me — he told me to visit his LJWorld.com page rather than his own web site.

Best Database Journalism: You could pick any number of Gannett sites since the birth of the Info Center and praise its database efforts — maybe the best thing Gannett has done with the Info Center — but IndyStar.com sure has a hell of a lot to offer. Database journalism ranks right with participation, web-first publishing and video for growing online audience. We could all lift a page or two from IndyStar on how this is done.

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  • http://www.morningsun.net Brandon Belew

    I really like the Naples site, I think that just about beats out CNN for best news site’s in my opinion. The site is well designed, very clean, tons of information tossed on the front page without making it too terribly busy. Menu’s and section heads are large and easy to read, the over all navigation of the site is perfect. The interactive news on the top right is a pretty cool feature as well.

  • http://www.ryansholin.com Ryan Sholin

    Naples is one of many Scripps sites running the Django-powered Ellington CMS. (KnoxNews, too.)

    While I have no idea of how much control each site has over the final look and feel, the folks at Scripps seem to be doing a great job of using Ellington to make good use of Django’s powerful database relationships.

    Meaning that one of the reasons it looks so darn good because the data structure is so darn clean.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    I’m not sure who designed NaplesNews.com — Rob Curley brought in most of his own people, but the site looks very different since he left.

    Herb Himes is the lead design for Scripps, and of course Jay Small plays a big role in site architecture … knowing the people involved, I can’t feel as confident that the design and architecture can be attributed to Ellington.

    I’ve watched Herb’s design approach evolve over the years, and Naples as well as all Scripps sites very much reflect his approach.

  • http://www.newmediabytes.com shawn smith

    Thanks for the list Howard. Some sites I haven’t seen before and others I haven’t visited in a long time. I’m really interested to see how some of them handle all the extra content and regular newspaper content and get the user directed to the content they need to digest. Will be checking these sites out!

  • http://newsvideographer.com Angela Grant

    I’m surprised you chose NYTimes.com for your “best video use” award. Most of the videos on the site are much higher quality than you advocate for your own Gatehouse papers.

    So, you like watching higher quality stuff, but you don’t want your folks producing it?

  • http://subvert.ca/ Geof Harries

    Naplesnews.com wins best design? I completely disagree.

    NN has plenty of technical features and quality content, but the overall layout is overwhelmingly busy and lacks a strong visual direction. The site also seems like a mishmash of design cliches. When in doubt, a designer should always elect to remove needless elements, not keep stacking the pile.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Geof, that’s fine … but which newspaper.com would you pick?

  • http://subvert.ca/ Geof Harries

    It’s not a newspaper, but I believe the recent re-design of BusinessWeek has resulted in a very clean and intelligent layout. For instance, their story pages are meticulously put together and have great visual flow from top to bottom.

    For pure newspaper.com sites, I believe you simply can’t beat LJ World because they pack so many features and different types of reporting into a simple and elegant format. Steamboat Pilot is also an excellent design in this regard.

    The refreshed MSNBC, though again not a newspaper, demonstrates how to pack a LOT of different types of news into a very tight package.

    While Naplesnews.com is attractive, it’s by no means the best design at present. As evidenced, I feel there’s other sites that are much better.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    A) This is about newspaper sites.

    B) While I like the guys in Lawrence, I’m not a big fan of their design.

  • http://www.joethink.com Joe Murphy

    Thanks for the Denver Post / Neighbors mention, Howard. There are plenty of ways to get people participating on a local news site, and we’ve got about six or seven major “actions” on Neighbors. There are three more I’d really like to build onto it, but man you oughta see my to-do list.

  • http://www.jacklail.com/ jack lail

    Thanks for the praise.

    As journalists who freely borrow good ideas, we know there’s a lot of creative things happening on news Web sites. But it’s also true we (our site and the newspaper industry) are not moving fast enough or being creative enough to develop the audience size and relationships we need.

    2008 looks to be a rockin’ year for interactive media. Get ready to enjoy the ride because it’s going to be better than anything you’ll find in an amusement park.

    And a P.S.: Yes, Herb Himes is a huge ingredient of the Scripps not-so-secret sauce.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Angela, obviously, you don’t get it. I would suggest re-reading my posts on video.

  • http://subvert.ca/ Geof Harries

    Howard, true. This is most certainly about newspaper sites – I was simply posting examples of what I believe to be solid “news” layouts in the hopes that other designers can learn from them.

    I’m intrigued as to why you are not a fan of the LJ World style.

  • http://shootingbynumbers.com peter

    Is this list confined to US newspapers? If so – maybe make that clear? But why encourage US newspapers to ignore competition from outside the country?

    #1 newspaper website worldwide is guardian.com. #6 most popular newspaper in the US is dailymail.com

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Peter, last sentence, first graph.

  • http://shootingbynumbers.com peter

    Howard – a US centric view of newspaper sites permits you to ignore the most popular news sites in the US?

    Isn’t that a little like Ford ignoring Toyota and BMW?

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Where do you get your stat about the dailymail.com … at about 100K per month according to compete, I can’t image it’s number #6 most popular — there are about 100 newspaper sites with more traffic … when I saw that domain, I thought you meant the Daily Mail in the UK … didn’t even look … that said, looking now, I can’t imagine what award it might win. It has no blogs that I can find, no comments on stories or other participation, no video (outside of AP), it’s poorly designed … can’t say anything has been overlooked in its case. Sorry to be harsh if you’re affiliated with the site, but you obviously wanted me to look at it.

  • http://patrickbeeson.com Patrick Beeson

    Thanks for the praise levied on Scripps’ efforts! Herb Himes and his talented UI team definitely deserve kudos for their fantastic work.

    The current Naples News design was crafted in-house, since they currently exist on their own Ellington instance imported by Rob Curley.

    This will soon change because we’re bringing them back into the fold with our enterprise Ellington approach.

    @ Ryan

    While I have no idea of how much control each site has over the final look and feel, the folks at Scripps seem to be doing a great job of using Ellington to make good use of Django’s powerful database relationships.

    Each Scripps site has total control over their Django templates. Our UI team works closely with the sites to help guide their design and layout strategy.

  • http://patrickbeeson.com Patrick Beeson

    I meant to specify in my previous comment that the Naples News design was crafted by the folks at that site, not corporate. The wording was a little fuzzy.

  • http://shootingbynumbers.com peter

    no sorry – I did mean the British Daily Mail – dailymail.co.uk.

  • http://www.victoriaadvocate.com Terry Owen

    Thanks for the “Rookie of the Year” nod Howard. The whole team here at the Advocate has worked really hard to reconnect with our community through the web site. Chris Cobler and the news room have done a really good job in a short time here.