Even though I now reside in the Big D, 16 years of Houston living is not easily shaken. It’s no wonder, then, that I continue to read the Houston Chronicle online edition each morning. But hear me straight, Dallas, I gave you a chance! I’ve long been wanting to compare and contrast the online editions of the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News and study how each have evolved over the years. While one has embraced the new Web, the other it seems has strongly resisted.
First, let’s just take a simple look at the home page of each newspaper. C’mon, which one would you rather hang out at?
DallasNews.com: OK, first off, I accidently clicked somewhere on the page and a stupid popup was launched. Arggh. OK, closed that window…now I’m looking for the news. OK, I think I found some stories among the 1, 2, 3, 4 different ad spots all showing above the fold. Wow! You are giving me traffic and weather at the top-middle, so that’s nice.
Chron.com: First thing I notice: no ads above the fold! Are you kidding me? I’ve got ten news stories front and center. Scrolling down, I see a nice ordered list of stories in each section, complete with RSS links. That’s handy! OK, now I see your ads. Two small text links you’ve labeled “CHRONLINKS”. That’s cool…easily avoided and non-intrusive.
The Chronicle takes the cake for home page design. It’s not even close. Let’s take a look at a main category now. Sports, of course!
DallasNews.com: Another popup? Are you serious? I guess so. OK, back to the main page. It seems a bit cluttered, but I think I’ve found everything. DHTML tab box is sorta cool. I see your videos on the right side, and some blogs down in the center column.
Chron.com: Sometimes I get interstitial ads when clicking on sports, but not today. Usually they are very easy to close, though. Now, I see the top story with a large picture and related links at the top, some highlights below and then two long columns of news. On the right side, archived chat sessions (Chron.com chats are cool) are at the top, followed by a blogs, both from staff and fan blogs.
These pages are equally usable. I would pick Chron.com simply because of familiarity, but I think it could be argued either way. Toss up! Finally, let’s take a look at a traditional news story, say from the front page.
DallasNews.com: OK, I click on a story about young adults without health insurance. Looks like a 3-column, with ads down the left and right side. Story in the middle, along with picture and related links. Read the story, not bad. Another banner ad at the bottom with some old guy yacking at me. No problem, though. I guess that’s a basic story on a basic web page.
Chron.com: Now I’m reading a story about toll-road fee increases. 2-column layout, with ads and more stories in the right column. Reading through the story, I see the Chronicle has partnered up with our friends down in Austin at Pluck to bring interactive commenting to every story on the site. Cool! Love reading user comments, especially the ones from people that think they know everything and then mispell half the words in the comment! But from a strategic perspective, if someone leaves a comment how likely are they to return to the story? Yes, very likely. I mean, you have to see if anyone just blasted you and your radical center-wing agenda, right?
Gotta give the crown to the Chron.com here, just for being forward-thinking and inviting Pluck to help with staying relevant. DallasNews.com…I’m sorry, man. You just seem to be a few years behind. Get with it!
To further illustrate how Chron.com is out on the cutting edge of online newspapers, consider this statistic: Henk van Ess, an investigative journalist from the Netherlands, revealed the top sources of stories that appear on Google News. Not surprisingly, the New York Times had the most stories posted. What was surprising was Chron.com in second place with 4066 stories so far in 2007! The Houston paper beat out larger papers like the LA Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. While the Dallas and Houston papers have similar circulation numbers, the DallasNews.com website delivered only 157 stories to Google news, placing it #203 in the list. Ouch!
Why does all this matter? Well, just out of curiousity, let’s take a look at the Alexa traffic stats for each fo these papers for the last 5 years. (Yes, I know Alexa data is crap, but I can’t afford Hitwise, OK.) Looks like both papers were neck-and-neck back in 2003, but the past 5 years haven’t been good for DallasNews.com.
So…c’mon Dallas. I expected you to be the high-tech cutting edge paper, but H-Town has shown up the Big D in this study. (And hopefully the Houston Astros can beat up on the Texas Rangers this weekend – go ‘stros!)