A critique of my hometown newspaper’s website

Ahh, there’s nothing quite like your hometown, or your hometown’s newspaper, right? Maybe I’m the only one, but I will forever hold a tiny place in my heart for my hometown, Shawnee, Kansas. I grew up reading the Shawnee Dispatch, my town’s newspaper, because of its local relevance, reliability and small town charm (It was also free and my parents didn’t want to pay for a subscription to The Kansas City Star. Boo). Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the paper every week. I think local news is often underrated and overlooked, but I appreciated the paper’s coverage of news that was important to me and my family.

The paper also had some pretty unforgettable moments, the greatest of which was the day they cropped my friend Josh in between images of Obama and Romney (see below). To this day, I cannot get over this cover image. It makes me giggle incessantly because it is equally absurd and amazing, and I want as many people to see it as possible. I am also incredibly #blessed to posses an original copy of the issue because Josh is brilliant and driven and probably will run for president someday.

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Is this not the greatest thing you’ve ever seen?

Anyway, there were a lot of larger news websites that came to mind when I was thinking about writing a critique of a website. Some of my favorites are TIME and the Verge. However, I think the Shawnee Dispatch’s website is reflective of what a lot of small news sites look like online, and I thought it would be interesting to critique the sort of standard for local news websites.

The Shawnee Dispatch’s website isn’t fancy, but it is an example of a site with high usability. I know exactly where to go on the site’s homepage. The page has a clear hierarchy. The main story of the day has the largest image and headline, and it is right at the top of the page. Underneath the first story, the homepage is divided into sections like business and sports that also have a clear hierarchy to content. To the right of the main content, I can see a list of other top headlines for the day, along with a calendar, list of births and obituaries and a photo gallery. The site also has a search bar that works very effectively.

A fair amount of websites have abandoned the early 2000s look and feel of this website for features like infinite scrolling and recommended stories. I think those features can provide value when a website has lots of content that can’t all be placed on a homepage. For a smaller paper though, I think the format of the Shawnee Dispatch provides exactly what it should to its viewers. The website is easy to use, quick to load and incredibly intuitive. I’m confident that my even my grandma could navigate this site on a super old web browser.

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Beyond the home page, it is also very easy to click on specific sections of the paper like News and Sports. The site also promotes community-based content like On the Street, a Q&A with locals, within each of the sections. A user can easily find the content they care about most like photos, classifieds and opinion articles. Photos are large within the site, and a user simply has to scroll down the page to view them. Each story has social media sharing buttons, other story suggestions and a comment section.

Everyone has a favorite place in Shawnee!
Everyone has a favorite place in Shawnee!
This picture of a firefighter dancing with this older woman is super cute, but it's also grainy.
This picture of a firefighter dancing with this older woman is super cute, but it’s also grainy.

Overall, I think this site follows Krug’s criteria pretty nicely. This site doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles, but it is breathable, conventional and easy to use. My main critique of the website is its lack of visual elements. The site’s multimedia elements consist mainly of photos. However, those photos aren’t prominently used on the homepage, and are instead stuck in the corner of the homepage. Photos on the site also appear grainy, as if they were scanned onto the computer. I also discovered a few audio clips as I navigated the site that never appear on the homepage. The website clearly focuses on its text elements, but a user would benefit from more visual storytelling.

These days, I still read the Shawnee Dispatch time and again. There’s something about small town news that makes me smile. I would also highly recommend another website from Shawnee that is not so much an example of web design as it is of small town drama. Shawnee Ray’s Ramblings is a blog that has a huge influence in my town. I swear this guy has single-handedly influenced city elections. If you have some free time to kill, it’s a pretty fun read. I will also take this time to shamelessly plug my high school newspaper’s website. I helped launched this guy in 2010, and it’s still kickin’.

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2 thoughts on “A critique of my hometown newspaper’s website

  1. When I saw your post about a small community newspaper, I expected the worst (having worked at one, I know how bad their websites can be). But I agree that while Shawnee’s site lacks flair, its pretty intuitive and simple for readers.

    Everything is self-explanatory — leaving me without the need to think too much. The sections bar at the top has a nice drop-down menu for more specificity. And like you mentioned, there’s an easy-to-find search bar at the top right for us go-straight-to-the-clerk types. (However, when I typed “basketball” into the search bar, it netted a mere three results; I find it difficult to believe the newspaper only published three stories with the word “basketball” in the past six months.)

    The website’s hierarchy is clear, with a clear centerpiece flanked by a list of news stories. As you scroll, you find the Business, Sports, Living and Opinion sections’ featured stories.

    Hats off to The Dispatch. It’s certainly better than the website at my old newspaper, the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia… http://www.dnronline.com/

    -Mark

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  2. Not bad for a community newspaper website! I’ve seen much worse in the past. I’m actually scrolling through the website right now and noticing a lot of the components that set it apart from a more regional/national news site (i.e. an entire page for Engagements!). The home page, for me, will either be the biggest engager or deterrent when I visit a website, and this website’s home page does a good job of displaying a lot of information within the space provided, and balancing that info with photos. The only thing I saw that was noticeably uncomfortable (visually) was the amount of “Latest News” stories on the sidebar (to the left of the advertisements). Maybe the overwhelmingness of it was partly due to the fact that I am not from Shawnee–and therefore a lot of the headlines won’t make sense to or appeal to me–but there are just so many headlines stacked on top of one another. It would have been more helpful to either reduce the number or perhaps prioritize them in terms of page hits, rather than by date published.

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