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The Chicago Tribune: Website Critique

April 26, 2012

The Chicago Tribune
The Tribune’s website was overhauled in 2008 and while I don’t remember what it looked before the remake I think today it’s a great news site. At first glance, I really like the website’s layout.  It’s clean, well-organized and is extremely easy to navigate.  The homepage is full of content giving readers a wide selection of stories to choose from and almost every headline or teaser has a photo with it.
Their slogan is breaking news and there is a column at the top of the page that is for breaking news. This is a great feature that allows readers to stay updated with the stories that are currently trending. Also all of the stories on the page are time-coded and tell you when they were last updated, which lets people know how timely the article they are reading is.
I like the little weather graphic in the top right corner because everybody needs to know the weather and it can be one of the most searched for items on a site. The spread of ads is done well.  There isn’t that many on the homepage, only about 6, and they are displayed on the page in a way that does not disrupt the flow of content.  It’s actually quite smart because they are situated at the top of the page around the biggest or most recent stories where most people will be looking and then they stop. The Tribune displays Chicago specific ads too which is a good idea because obviously the largest part of its readership is in Chicago so it makes sense to advertise things they would want.
Every once in a while a pop-up ad fills the whole screen and you have to close it or you will go to a page with an expanding banner ad. These rarely appear but are incredibly annoying when they do. It seems you find more of them in the ‘classified’ pages, which makes sense since pretty much everything in there are advertisements anyway.
A big reason why the site is so functional is because of its top-bar navigation. This particular top bar has dozens of links that filter down from the large sections down to niche content and to a few specific columns. This is a great way for the reader to find what they want instead of scrolling all the way down the page or clicking link after link.
One thing I thought was great was the amount of control readers had over certain sections. The real estate, cars, jobs and shopping sections are basically just data bases for users to play around with. There is some content on the section homepages but the search functions of these sections is what makes them so useful.
Much of the editorial content is Chicago specific, like the ads. For example there is a section just for stories that use maps of Chicago. As well as content dividing the city of Chicago and the suburbs and of course sports, which is almost exclusively Chicago-based franchises. Every story has a photo to go with it and many even have video as well.
There is very little in terms of social media on the pages, as far as polls, likes and comments go, but there are links to the paper’s Twitter and Facebook. The Tribune seems to take its social media presence seriously and has even expanded to other platforms. The site has a link for the Tribune apps, mobile alerts and the mobile site. There is also a link to an iPad exclusive web magazine. This focuses on the Chicago Bulls and might use some of the same content as the sports section but otherwise is entirely unique.
The online edition costs $10 a month, or $2.50 a week. I did not run into a pay wall and couldn’t find anything mentioning a pay wall.  However the Chicago Sun-Times recently put one up so if the Tribune does not have one they will definitely be considering it.
Overall this is a solid news website. It’s simple, functional and does a great job of addressing the needs and wants of its Chicago readership. The use of multimedia, searchable data bases and platform exclusive content are all things the Tribune has made priorities and quite frankly most newspapers have not. For those reasons I foresee the online edition outliving the print edition of the Tribune, as well as most other newspapers.
If I had any criticisms about the site it would that there is a little too much content on the homepage. While most of it is divided by section some is not and it appears a bit cluttered in some areas of the page. I don’t like that there are a handful of headlines with slightly larger text and then everything else is the same size. Aside from the larger photos or something being listed in the breaking news section there is very little hierarchy on the page.

The page is very user driven as far as deciding what is most important, which is not all bad, but if someone is just browsing headlines on their break this setup is not very skimmable. Also nearly all of the text is black and more importantly all of the body text and headlines are the same color. What’s worse is that teasers and excerpts are the same color as links, which makes it almost impossible to determine what is clickable without scrolling over everything.



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