OJR gets reboot: Social gets the boots

by PR Coach on March 26, 2013

Online Journalism Review and future of digital journalism

Online Journalism Review in Dec 1998

The Online Journalism Review (OJR) has always been a valuable resource for insight into the transition from traditional into digital journalism.

It’s ironic their website relaunch suffers some of the same challenges as traditional media moving to digital.

A Feb 25, 2013 post OJR gets a reboot: new look, more rich content, and you trumpeted a site redesign and several new features.

I went to the site searching for two older, excellent posts whose links no longer worked. A Google search for the two articles also failed to locate them.

A fresh new website design greeted me in my search. Several new features look promising.

“The Repeater” highlights relevant articles from the web. Curation is always a good strategy. Unfortunately, since March 2nd, nothing new has been featured as of March 26th.

Facebook and Twitter links are in place, although social sharing is not. Neither social media accounts were active between March 7th and March 24th.

Inquiries About OJR Go Cold

I reached out to inquire by blog comment on March 20th, but it would not post. So I tried Twitter, Facebook and e-mail.

@OJR is presently inactive with no new tweets since March 7th (as of March 26th). No response on Twitter and my e-mails went unanswered for days as I tried to determine what’s happening with a previously dependable resource.

Received a quick, brief response to my Facebook inquiry on March 24th from Geneva Overholser, Director of USC Annenberg School of Journalism. “We are definitely working on some additional changes/fixes,” she said.

Today (March 26th), I did finally get an e-mail back from editor Brian Frank apologizing for the delay in responding. “We’re a pretty lean ship at the moment, and I’m often playing catch-up,” he said.

Fair enough. I was going to write a scathing review of the relaunch. Instead, I’ll share my critique of the site as it stands today, along with some lessons and suggestions for other website launches.

Social Media Best Practices Missing In Action

Online Journalism Review redesign

Online Journalism Review new design, features

I like the new look and several of the new features. What’s baffling is the lack of social media best practices for this “online” journalism review.

What’s missing:

  • No clear, easy navigation for visitors: For example, where do I click to go to the most recent post? How about a “most popular” or “recent” posts feature? Clicking on the masthead takes me to the most recent post but visitors need simple “flags” to help them find what they need quickly.
  • Site lacks basic search function: You can search Tags by topic. Tags bring up articles from archive but if you have the title of an excellent post from the past, but not the date or tag, you won’t find what you’re looking for. I know from experience, a simple WordPress search plug-in is available and works very well.
  • Lack of search within the Archive: Same as previous.
  • Poor usability: When searching for articles in Archive or Tags, it brings up titles and full length articles, forcing you to scroll endlessly and onto subsequent pages without knowing if you’ll find what you want. Too slow. Viewers want to find things fast. Just give us the titles to click on and read.
  • Social sharing: Posts do not have social sharing icons, critical for any website, let alone an online publication. A Contact page is also needed. (Hat tip to comments by Aaron Bradley.)
  • About Page: background info on OJR is important for newcomers, students and potential donors and supporters. Not everyone knows your history and it’s good storytelling.
  • Responsiveness:  Enough said. Engagement is sorely needed. And, if you’re going to have trouble responding in a timely way, post a note and let your supporters know.

Web Launch and Social Media Lessons

USC Annenberg new building planned

USC Annenberg new building

There’s lots to be learned with this launch and in looking over the new website. OJR is funded and supported by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. With the school’s plan for a new $150 million building, OJR can be a valuable asset in increasing profile, support and donations. If OJR is supported.

Three takeaways for any business, personal or organization website:

  1. Don’t launch until you’re ready: OJR should have waited and launched more effectively when features and content were complete. Great lesson there for all.
  2. Be fully resourced: If you’re gonna run with the social big dogs, put the resources in place to respond in your social media channels. I appreciate the resource challenge but there are other creative solutions or alternatives. What a great opportunity and “lab” this would be for students studying journalism and social media. I suggest involving some of that creativity and social media instincts and skills in a practicum or even a credit course.
  3. Engagement matters: Engagement through social media is not only best practices, it’s a foundation for success online. Again, a journalism intern or student or two could be very helpful.

I really like OJR. The content is superb. It’s an important voice for digital journalism and a valuable resource for the wider community that’s interested.

I look forward to using OJR in the future and I know they’re working hard to catch up. I hope my suggestions are valuable for them and others building and launching a website.

There’s a community here that’s really keen to talk about the “future of digital journalism.”

If you give us a chance, and make it easy for us, we’ll even “like”, “retweet”, “share”, “favorite”, “subscribe” and support you.

Oh, by the way. If anyone can help, I’m still looking for two superb OJR articles from the past: “Dangers of Citizen Journalism?” and “What is Participatory Journalism?

We’re very social here. We’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on web development, journalism and social engagement. Just shout below and start a conversation.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: Online Journalism Review via Internet Archive Wayback Machine, OJR, USC Annenberg