Everyone knows that in the American South, football is a big deal. This year my undergrad alma mater had a perfect season with zero losses. It was the first time in nearly 20 years they didn’t have a winning season. Thankfully for Mississippi football diehards, these things are cyclical: Mississippi State and Ole Miss had good seasons without the shadow of Southern Miss to contend with. While I have no special love for their program, it’s worth pointing out that people in Mississippi probably care more about Ole Miss and their team than any other. It’s the “Howard Stern syndrome” in that probably more than half the population of the state roots for them. The other half watches them play just as dutifully, only they hope they get the snot beaten out of them. It’s the nature of the in-state football rivalries. I suspect it works the same across the nation.
On Saturday, January 5, Ole Miss made their first bowl appearance in a few years in the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was a really big deal for them with their new coach showing immediately that he could turn the program around. Huzzah to them for the improved season, too, but I can’t bring myself to watch Ole Miss play because of the previously mentioned in-state rivalries. I went out with some friends instead and had a great time. When I got home, I thought I would check and see if they managed to be Mississippi’s bowl winners this season after Mississippi State’s loss in December.
Having worked for WLBT, the Jackson-area’s top station, I went to their site first. Owned by Raycom, the site was recently rebranded from wlbt.com to msnewsnow.com. They feature sections on the local newscasts promoting “web extra” stories, even though this telegraphs to everyone that they are simply stories not big enough to make the news. While I haven’t done anything more than anecdotal research, I can say that none of these stories I saw promoted on the news were actually from Mississippi. This means they are devoting special attention on the home page away from local news for some reason. My best guess is the stories are from other Raycom stations. If this isn’t the case, they are simply teaching people not to turn to their website for local news with no upside for the station or company.
Let’s take a look at their “above the fold” page from the wee hours of Sunday morning after this bowl game in which every Mississippian was interested in the outcome:
Without scrolling, the only football game you would think was happening of interest to anyone was the BCS Championship. While Alabama was playing in that game, I don’t think they are as important to Mississippians as Ole Miss. Not finding the answer immediately led to an exercise of seeing which site got it right. From this point forward we will assume that any omissions like this are a problem with underpaid/undertrained web producers and not a systemic problem with the news outlet’s web architecture.
They score an A in providing information to the end-user in my opinion. The information is there with the score–no scrolling; no hunting; no clicking. They leave a lot of interaction on the table by not using the story as a way to draw you deeper into the site. There is much less content on their site obviously, but that’s not the topic of this post.
While the site is cleaner, it’s still a failing grade for them. First, and off topic, they feature a truly horrible picture to accompany their headline. Was there no image to pull from the whole story with things in focus? There are three other chances in their “lead stories” area, but they miss them all.
With Jackson’s three television news outlets covered, I decided to toss Gannett‘s Clarion Ledger newspaper site into the mix. They reformatted their site to the Gannett standard a couple of years ago. Let’s take a look:
Another A+ as they not only let you know who won, they have a picture of the coach and the trophy. They also have several stories built around the game to give you more information and insight into the big game. It’s the sort of behavior that consultants teach TV news outlets, but if the owners of Mississippi’s stations push for this, it doesn’t carry over to their web coverage. I’ll single out WLBT for special criticism, too, as the “web extra” category is simply begging to have a photographer go to a bar and record people watching the game. A straight, video-only piece with fan reaction is perfect here. It’s an opportunity missed for two stations. WJTV and the Clarion Ledger both give you what you need, but only the newspaper’s website offers a chance to dig deeper.