£10m for a new website – but no sports news

By Steven Downes

If anyone had any remaining doubts that newspapers’ futures are inextricably linked to the internet, then this was the week that ought to have put that misconception right. First, Times Online relaunched (well almost), with its new, very lime look, bought at a cost of £10 million. Then yesterday, the Mirror relaunched its website, also at considerable cost.

Such expenditure, at a time of dwindling newspaper sales and reduced ad revenue, is all part of a desperate attempt to to jump on the multi-billion dollar online advertising bandwagon. Neither site’s relaunch has gone completely smoothly or met with total praise, however.

The Times Onlne site was down most of Monday, according to its executives due to a 500 per cent increase in traffic (which surely means that five times the usual number of people who visit the site wil not be coming back?).

A couple of days on, the sports homepage has settled down a little, and looks like an attractive, features-style depository of the material in this morning’s newspaper.

But the changed navigation bar now makes it more difficult to find any sports story that is not football, rugby or cricket. And, more worryingly for a site that is supposed to be up-to-the-minute, by lunchtime there was little evidence of any the morning’s live, breaking sports news: Michael Vaughan’s latest injury? Floyd Landis deciding not to ride in this year’s Tour de France? If you want to find out what is happening in the world of sport today, this is not the site to visit. Maybe too much of the online effort is going into all-too-quickly-dated podcasts by Phil Vickery and Jonny Wilkinson?

The Mirror’s web offering, after years of being merely online links through to the newspaper content, and delivered many months behind Sun Online’s revamp, has come in for a savaging by former editor-turned-media-pundit Roy Greenslade.

Greenslade writes:

It is an extraordinary piece of work. Say “piece of work” with an American accent, by the way, and you’ll get my meaning. Indeed, American accents dominate the much-hyped video content. This has to be the most embarrassing content any British newspaper site has ever featured. It consists of bought-in material from the US and it’s, like, totally appalling.

Greenslade (who earlier in the week picked up on the SJA’s story about Yanks Abroad and their struggle to obtain a licence from the FA Premier League) uses his blog for a no-holds-barred attack on the Mirror’s large volume of American-sourced material.

“Thrill first to the utterly insincere, robotic voice-over on the segment headlined ‘Who will win the Oscars?’ It sounds like a Saturday Night Live send-up, without the humour. Then try the report by Frazier Moore of Associated Press (who?) talking about the Ricky Gervais sitcom, Extras, as if Mirror readers had never heard of the show. The fat load of US tosh continues with reports on people buying televisions in the States to watch the Chicago super-bowl (a real lure for the Mirror’s British audience).”

Since I started this blog in early summer last year I have visited hundreds of newspaper websites across Britain and across the world. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. But I have never come across one quite as inept as this new Mirror offering. Ironic, isn’t it, that as the newspaper itself improves it manages to screw up the platform designed to win over new, young readers.

Read Greenslade’s newsblog in full by clicking here.

And post your comments on the website relaunches in the panel below.