Tribune Co. Web Renovations: Identical Cousins

The era of cookie-cutter news Web sites is hard upon us. Three recent renovations of Tribune Co. newspaper Web sites are distinctive largely in the fact that they can hardly be distinguished from each other.

As you read this blog entry, launch in new tabs www.baltimoresun.com, www.sun-sentinel.com, and www.chicagotribune.com.

Now scroll to the top of each site, then click across the tabs. Have a look.

Now scroll to the bottom of each site, and click across the tabs. Take it in.

I will not belabor the similarities, but suffice to say the architecture of all three the sites is identical. Diligently faddish five-tab navigations fill the center column above the fold. Classified ad promos top the narrow left nav. Below the fold are promos for feature articles and the requisite blogs, videos and photo galleries. Each home page ends with a compressed five-column site navigation box.  

Each site features temperature readings alongside the paper’s logo, though to be fair I did notice that during my visits each Tribune Co. location appeared to have different weather. 

And each site has in its header a sad solicitation urging visitors to subscribe to the ink-and-pulp edition (along with at least three more pitches on the home page). This can no longer be called a strategy or even a tactic; it’s a prayer of self-comfort. 

It’s clear that the folks at Tribune Co. have decided to roll out a flexible design across its many newspaper properties. Each site does have some local differences, but it’s largely a matter of which module goes where or what the site navigation language says.

(Now launch new tabs and call up www.orlandosentinel.com, www.mcall.com, www.courant.com. . .you get the idea. It appears www.latimes.com and www.newsday.com are still on the to-do list.)

It’s easy from a distance to question the wisdom of this tactic–to argue that a local service, especially one that has to reinvent itself at hyperspeed in a fog, should take a form unique to its community. You can argue it stifles local creativity at a time when a troubled giant like Tribune Co. desperately needs it. It locks in via corporate oversight tactics that may look foolish in a few months (or already). What happens at Tribune HQ when the folks in Baltimore have a better idea?

Or when the readers revolt? Take a look at the reader feedback the Tribune has gathered on its site.

So, Tribune chiefs, what do you do when your company-wide Web rollout is under attack by diverse local mobs? 

Explore posts in the same categories: news, print-to-digital, Tribune Co.

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