The Tyranny of the Article page in news products
In the early 2000s, the Internet saw the first blogging software come up like WordPress. They popularized the concept of writing (or blogging) as posts, also called article pages. Each article page would have a headline, byline, published date, a cover image, and some tags.
While article pages are human-readable, machines struggle to make predictable sense out of them. Hence, Google helped introduce the semantic web, i.e., schema.org, and from it came the structured schema that news sites use today. Facebook, too asked sites to expose the meta-data as OG tags. Even Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles were extensions of the article page.
Over time, this. For journalists and reporters, too, it represented continuity. The article is a legacy continuation of the two-dimensional format of how stories were published in print (on paper). So complete is the tyranny, that I complain about the article post page in an article post page. 😵
Implications for democracy
The article format was an acceptable format for the print newspaper. Every day, the reader would trash today’s newspaper and then start afresh. However, online articles stay around forever. It is likely that when the story was reported and published, the information in it was correct. Or the event was still unfolding. And as time passes by,
Implications for news products
From a user perspective, the user experience of 50 articles across 100 days on an ever-evolving story topic resembles non-intersecting parallel planes (geometry).that progresses across days. Google realized this and hence these articles lose their entire SEO juice after two days.
Over time, the article page got intertwined with the advertisement economy and the page-views metric. This resulted in “shopping experience” UX for homepages on news products. Instead of serving audience needs and charging for it, newsrooms became article production factories copy-pasting wire copies or print articles online.
If page views are the metric, then what is the difference between a cat video and a well-reported news article?
The article page is a default catch-all user experience. If everything has to go inside article pages, then the editor has no flexibility to write 50-word articles, where they provide the crux of the news to the audience.
When news products rely heavily on the article page, they miss out on web technologies’ opportunities. Today, web technology provides many more ways to drive empathy, explain nuance, and inform.
More on the problem at
Here’s a 2018 ICFJ DOW Jones Webinar, I tried touching upon similar concepts. In hindsight, totally botched it up 🙈. Here’s a <4min clip of the relevant part.