• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 16, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

    What would you do to make The Irish Times better? redux Hmmm…

    Hugh Linehan

    Your very interesting and provocative comments on the last post  have caused a lot of soul-searching in here – thanks to everyone. As I said (comment 85 if you’re so inclined) there’s a few meaty subjects around improving the website, which I grouped into key subjects, one of which (navigation and architecture), I’ll have a first stab at responding to here.

    Just to say also that I enjoyed the pungent views on display. Although there was a certain amount of vitriol, it was all in pretty good humour, and there was plenty of positive stuff as well.

    A couple of observations -  it’s not my job to defend/analyse particular parts of The Irish Times, but obviously like everyone there’s bits I like and read more than other bits. The animosity towards the Saturday magazine expressed in comments is intriguing, though, and has caused some consternation, as the picture below shows.

    I hope you’re all very proud of yourselves…

    It’s not for me to disagree, but I wonder if this reflects different interests and priorities between, on the one hand, readers of Irish Times blogs, and on the other, readers of the print edition on Saturday (who do genuinely seem to enjoy the mag). Whatever, there’s clearly a gender divide within the pro/con comments.

    Anyway, that’s for another day. As regards navigation and architecture, I hold up my hands. It’s not good, it’s behind the times, it sometimes seems to deliberately make it difficult for you to find what you’re looking for.

    Without going into the tortuous history, we currently populate the site via a number of systems – a newspaper publishing system, a content management system for the bulk of online content, a separate system for breaking news – which don’t talk to each other very well and which militate against the sort of data-rich presentation which would allow us to group and present content in a proper way. It’s … clunky.

    This is a major challenge for us. If we’re going to give you the best site possible, we need to develop our technology quite fast. We’re working on it, and in the interim are building some workarounds to allow us to give you content in a better way.

    Currently, the site’s structure is very rooted in the newspaper’s structure. Some people may like this replication of certain daily supplements and pages, but it makes very little sense online. For example, at the moment you could read a Donald Clarke film interview in any of the following sections within Life & Culture: Entertainment, Features, Magazine or Weekend. That’s just plain silly, and we’ll be introducing a new way of doing business in those areas within the next month. I make no apology for the fact that our focus is on improving presentation of the main site, and not necessarily the Today’s Paper section. My job is to give people the best possible online experience of The Irish Times, not to make a faithful replica of the paper. Most of you can get that at your local newsagent for a very reasonable price. Likewise, you can get a digital representation of the physical paper online for a modest fee.

    People have also asked why they can’t search within particular sections, or bring up all articles/columns by a particular writer on one page. Good questions, and as we add data and categorisation tools to articles, we will be able to do more of that. Unfortunately, it won’t happen overnight, so I ask for your patience.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      Let me kick off with the news reporting versus commentary balance in the IT.

      Yes there is a certain predictability to VB, FoT, John Waters etc. but thats what one expects from commentators. It would be nice to have more of the ones that I would gladly knife in a dark alley any night of the week. I mean take Kevin Myers. Now theres a guy I miss, and my blood pressure misses him too. Couldnt you get a few more spacers like him on the payroll.

      And that brings me to the religious stuff on the IT. I know we are a Catholic (maybe even a christian) country but for Christ sake would ya widen the spectrum a bit. There a whole bunch of raging atheists and hindus out there dying to hear a few words to latch onto. What people believe about the after life when sitting on the loo could bring us to hidden corners of the most fertile imaginations. In fact I think you should turn in from a religion section into a philosophy section and be done with it.

      If you could diversify the commentary I agree with the current balance between that and hard news. But if you cannot then give me the hard news and I will go down to me irish local here in bangkok every night for the commentary.


    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      oh yes and as for that weekend thing yous produce thank god thats me hangover day and i am too shook up to even open the computer! (except today!!)
      On that one all i can say is protect the forest.


    • dealga says:

      Just like to get something off my chest about the Magazine, which the comments on the other post seemed not to mention – the thing is just one big advertorial and I’m guessing brings in a lot of much-needed revenue to the IT.

      I know I emailed Phyl Clarke in the past about some of the absolute nonsense her column has promoted in the past (i.e. the utterly absurd ‘detox’ foot patches for starters) and got no reply.

      Another example, although the IT completely got away with it, was the puff piece on Patrick Holford published around about this time last year, which was an utter travesty that would have brought the main paper into serious disrepute had the piece appeared there instead.

      My 2.18 €cent worth

    • Aengus says:

      Is there any chance that you could use a cookie to remember the Font selection? I find the default font size used on the site a little bit on the small size, and the Text Size button at the top of articles renders the page in a much more legible fashion, but I have to click it for every single page, which is a bit dumb. (And unfortunately, I can’t get that link to work on my Blackberry, so I’m stuck with an incredibly small font on a very small screen – not fun to read at all!)

      Don’t know what all the fuss is about Shane Hegarty – Frank McNally has become my favourite writer recently.

    • Simon McGarr says:

      The link to your blog from the Comment page of the website actually just takes you to your recent Marian Finucane post.

    • Simon McGarr says:

      To elaborate on my original breadcrumbs bug report:

      Your Opinion page address is

      If you click on any article in that section the breadcrumbs read (eg):
      Comment » Opinion & Analysis » Top Story »

      If you click on the Opinion & Analysis breadcrumb link in that, you are not taken to the aforementioned Opinion homepage. Rather you are taken to


      which is a page which does not exist.

      I realise that the breadcrumbs links may not be the most clicked of the site. But I do use them, and frequently find myself in that blank page of woe when I forget the problem.

    • mike says:

      Get rid of Thinking Anew. or at least, let’s hear from religious views that are not solely Catholic every Saturday for what seems like the last hundred years or whatever, and Christian. This is a wholly anachronistic and parocial. Let’s also hear from agnostics, and atheists. Also get rid of the weekly Church Notes …this is not the Church Times, I thought.

    • If the Irish Times or any quality newspaper is to survive into the next decade it has to examine some fundamental realities.

      Firstly the idea of providing free news online. Does free work for quality news reporting or does it actually harm it? Free news seems to work well for blogs, citizen journalism, and ad driven tabloid content but apparently not so well for the NY Times, Boston Globe, or the Irish Times, all of which offer free versions of their daily publications online and are perilously in debt. To suggest that that the internet is solely responsible for the demise of the broadsheet and quality news journalism would be naive and unfair. But in a cash strapped economy giving away your product for nothing makes little economic sense.

      Secondly the Irish Times need to look at new and innovative of delivering it’s content. One personal bone of contention I have is that there is absolutely NO mobile version available. WTF??? 2009 and reading the Times on my iPhone is a major pain in the arse. Paper isn’t going to disappear but mobile devices are [as far as we know] the future of the net.

      Third. Try not to rely on advertisements as your main source of income. Don’t be afraid to charge for quality and pay your contributors well.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Simon. Thanks for that. Breadcrumb fixed now and sorting out blog misdirect. Much appreciated.

    • Simon McGarr says:

      I realise I will be forever referred to within the Irish Times as ‘Breadcrumbs Guy’.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Sheridan@8. Thanks for that. Wouldn’t disagree with any of it. However, as you clearly know, it ain’t simple and there’s no one size fits all answer. As per my previous post on Murdoch, I reckon a lot of his strategy at the moment is based on telling online users: ‘Go away and buy my papers if you want to read my stuff’. Which might actually make sense for some content (Sunday papers for example).

      As for mobile version, watch this space.

      The advertising/charging one is interesting. What some people forget is that newspapers aren’t the only broken business model. Mass-market advertising and old-style TV broadcasting face just as many challenges. Both were based on a cash-cow model which is disappearing fast.

    • Fergus Desmond says:

      More coverage of domestic Irish football please. It is galling to see this nations leading quality broadsheet printing pages of english football games.

      Secondly more accuracy too and not subscribing to sensationalism as some of your reporters did in February 2006 when supporters of Shamrock Rovers were wrongly blamed for the Love Ulster riot.

    • Mary Lynn Hughes says:

      I wrote a lengthy comment re ‘Thinking Anew’ and my preference for retaining such idiosyncratic content in the IT.

      When I tried to submit it, I got a WordPress page asking me to fill in Name & Email – which I had done, and did again, to no avail.

      Another day, there was a list of ‘options’ for posting comments, none of which I could access. So WHY IS IT SO HARD TO POST A COMMENT, OR AM I JUST THICK??

Search Mechanical Turk