The news industry will stop saying overdue UX fixes are too hard

“‘Too hard’ isn’t an acceptable answer in a college classroom, much less from some of the smartest technically minded people in the world.”

Perhaps you’ve had this experience — no, actually, anyone who’s ever clicked on a social link to a paywalled news site has. You click onto a site that you actually subscribe to, and creak, creak, paywall…password…sigh.

You don’t remember your password — or you’re on your phone and it’s not saved properly there. Either way, some other push notification pops up on your screen, and you decide that reading that article or watching that video just isn’t worth all the effort.

Every time I’ve asked someone about this click-hiccup on Twitter or put it to product and software engineers in newsrooms I visit, I’m told that it’s just a thorny problem that’s too hard to solve. Really hard. Too hard. Super technically sophisticated.

This isn’t a new problem — the popup paywalls and password logins for news linked on social media sites. The problem is growing more important. Maybe the journalist can see that Covid medical journal article on PubMed, or that deep dive on The Atlantic — but you, user/reader can’t.

I’ve got news for you, internet and news software people: We’re in the metaverse, now officially. We’ve got AI that can alarmingly recognize our faces, there are robots that can reproduce, and VR has become a holiday splurge at the price point of a new gaming system.

Saying that fixing this web hiccup is just too hard — one that we in the audience aren’t willing to accept anymore.

“Too hard” isn’t an acceptable answer in a college classroom, much less from some of the smartest technically minded people in the world. To allow this continued excuse for this click-hiccup is to ignore the kind of usability issues that are literally preventing even the most motivated news consumers from getting to news they want to read.

And it’s more insulting when that click-hiccup is keeping you from an news site you actually subscribe to. For mid-size metro newspapers, whose tech sophistication isn’t at par with their national counterparts, failure to solve this problem could mean the difference between survival and subscription cancellations. As motivated news consumers have more and competition for their attention, the desire to click on any one news link diminishes.

Journalists producing well-substantiated content that links across the web also are at fault — forgetting the rest of the public doesn’t have the logins, memberships, or motivations to click through to their carefully-sourced claims.

It behooves us to figure out how to solve these most basic technical and user issues. Perhaps this means working more directly with platforms. Perhaps this means asking subscribers to opt in to more tracking. I recall in my early morning phone browsing trying to approve something like this — whatever it was, it didn’t work.

We’ve reached an apogee of some of the most beautiful digital storytelling we’ve ever seen. Most national news outlets have reached a point where they cannot be described as simply text- or video-based — they’re real members of a multimedia multiverse that I could only have dreamed of in 2006, when I started graduate school to study all this.

But failure to solve basic UX problems isn’t just embarrassing — it’s also an example of news outlets’ continued inability to realize that users have to be at the center of any sort of future success, and building the loyalty of your audience takes work.

We can talk strategy, innovation, business models, and beyond, but being unable to click through on my phone to a news outlet I pay for is simply inexcusable — and for those outlets I don’t pay for yet, a real disincentive to visit at all.

Those of us reading Nieman Lab are not the normal universe of news consumers. I know this bothers you, too. To put it simply, long-lasting, well-known UX are getting in the way of sustainability.

Perhaps you’ve had this experience — no, actually, anyone who’s ever clicked on a social link to a paywalled news site has. You click onto a site that you actually subscribe to, and creak, creak, paywall…password…sigh.

You don’t remember your password — or you’re on your phone and it’s not saved properly there. Either way, some other push notification pops up on your screen, and you decide that reading that article or watching that video just isn’t worth all the effort.

Every time I’ve asked someone about this click-hiccup on Twitter or put it to product and software engineers in newsrooms I visit, I’m told that it’s just a thorny problem that’s too hard to solve. Really hard. Too hard. Super technically sophisticated.

This isn’t a new problem — the popup paywalls and password logins for news linked on social media sites. The problem is growing more important. Maybe the journalist can see that Covid medical journal article on PubMed, or that deep dive on The Atlantic — but you, user/reader can’t.

I’ve got news for you, internet and news software people: We’re in the metaverse, now officially. We’ve got AI that can alarmingly recognize our faces, there are robots that can reproduce, and VR has become a holiday splurge at the price point of a new gaming system.

Saying that fixing this web hiccup is just too hard — one that we in the audience aren’t willing to accept anymore.

“Too hard” isn’t an acceptable answer in a college classroom, much less from some of the smartest technically minded people in the world. To allow this continued excuse for this click-hiccup is to ignore the kind of usability issues that are literally preventing even the most motivated news consumers from getting to news they want to read.

And it’s more insulting when that click-hiccup is keeping you from an news site you actually subscribe to. For mid-size metro newspapers, whose tech sophistication isn’t at par with their national counterparts, failure to solve this problem could mean the difference between survival and subscription cancellations. As motivated news consumers have more and competition for their attention, the desire to click on any one news link diminishes.

Journalists producing well-substantiated content that links across the web also are at fault — forgetting the rest of the public doesn’t have the logins, memberships, or motivations to click through to their carefully-sourced claims.

It behooves us to figure out how to solve these most basic technical and user issues. Perhaps this means working more directly with platforms. Perhaps this means asking subscribers to opt in to more tracking. I recall in my early morning phone browsing trying to approve something like this — whatever it was, it didn’t work.

We’ve reached an apogee of some of the most beautiful digital storytelling we’ve ever seen. Most national news outlets have reached a point where they cannot be described as simply text- or video-based — they’re real members of a multimedia multiverse that I could only have dreamed of in 2006, when I started graduate school to study all this.

But failure to solve basic UX problems isn’t just embarrassing — it’s also an example of news outlets’ continued inability to realize that users have to be at the center of any sort of future success, and building the loyalty of your audience takes work.

We can talk strategy, innovation, business models, and beyond, but being unable to click through on my phone to a news outlet I pay for is simply inexcusable — and for those outlets I don’t pay for yet, a real disincentive to visit at all.

Those of us reading Nieman Lab are not the normal universe of news consumers. I know this bothers you, too. To put it simply, long-lasting, well-known UX are getting in the way of sustainability.

Laxmi Parthasarathy

AX Mina

Jennifer Brandel

Natalia Viana

j. Siguru Wahutu

Rachel Glickhouse

Gonzalo del Peon

Cherian George

Christoph Mergerson

Melody Kramer

Michael W. Wagner

Chase Davis

Catalina Albeanu

Amara Aguilar

Stefanie Murray

Wilson Liévano

Megan McCarthy

Eric Nuzum

Victor Pickard

Brian Moritz

Jonas Kaiser

Sarah Marshall

John Davidow

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Tamar Charney

Joy Mayer

Joshua P. Darr

Mike Rispoli

Stephen Fowler

Julia Angwin

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

Juleyka Lantigua

Jody Brannon

Nikki Usher

Matthew Pressman

Matt Karolian

David Skok

Julia Munslow

David Cohn

Ståle Grut

Jesse Holcomb

Matt DeRienzo

Janelle Salanga

James Green

Anita Varma

Robert Hernandez

Parker Molloy

Shalabh Upadhyay

Christina Shih

Richard Tofel

Andrew Freedman

Sarah Stonbely

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Mario García

Errin Haines

Gordon Crovitz

Joanne McNeil

Candace Amos

Tony Baranowski

Burt Herman

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Cindy Royal

Cristina Tardáguila

Whitney Phillips

Larry Ryckman

Zizi Papacharissi

Don Day

Izabella Kaminska

Francesco Zaffarano

Jessica Clark

Alice Antheaume

Kerri Hoffman

Raney Aronson-Rath

Meena Thiruvengadam

Jesenia De Moya Correa

Chicas Poderosas

Anthony Nadler

Joe Amditis

Millie Tran

Simon Galperin

Mandy Jenkins

Doris Truong

Jennifer Coogan

Sam Guzik

Jim Friedlich

Mary Walter-Brown

S. Mitra Kalita

Kristen Muller

Kristen Jeffers

Paul Cheung

Daniel Eilemberg

Kendra Pierre-Louis

A.J. Bauer

Ariel Zirulnick

Gabe Schneider

Anika Anand

Joni Deutsch

Moreno Cruz Osório

Tom Trewinnard

Simon Allison