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.

Mary Walter-Brown

Jim Friedlich

A.J. Bauer

Parker Molloy

Sam Guzik

Gordon Crovitz

Joe Amditis

Cherian George

David Skok

Cristina Tardáguila

AX Mina

Shalabh Upadhyay

Stephen Fowler

Richard Tofel

Jonas Kaiser

Mario García

Jennifer Brandel

John Davidow

Janelle Salanga

Nikki Usher

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Ståle Grut

Sarah Marshall

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Rachel Glickhouse

Julia Munslow

Mandy Jenkins

Juleyka Lantigua

Julia Angwin

Chicas Poderosas

Matthew Pressman

Francesco Zaffarano

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Larry Ryckman

S. Mitra Kalita

Joanne McNeil

Tom Trewinnard

Chase Davis

Matt DeRienzo

Izabella Kaminska

Christoph Mergerson

Jody Brannon

Simon Allison

Andrew Freedman

Simon Galperin

Anita Varma

Catalina Albeanu

Brian Moritz

Burt Herman

Joshua P. Darr

James Green

Cindy Royal

Jesenia De Moya Correa

Mike Rispoli

Joni Deutsch

Laxmi Parthasarathy

Zizi Papacharissi

Alice Antheaume

David Cohn

Matt Karolian

j. Siguru Wahutu

Anika Anand

Stefanie Murray

Millie Tran

Ariel Zirulnick

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Errin Haines

Anthony Nadler

Eric Nuzum

Wilson Liévano

Sarah Stonbely

Paul Cheung

Jesse Holcomb

Megan McCarthy

Jessica Clark

Joy Mayer

Robert Hernandez

Candace Amos

Christina Shih

Amara Aguilar

Kerri Hoffman

Natalia Viana

Whitney Phillips

Tamar Charney

Victor Pickard

Michael W. Wagner

Don Day

Kristen Muller

Kristen Jeffers

Gabe Schneider

Moreno Cruz Osório

Tony Baranowski

Melody Kramer

Raney Aronson-Rath

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

Meena Thiruvengadam

Daniel Eilemberg

Jennifer Coogan

Gonzalo del Peon

Doris Truong