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.

John Davidow

Stefanie Murray

Michael W. Wagner

Burt Herman

Alice Antheaume

Tom Trewinnard

Raney Aronson-Rath

Victor Pickard

Meena Thiruvengadam

Cherian George

Mandy Jenkins

Zizi Papacharissi

Chicas Poderosas

Anita Varma

Eric Nuzum

Cristina Tardáguila

Errin Haines

David Cohn

Millie Tran

Julia Angwin

Mary Walter-Brown

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Jesse Holcomb

Sarah Marshall

j. Siguru Wahutu

Whitney Phillips

Daniel Eilemberg

Andrew Freedman

James Green

Mario García

Ståle Grut

Doris Truong

Sam Guzik

Jonas Kaiser

Larry Ryckman

Jesenia De Moya Correa

David Skok

Amara Aguilar

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Tamar Charney

Gordon Crovitz

Shalabh Upadhyay

Moreno Cruz Osório

Matt DeRienzo

Joanne McNeil

Joni Deutsch

Joe Amditis

Natalia Viana

Julia Munslow

Candace Amos

Nikki Usher

Parker Molloy

Robert Hernandez

Anthony Nadler

Stephen Fowler

Wilson Liévano

Joy Mayer

Melody Kramer

Jennifer Coogan

Paul Cheung

Janelle Salanga

S. Mitra Kalita

Jennifer Brandel

Matt Karolian

Christina Shih

Anika Anand

Gabe Schneider

Laxmi Parthasarathy

Joshua P. Darr

Richard Tofel

Mike Rispoli

Jessica Clark

Megan McCarthy

Gonzalo del Peon

A.J. Bauer

Christoph Mergerson

Chase Davis

Sarah Stonbely

Brian Moritz

Matthew Pressman

Tony Baranowski

Rachel Glickhouse

Jody Brannon

Juleyka Lantigua

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

Izabella Kaminska

Simon Galperin

An Xiao Mina

Francesco Zaffarano

Simon Allison

Cindy Royal

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Catalina Albeanu

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Jim Friedlich

Don Day

Ariel Zirulnick

Kerri Hoffman

Kristen Muller

Kristen Jeffers