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.

Don Day

Jesenia De Moya Correa

Sam Guzik

James Green

Joanne McNeil

Alice Antheaume

Kerri Hoffman

Jessica Clark

Mary Walter-Brown

Jennifer Coogan

Meena Thiruvengadam

Shalabh Upadhyay

Ariel Zirulnick

Laxmi Parthasarathy

Tamar Charney

Matt DeRienzo

Joshua P. Darr

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Stonbely

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Cherian George

A.J. Bauer

Ståle Grut

Matthew Pressman

Andrew Freedman

Whitney Phillips

Izabella Kaminska

Gonzalo del Peon

Joe Amditis

Janelle Salanga

Catalina Albeanu

Candace Amos

Amara Aguilar

Anthony Nadler

Robert Hernandez

Megan McCarthy

Simon Galperin

Stefanie Murray

Mandy Jenkins

Doris Truong

Millie Tran

Matt Karolian

Joy Mayer

Francesco Zaffarano

Zizi Papacharissi

Jody Brannon

Larry Ryckman

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

Tom Trewinnard

Michael W. Wagner

Gabe Schneider

Kristen Muller

Simon Allison

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Anita Varma

Burt Herman

An Xiao Mina

Mario García

Tony Baranowski

Errin Haines

Jesse Holcomb

Julia Angwin

Mike Rispoli

Christoph Mergerson

S. Mitra Kalita

Wilson Liévano

Raney Aronson-Rath

Parker Molloy

Julia Munslow

Cindy Royal

Kristen Jeffers

Juleyka Lantigua

Nikki Usher

Cristina Tardáguila

Brian Moritz

Joni Deutsch

Rachel Glickhouse

Anika Anand

Stephen Fowler

Christina Shih

Eric Nuzum

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Moreno Cruz Osório

Jim Friedlich

John Davidow

Paul Cheung

j. Siguru Wahutu

Jonas Kaiser

Jennifer Brandel

Gordon Crovitz

Richard Tofel

Daniel Eilemberg

Chase Davis

David Skok

Victor Pickard

Chicas Poderosas

Melody Kramer

Natalia Viana

David Cohn

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt