Jeffrey Zeldman was one of the first designers, bloggers, and independent publishers on the web, and one of the first web design teachers. In 1998, he co-founded—and from 1999 to 2002 he directed—The Web Standards Project, a grassroots coalition that helped bring standards to our browsers.
He publishes A List Apart “for people who make websites;” has written two books (notably the foundational web standards text, Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition); co-founded the web design conference An Event Apart; and founded and is executive creative director of Happy Cog™, an agency of web design and user experience specialists.
Question: What's the future of online journalism?
Zeldman: I like, I’m proud of for what it is, it’s a very focus magazine with editorial policies probably you know that’s one way to do it. When you have to put news out there I think the people who do it best and have been doing it best for about 2 years are the New York Times. I worry about every newspaper, I worry about the financial undertaking and I worry that somehow the loss of the sale of the paper version will affect their ability to have journalists and editors and producers. We really need those. The New York Times seems to… and I mean, it’s a way of words towards information graphics which were amazing. If you remember a couple of years ago when they… that plane flew into the building and you felt awful like, wow that was such a horrible tragedy, we’re really digging this graphic you know, what I mean, you just kind of felt bad. But it’s really the way they lay articles out, the way you can find types of content, the way they have, you know, I think they’re doing it brilliantly I think, New York Magazine with Creative Director Ian Adelman is doing it brilliantly. There are a lot of magazines that don’t know how to do it, how to communicate online and one of the problems, I mean the biggest problem they are having .. There are two problems they are having. If you don’t have a web strategy and they all sort of to figure it out in the 90s that you need one but a lot of them just bugged down arguing about it, they don’t know how to have one or they hire the wrong consultant, did the wrong designer, they hire the designer, that gives something that looked awesome but wasn’t really strategic and wasn’t a way forward. One problem that we have that they have is money and the other is the web. Those are the two problems so, the money problem is, you know I mean there was awhile back we did… we design Ad age and then we redesign Ad age they were going through that phase that every paper goes through where maybe we can charge for our content and if the web have evolved that way the answer would be yes instead of paying $40 a year for a paper subscription I’ll pay $35 subscription for digital subscription, that would have worked and it should work and the information is just as valuable but whether you’re paying for it or not but people expect web content to be free and even though people keep saying it’s the end of free, I don’t foresee the end of free. They still think they can go online and get it free and if they can’t get it they would go somewhere else. New York Times have archives and they were charging for the archives, they gave up on that, like they gave up all there. Ad age had archives and they’re sort of, you know, when they needed to go that way all we could advice them to do is keep that as simple as possible and make it really clear all this stuff is free and this stuff isn’t and here’s what it costs. And you know, give them you know, one time fee or subscription and you know, make the value of subscribing clear and that’s it. But we really advised them to be free. The problem now is if you’re free, you’ve got to work with advertising. But in the New York Times you need to make a lot of money. If you’re at the Washington Post you know, you need to make a lot of money so, you need to have lots of Ads on the page and the advertisers are constantly saying well, you know, you know, two ads on either side of the mass and at the top of the mass head in the right column, we can get that, you know, that must three. We really want our Ad to like explode the browser window and completely fill the person’s screen and not be closable and you know, if you won’t give that to us, your competitor will. If you’re not selling your print magazine, you’re only selling the web and you need millions of dollars to finance your operation, then beyond, you know, church and state idea of advertising starts throughout the window and that’s scary too. It’s scary that newspapers might stop that some great newspapers might stop or might not be able to deliver the quality that they once did and it’s scary that in order to do what they once did, they might have to schlock their, you know, the usually experience of… I think sponsorship is a wonderful model, right. If you find the right sponsor for the right content, so, if this is you know… if your movie review section is sponsored by the Sundance channel, distance you know making that up but that’s good exposure for the channel. If you do it in ways with the logos, ever present this, there’s subtle ways of doing that, it make me like your newspaper and the Sundance channel. And if they can find the right price point with that, that might be something. I think smaller Ads with less competition, I mean, every designer wants that right. One Ad on the page it’s an easy start to a designer. If you could do that and they get worked by having a smaller you know, a smaller magazine with fewer… that requires for your resources that can work. Sponsorship can work. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m scared when I think about great publications facing, you know in sort of life or death moment. And all they can count on is advisers who want to pay less and less.