Online college newspapers: 4 common design mistakes

Newspaper style

They say old habits die hard and one habit that doesn’t seem to be doing too much dying on college newspaper sites is adhering to newspaper layout. This usually means having a story or two above the fold and major navigation elements several scroll lengths down the page. This works great on broadsheet, but it ca be frustrating for web users. Instead, divide the page into columns and ensure that a list of recent or breaking news stories is somewhere near the top.

No RSS feed

More often than not it is an identifiable RSS icon that is missing but there are a few sites that are missing RSS feeds altogether. In an internet age where an RSS feed is a de facto part of every website, big or small, not enabling RSS is blasphemous. Most importantly, it keeps users who may not visit the online student paper every day a way to still be updated on breaking news. Start off by checking out or speak to your site administrator to ensure that this all-important feature is available to your readers.

Slow loading time

The two most common reasons most online student news sites take forever to load are the heavy use of large images and large amounts of content on one page. Large images (like the ones taking up this week’s posts) look great but, for the students in the dorm all trying to connect to one weak wi-fi connection, can be a pain in the posterior. Images as navigation should be used sparingly. Images solely comprised of text should be replaced with actual text. This will speed up the loading process and is more SEO friendly.

Placing every photo slideshow or video in your paper’s arsenal on one page can be debilitating to the users who really want to see it. Instead, break up heavy content over several pages and use numbers or text links to increase flow-through.

White space

Ah, white space. The mortal enemy of most online student newspaper sites. Many student-run websites are incredibly uneven either because the list of stories or the ads run past the rest of the content, leaving a narrow column surrounded by nothing. A lot of it stems trying to get the entire staff member’s story on the front page (which is unnecessary) or laying out the page like a newspaper (which is, of course, wrong). A lesser culprit is placing the full text or complete list of stories on one page which often exceeds the navigation or rail. To slay the dreaded white space, split up and paginate long stories or simply extend the navigation. Also, be sure to make use of a footer so the page doesn’t end when the story ends. Once a reader is done, you want them to check out the rest of your excellent content.

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