The web site of France’s serious evening newspaper Le Monde, as well as the newspaper itself, publish weekly a translated version of the BreakingViews.com columns (no free content on their own site). The print version allows for a quick identification of that poor content, but the web site flags it inconveniently, exposing readers to garbage without warning.
In print, the identification is pretty good: the articles are flagged with the Breaking Views logo.
The title might turn you off immediately: the tone of those columns is probably meant to be provocative, but merely manages to be ill-informed, irrelevant, and cantankerous. However, the title can sometimes be attractive (“Web 2.0 bubble deflates as MySpace slashes staff”) and catch your eye. In that case, the presence of the logo reminds you that you’re in the garbage column and that you can safely move on.
(Side point: Breaking View’s titles are very web-appropriate and deliver the article’s gist in just a few words. Le Monde’s articles, however, do not prove Nielsen’s point about print titles–they are also fairly web-native. Would be interesting to see whether it a non-Anglo-Saxon-journalism trait, or specific to Le Monde.)
However, on Le Monde’s web site, the Breaking View columns appear without upfront flagging. The article I mentioned above features the supplier’s logo at the bottom of the page. Home page links to that page are unmarked and look exactly the same as links to the paper’s own articles.
“Related” links are identified, a good choice:
However, neither home page links nor links from the sequence (business > media in this case) show any difference, and that’s unfortunate:
The paper version of Le Monde attempts to differentiate clearly the raw news from their more opinionated analysis, while op-eds are fenced in a page (and layout) of their own like in English-language newspapers. LeMonde.fr is already a blend of two sources of content: the site’s staff are “low-cost” journalists, who feed the site with reworded agency flashes, which constitutes another type of content. Breaking News, finally, is in yet another class: bough-in, translated rants.
The reason for differentiating the types of contents is because readers shouldn’t receive them in the same manner: the newspaper stakes its credibility and professionalism behind its raw news, and wants readers to know that, to the best of Le Monde’s knowledge, what’s written is true, and has been verified. (Big difference here with US news: quoting sources is not customary unless it brings something to the story, and many claims have an implicit sourcing and are simply written as statements, which makes for very quick reading.)
For its own news analysis, Le Monde is basically flagging its own opinions, and by doing so, is allowing readers to judge for themselves. For other content types, Le Monde is saying: “look, we give space to this, but this isn’t necessarily what we think” which makes them an important player in the French public space, while maintaining the status of their news and analysis. Agency flashes are obviously necessary for such a popular news site, which is expected to know what’s going on NOW.
Breaking Views articles are a waste of column inches, paper, ink, electrons, pixels, brain time, etc. But by not identifying that content properly, and particularly not upfront, my perception of Le Monde is also degraded. While I’m perfectly willing to accept that some space is devoted to something I don’t want and don’t appreciate (they run ads, too!), I resent being tricked in reading useless articles.