Over the course of three days, I challenged myself to create a website for a local newspaper. Well… local if you happen to be on Mars. Yes, the planet.

The Problems

I wanted to address some pain points I had noticed with many local news sites and that I found others had noticed and documented, too:

The torments of these sites are well known: clunky navigation, slow page-loading times, browser-freezing autoplaying videos, a siege of annoying pop-up ads, and especially those grids of bottom-of-the-page “related content” ads hawking belly fat cures and fake headlines (what’s known as Internet chum).

Citylab, “Why Are Newspaper Websites So Horrible?

These “torments” along with non-responsive layouts and other accessibility problems contribute to an unpleasant user experience that can make visitors leave the website.

The VALUE OF ADDRESSING THE PROBLEMS

Fixing these issues, however, makes for a better experience that can increase traffic by motivating users to stay on the site and repeat visits. This could allow for more people to be informed by the newspaper’s work, encourage visitors to become subscribers/members, and increase ad revenue because of better site traffic.

Accepting the challenge

I’ve laid out in blog posts on the Gale Crater Observer site and on this site what my vision was for the site, some of the challenges, and what I was able to do. I won’t repeat that here, but do check those out for some insights into the process of creating GCO.

I will say that my goals were to show it’s not impossible – not even nearly – to have a local news site that exists not just because everyone is online but because baked into it is the idea that people are coming to the site to gain information with minimal barriers. It’s both possible and necessary. A Fall 2018 survey from Pew Research Center revealed that 41% of Americans preferred to get local news from television, 37% from online sources, and just 13% from print. (Eight percent preferred to get local news from the radio.) As more people shift away from print, print outlets have to decide whether they want readers who are moving online to shift to their digital product or to someone else. If the answer is they want to keep their readers (and gain new ones!), they have to make their websites serve their audiences well.

While the site is intentionally not fully fleshed out, I hope visitors to Gale Crater Observer take away from it that local news does not have to be at odds with or afraid of embracing digital. I hope they see a lot of good can come from committing to a great online news experience.

Bonus

GCO was originally named “Gale Crater Gazette.” When I was working on the brand visuals, I liked the representation of Mars, so I changed the name to something that would make use of the circular planet icon as the letter O. Here are the visuals I created for Gale Crater Observer:

Gale Crater Observer logo
Gale Crater Observer logo. A red capital G with a black shadow in Abril Fatface font for a strong presence. An O for “Observer” is a circular red and peach colored icon I created to represent Mars.
gale crater observer alternative logo
“Gale Crater Observer” in black Abril Fatface font on two lines on strips of white. Beneath: Red and peach colored Mars icon.
gale crater observer banner
Gale Crater Observer banner. “Gale Crater” and most of the letters of Observer are in black Abril Fatface font. Gale Crater spaced across the top line to match the length of “Observer.” The “O” in “Observer” is the planet Mars icon.

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