With the debut of its redesigned website, French national daily newspaper Le Monde combined enhanced visual media and user participation in hopes of creating a more social news experience.
Le Monde.fr, the third most trafficked media site in France, launched its new format on Monday, as previously reported. Features of the site include more space for visual media, categorical tabs for each section of the news and a live chat window.
Editors Weblog spoke with Le Monde.fr Editor-in-Chief Alexis Delcambre about his primary goals for the newspaper in the online realm.
Social networking and the news
“The first objective is to improve the editorial formats that we’ve been experimenting with in our newsroom for a year,” Delcambre said.
One such new format is the “Live” feature, a chat window that appears on the home page of Le Monde.fr. On “Live,” users can ask questions of Le Monde journalists or make comments about certain topics, with journalists responding to their queries in real time. Delcambre said the feature is an innovation in France.
“It is inspired by chat windows that exist on Facebook and on Google Docs, just like a chat with a friend,” Delcambre said. “We sought to reproduce this format on our site so that when one participates on “Live,” one can have a dialogue with our editorial staff.”
As we previously reported, regional Swedish newspaper Norran offers a live online chat box, eEditor, in which users can suggest story ideas to journalists in the newsroom. UK daily The Guardian also recently began a Newsdesk live feature, in which journalists post breaking news and which stories they plan to cover on a daily blog for readers to see.
Delcambre said that “Live” aims to add an interactive dimension to the Le Monde website. Live chats not only allow users to question the editorial staff, but help journalists to better understand what information their readers want, he said.
The newsroom staff monitor the comments, choosing which to respond to on “Live,” he said. The task of responding to the questions posed in the chat window, while designated by time slots, is often a collaborative effort, he said.
“If they need to ask one journalist who is specialized in some subject or another, they can ask them to come and join the chat,” he said.
The staff also aimed to better integrate social networking into the site, making it easier to share information among users, he said. Icons which allow users to follow Le Monde on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can be found on the top of the home page.
Looks matter, too
Delcambre said that in addition to increasing its interactive characteristics, the redesign of Le Monde.fr was equally dedicated to upgrading the visual format of the site. Photographs, animated graphics and videos now have much larger designated spaces on the site, he said.
Another objective of the newsroom was to better demonstrate the rich thematic content of Le Monde through the structure of the home page, he said. Under the new design, the home page is strictly divided into categories, such as International, Politics, Society, Economy, and Culture.
“It is a very organized site, with an important hierarchy on the home page,” Delcambre said.
On the main toolbar, a tab is also included for the subscriber section. Rather than implementing a paywall, Le Monde.fr separates its free content from paid content with a premium option that gives paying readers full access to the newspaper on the web, on a mobile phone or on an iPad.
Straight from the readers’ mouths
Delcambre also said the newsroom has been very open to questions from readers and feedback about the changes, whether positive or negative.
“It’s very useful for our newsroom to get questions from the readers because it helps to choose in which way we must work,” he said.
He said readers sometimes provide valuable news information, which the staff then fact checks and occasionally publishes.
“Of course it's also useful to get critics,” he said. “For example, this weekend we had a live chat on the new layout of our website, and we received some congrats and also some critics, and there was a critique about some technical points which we managed to fix during the weekend.”
Le Monde.fr operated a test-launch this past Saturday, during which the staff received about 3,000 comments from users.
A test of integration
Delcambre also discussed the recent integration of the print and online political teams at Le Monde in relation to the new website.
“Our newsrooms are not integrated,” he said. “The teams covering the presidential campaign are integrated, but this is a test of a new organization which began in September and which will end in June.”
“After this test we will decide whether we go on or whether we change something or another,” he said. “Maybe we will try another model.”
Delcambre also noted that “the digital newsroom and the mainly print newsroom, of course, work more and more together every day.”
“I think that we have two different medias, well let’s say, rather, two different products,” he said. “We have one product which is very hard news, very reactive, very social, very mobile-oriented, and which is free. And we have another product which is mainly paid for, mainly print … and I think that our aim is that everyone in our organization can contribute to one product or another. But we have not reached this point.”
*Some quotes translated from the original French