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I have noticed something about sites like cnn, reuters, cbsnews etc. All of these have long blocks of text. They don't try to break it up with sub-headers even visually.

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/04/20/the-looming-threat-to-hillary-clintons-2016-campaign/

Even when you find some articles breaking the monotony of big block of text they mark it up as p strong instead of h2 and h3.

http://money.cnn.com/2014/04/11/technology/mobile/samsung-galaxy-s5-review/index.html?iid=SF_T_River

These are not the only ones. I have checked about 10 more and major news companies even technically savy sites like cnet, pcworld and others are like this, only exception being techradar.

What's their logic behind this?

  • 3
    I don't believe there is any logic. My suspicion is the majority of these sites will use CMS systems and the people adding content to those CMS system won't be content managers, as such the thought of using H2/H3 probably hasn't been correlated to sub-headings. On the other hand, they could be just lazy. From an SEO point of view it's poor. – DarrylGodden Apr 24 '15 at 12:54
  • I meant to add, long-form is becoming the norm, although there's no reason not to break it up. – DarrylGodden Apr 24 '15 at 13:10
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Traditionally, throughout journalism school students are taught to write with the inverted pyramid style rather than taught on how to write for the web. There are multimedia or convergence degrees out there that try and bridge this gap but they're relatively new.

The inverted pyramid gives a high level introduction of the topic in the first paragraph or two and then adds the details further down the article so that people get the summary quickly and can then decide how much more information they want to digest by committing to reading the article. Journalists write as though their readers are captive readers and not just scanning for specific information. This is also due to traditional space limitation with printing a newspaper on actual paper.

Writing for the web is focused on scannability and accepting that people are not captive readers. This leads to the subheaders, bullet points and anything else that can assist people in digesting a lot of information quickly. There is also almost no space limitation outside of the concerns of scrolling and that “above the fold” issue that is regularly debated. Side note: the term “above the fold” actually comes from the world of print newspapers. It refers to the standard format of folding newspapers in half horizontally. Newspaper editors focus on getting the biggest headlines on the top half so people see them and buy the newspaper.

From working in two separate newspapers I have experienced that the reporters write for print first and then the articles are added to the website by a web editor through a CMS without being edited as website content outside of maybe adding keywords or some other SEO additions.

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Reuters articles are probably written to serve both print and web and they don't have a rewrite-for-web process in place.

CNN's markup strikes me as dated in many respects (note it's XHTML, not HMTL5 - not that there's anything wrong with that), possibly an artifact of an older CMS or other technology.

Many of these outlets still publish in print and/or have a print legacy culture.

There are modern, internet first outlets, such as vox.com, that have done a good job of adopting a highly structured web-centric style. I suspect it just takes time to get writers and editors to learn and adopt the web-centric style. A restructuring/rebranding of a larger, older outlet (like CNN) is not without risk.

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It is a different mental model

I run a blog and a magazine and I have worked with about 75 writers over the past 5 years. What I've found is that the vast majority of writers—professional or not—do not mentally articulate their stories this way. The long blocks (to use your own words) tend to be the norm and as the editor-in-chief, it is not easy to enforce a more web friendly layout.

The one author who excels in this kind of writing is a certified coach and she is used to prepare information into digestible chunks. Which leads to my second point...

It doesn't always work and shouldn't be forced

Sometimes it simply doesn't. Some pieces are written in a straight narrative arc, in a very informative way, and it simply doesn't call for h2s or h3s. There is no need for steps, or hierarchy. A lot of top trending stories on Medium, right now, are all written like this.

Some other forms (steps to achieve something, mistakes to avoid, reasons why, etc.) really call for this kind of hierarchy and it makes them easier to consume. These are, in a way, more didactic pieces. It works really well for commercial/marketing copy too.

Hierarchy for hierarchy's sake can be counterproductive.

It is a matter of length, too

Finally, I think it is also a matter of length and connections one's brain can make across paragraphs.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, wouldn't work in a single block. One couldn't just process this much information in one block. Note how pullquotes are also here to break the flow and create pauses in the story.

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It's likely an unintentional artifact of the platform both sites use: WordPress.

People who wrote/formatted the articles aren't UX, SEO or accessibility experts. The WordPress WYSIWYG editor is terrible when it comes to adding headings to text.

The dropdown you need to switch from paragraphs to headings is hidden within the so call "kitchen sink" row.

enter image description here

Because the "bold" control is much more prominent, I suspect it's just easier to use that to create faux heading.

  • 1
    Do you mean "use that to create a faux heading"? – anotherdave Apr 26 '15 at 21:44

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