Journalists are people too: how to make your website press-friendly

I’ve criticised here and here for their chillingly inaccurate view on what journalists want from a website.

I think the reality is a lot simpler: journalists aren't a special category of web user. We're people. The trick is to accept that and treat journalists like any other user needing information from your site. You have no idea which browser we'll be using, what speed our connection will be, what disabilities we might have, any more than you would with regular users. That's why your site needs to be accessible to everybody as well as containing the kind of information that journalists look for. Here's some advice on how to build a site that will make a journalist's day that little bit better.

Make usability the basis of your web design, not an afterthought. Beautiful graphics and great copywriting are wasted if usability issues get in the way. So test your site on as many browsers as possible and on as many versions of those browsers as possible. Test to see that your site works with voice recognition software and text readers. Carry out extensive UAT with real people before you launch the site. Oh, and don't use Flash. Please. Here's why.

Make your press area easy to find. You should be able to get to the press section of the site within about thirty seconds of typing the company’s name into a search engine (probably Google). Put a very visible link to the press section on your landing page.

Don't try to predict or control the user journey. You can't keep non-journalists out of the press area any more than you can keep journalists off the site's other pages. What you can do is help people to find what they're looking for quickly. That means good search engine optimisation, clear navigation and good usability standards.

Make sure your site has a working text search. It's usually the quickest way for a journalist to find out whether or not the information they need is on the site.

Make sure your Press page includes:

  • Contact information (This must include a phone number as well as an email address. If we’re on deadline, we need to get through to a human being quickly rather than waiting for a reply to an email.)
  • Links to press releases (The text of press releases should also be findable through the site's text search.)
  • Links to picture galleries
  • Obvious links to the About page and any other pages that might be useful to journalists (It goes without saying that all pages should have an obvious link back to the home page.)

Write a concise summary of what your company does for the About page. Please don't go all existential on us. We expect you to put the best possible spin on what you do, but we've got very little patience for companies who openly wonder what they do.

Brain Games is a training organisation with a difference. We develop employees' lateral thinking skills, enabling them to "think outside the box" and abandon conventional working patterns. Satisfied customers say that our methods boost both productivity and employee wellbeing. We've worked with all sorts of organisations, from blue-chip companies to tiny non-profits. Our approach is tailored to the individual organisation, but we've been known to use games, puzzles, drama, role-play and even clown costumes to unlock hidden creativity.

What is Brain Games? Some praise our uncanny ability to unlock hidden creativity, while others see us as the crazy guys in clown costumes! It's hard to sum up what we do in a tidy soundbite, but essentially we're trying to make the world a better place by helping people to "think outside the box" and abandon conventional working patterns. All sorts of organisations sing our praises, from blue-chip companies to tiny non-profits. Perhaps it's time your business discovered what we're all about. Intrigued? Call....

If you can't come up with a clear account of what your own company or project does, how do you expect a journalist to do it? We don't want to hear about how you're "not easily categorised" because you're such a beautiful and unique snowflake. Just tell us what you do. Quickly. And remember to use the two-word trick.

That doesn't mean your About page has to be boring. Once you've explained exactly what your company does, you have the chance to put in a bit of colourful background. This is your chance for a bit of self-mythologising. Tell the story of how your company came from humble beginnings and grew into a huge empire through hard work and a bit of luck. A lot of busy journalists with space to fill at the end of the article will cut and paste your sepia-tinted tale.