For a publication that redefined newspaper design and practically goaded newsrooms out of their black-and-white slumber, it's disturbing, to say the least, to see what USA Today.com looks like nowadays, or more specifically, doesn't look like.
All of its section fronts, especially the home page, reek of wasted opportunity. There are headlines running down the right side and not much else. Not only that, they are presented without rhyme or reason. On Saturday, right underneath word that former NYC Police Commisioner Bernie Kerik rejected a plea deal for various and sundry felonies, was word that swimmer Michael Phelps notched yet another gold medal at the world championships.
Further down were items about Serena Williams winning another tournament, and circus clown Bello pleading for the return of his mini-bike. Both were followed by at least two inches of white space. Gannett may be up to its penny-pinching, but is there no one around to throw in a blurb?
To find out virtually anything about any story on the home page, you would have to click on a headline, which then makes the site a must-avoid instead of a must-read for anyone with limited time or short attention span. Meaning, it's doing exactly the opposite of what it's intended to do.
USA Today became the master of effectively packaging news -- attacking the sanctity of stories that jumped to another page and offering us "news you can use" in effective, attractive packages. Sometimes, the journalism, indeed the very substance of the product fell victim to the style.
But those problems have long since been addressed, and gone are the days when you'd go bonkers when your hotel gift shop didn't stock The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, and you had to settle for the paper left on your doorknob.
Now its Web site must play catch-up in a bad way.