Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

« Previous Post | Readers' Representative Journal Home | Next Post » and the L.A. Times

March 21, 2008 |  4:44 pm

Beverly Price of Encinitas writes, "I frequently go online to find an article I read in order to e-mail a link or cite it in a website/blog. I have a difficult time finding the article because it's not listed under the headline given it in the paper. Sometimes I can't find the article at all. Does the L.A. Times want to be totally irrelevant to the Internet?"

In fact, online headlines differ from those in print for just the opposite reason, and the way they're written is just one factor in why readership has increased dramatically in recent months. But Price's note touches on another question -- how well (or not) the search function works at -- and those are two of several questions we get regularly from readers frustrated or curious about The Times online.

Meredith Artley, Executive Editor, Interactive, gives some answers.

Why are the headlines in print different from those online for the same stories?

Partly it's a matter of space: Limits in the newspaper don't exist online. That means headlines can be longer; if there is a different word or phrasing that online editors want to use, they change it.

But more important, says Artley, is that certain words included in headlines make it easier for search engines to detect. That includes the search engine at as well as external search engines like Google and Yahoo. "The idea," says Artley, "is to use words that make our stories as easy to find as possible."

In the meantime, she adds, Web developers are working on a way for readers who come to and type in the headline as it ran in the paper to more easily find that story.

The search engine can't find the story I want -- it brings up a list with dozens of blog entries; current news articles show up in random order.

Some search engines present the list of stories with the top being what's deemed to be "closest match." Other news sites show most recent stories first. Currently, says Artley, "We are using 'closest match' but we are monitoring results and feedback like this. We are still working through some bugs with the new site search, and more improvements are coming. One of the great things about the Web is the ability to quickly make changes and improvements to the site based on reader feedback and what our traffic reports tell us."

Readers having trouble finding what they're seeking can send inquiries to

Barack Obama's speech on race is a huge news story on Page A1 Wednesday, but that same morning it was only in a smaller box halfway down The Times' homepage that linked to the editorial. What's the philosopy behind what The Times chooses for its homepage?

Timing is everything: On The Times' webside, Obama was featured prominently at the time he made his speech early Tuesday, and the homepage continued featuring it for most of that day. By Wednesday, 24 hours after the speech, the website was showing newer news. In comparison, the Times' print version presents its coverage as soon as it can -- the next day. On Wednesday's Page A1, the story about the speech was top of the page, with a large photo of Obama accompanying a story and a large display of a passage from this talk. Related coverage inside the A section included excerpts from his speech.

The homepage reflects the fact that Times reporters and staffers are updating stories, covering breaking news, filing blog posts, creating slide shows and multimedia, and talking with readers. So, yes, says Artley, visitors to comparing that to Page A1 will find different stories in a different order. Says Artley, "We want our homepage to change frequently to reflect the dynamic nature of the site. The more we change the site, the more readers keep checking in. Because of the nature of the medium and the nature of news, the newspaper and Web site are quite different -- we don't view one as a substitute for the other."

For readers exasperated, for instance, by stories about Britney Spears on the homepage -- and the numbers show that more online readers are interested than not -- Artley says: "The entertainment industry and all the news it generates -- including new films and television, to the writers strike, to celebrity coverage -- is an area of focus for the Los Angeles Times. It's the hometown business for our local readers, and it's also of interest to our global readership. It’s also important for the mix of news we provide on the homepage – we cover entertainment news along with local news, foreign news, sports news, etc., showing the diversity of our news report."

The Times, says Artley, needs to "own entertainment, and we must not turn our backs on popular culture."

That's why visitors to will almost always see an entertainment story on the homepage. It might be celebrity news, an  exclusive look at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, a scoop on the new Harry Potter films or a review on the latest movie that everyone is talking about.