This review is by malakut.org webmaster
Daryoush Mohammad Poor; Danial Keshani, web designer and graphist
of torgheh.com, and
webmaster Mehdi Jami, who is also a BBC journalist [Persian text].
I should also note that they did not know I was a member of a group
which made a losing bid last February to manage Radio
Farda's website :o)
-- Jahanshah Javid
A vision for Farda
By Daryoush Mohammad Poor
Danial Keshani & Mehdi
July 22, 2004
Radio Farda's new website creates
the expectation in its viewers that they are at an online
news website. But
looking a bit
deeper reveals that the site is not capable of sustaining
this initial expectation but rather exposes key weaknesses
both in its content and layout.
The following is a brief review [Persian text] of
some of these problems. The time window for this review is during
made to the site
in the first week of July 2004. In brief, this review contends that
the shortcomings stem from a lack of professional
A) Lack of order and consistency in the appearance of the pages.
1. Images do not have a fixed size. One can easily
spot this with a quick look at the Persian and English pages
of the website.
the English page (Saturday, 3rd July) for example, there are
11 images with 11 different sizes.
2. Titles do not follow a specific pattern
and are at times too long with no journalistic logic. For example,
see the first
headline of page one on 1st July.
3. News teasers do not follow any word limitation.
Thus, they are lengthy and at times excessive.
4. Page templates can be termed as "elastic",
i.e. columns and other elements of the pages are not fixed and
as page elements change.
5. In some cases, one can see blank lines, and
improper paragraph separation (e.g. see the
last line of each column
with the title of the column beneath it).
6. The design of the page is basic and the template
is not properly contained (see 4 above) by the designer. (See
also the details
of the unprofessional style of design in the Appendix).
B) Wasting the space of the page
1. Missing headlines: The ticker which
is welcoming the reader to the new website of Radio
Farda can be easily replaced
main three news headlines of the day. Also, the welcome message
suitable for personal weblogs rather than one a professional
and reference news website.
2. Empty spaces: Empty spaces in the
pages do not follow an aesthetic logic and therefore make them
3. Redundancy: Redundancy is a basic
problem in the use of language and page design. Here, we just
underline a few examples:
3.1. Voice/Voice: Using 'audio' (link) twice (in the links to different audio
formats), for each story makes the page visually unattractive. Moreover, this
may send a wrong message. The intelligent viewer learns easily that each news
item has an associate audio link. He should not be told of this twice. A proper
icon should be designed to do this.
3.2. Full text: Putting the phrase 'Full Text' is
another example of redundancy. Any internet user obviously
knows that reading the full text of a news story requires a click
on the link or the image. This repetition is patronizing.
3.3. Date: Another example of redundancy is the use
of the date and time of each story at the bottom of each news
the main page. Such information is usually provided inside the
link when it is opened. Using such pieces of information in the
main page on the one hand lengthens the page unnecessarily and
fills the page with tiring information.
4. Repetition of the exact piece of news in one page: On
some pages, materials in the side columns are exactly the same
the materials in the main column. For example, look at the page
for Science and Culture on Wednesday, 7th July: the
first three items of the main column are repeated in the side
column; (Diana's memorial site in Hyde Park, a film on immigration
an Iranian filmmaker, Moses's Ten Commandments in
an exhibition in Germany). Surprisingly, exactly the same layout
appears on all pages from World and Iran to Sports and
the news pieces of the main column are repeated in the side column.
5. News photos: The site's ews photos currently seem
to be decorative and without a web-oriented journalistic
6. Section titles: Presently, section titles are crammed
into the banner with small fonts which make them insufficiently
highlighted. Also, some section titles such as 'About us' should
not be on top of
the page. These links are usually fitted at the bottom of the
page. Generally speaking, the distribution of page and section
titles show lack of journalistic weight.
C) Update issue
There are many examples. The most important
one during browsing on Thursday 1st July can be seen in
the Sports column. While the match between Greece
and the Czech Republic had been over for 5 hours, the
latest sports news on this page spoke about the victory
Holland 2 days earlier. Either there should not be a Sports section
or it should be regularly updated.
the political issues, one can mention the afternoon news story
on Wednesday, 7th July on the main page, which remained unchanged
until the afternoon of Thursday, 8th July: Warning by Iranian
Defence Minister that Tehran would relinquish its nuclear
commitments in if Iran is invaded. Keeping these
in mind would users trust the site as a reliable
Materials on the side bar of the page are not changed regularly.
This may be the result of skeleton staff or the
periodical nature of these materials such as New Outlook'
[Negaah Taazeh]. However, this is not true in all cases. Whatever
the case the periodical nature of certain materials should be
properly imparted to viewers.
In the English page, on Saturday 3rd July, the main news items
belong to two or three days earlier and there are no new
Archives: Contrary to the previous archiving system
(the Radio Farda's old site) which was relatively organized,
the current system of archiving is completely disorganized and
out of date. The major reason for this is perhaps the recent
change from the old to new site. However, it would be better
if such an archive based on the name of reporters and producers
would not have been set up on the page before the completion
of the site design. Those familiar with the previous
lay-out immediately recognize this lack of order
and the obvious weakness of the website.
D) Not following rules of producing main news items
1. Visiting the website on different days, one can notice an
over-emphasis on news items about Iran, which to a professional
eye may seem unprofessional. We believe that the impression of
those associated with the site is that in order to attract more
viewers there should be more emphasis on news items about Iran
-- and this
at the cost of more important major news of the day. For instance,
on 1st July, the most important news of the world was Saddam
Hussein's court hearing, but the Radio
Farda website had this as
a second news item on the first page and Geoff Hoon's remarks
on British sailors (in Iranian territorial waters) as the
2. In the layout of the front page, the place of the main news
item and the manner of its presentation should be changed. In
the website of Voice
of America and the
first news item is clearly highlighted on top of all other news
3. The title 'News in Brief' for what it is other news items
or world news seems confusing. There are main news items, news
in brief and also world reports. Divisions should be straight
forward, clear and free from repetition.
4. Although issues mentioned in this review relates mainly
to the Persian website of Radio
Farda, the major concerns raised
here also apply to the English website. For instance, in terms
of classification of news items. Here, we just mention one point:
Classifying news items into "diplomacy", "trial", "controversy",
"dialogue", "pilgrimage", "nuclear" and "legal" (based on a visit
on 3rd July)
is not based on journalistic principle but are arbitrary.
E) Lack of Professional Vision
We believe you would agree with us in saying that the
points mentioned show that the main problem of Radio
Farda's website is the
absence of a professional vision. Moreover, this lack of professionalism
more or less reflects itself in the layout, arrangement, choice
of design and images and even the language used. The predominant
vision in the site apparently suggests a sort of tabloid oriented
trend rather than a serious journalistic vision.
A clear example of this sort of vision is the 'Free Subscription'
tag on the first page. Many news and non-news websites encourage
their users to visit them by inviting them to register in the
site for e-alerts on the users' e-mails; but none of these sites
ever speak of a free subscription and almost in all cases even
if they do so, they would never advertise it boldly on their
front page flag banner. (See: Tajik website of the Radio Liberty
which shows this kind of subscription at the bottom of the page).
We mentioned earlier that the value and weight of titles
and sections of Radio Farda's
website are not clear and this is in fact an evidence of the
a professional vision.
The most obvious example in this regard is the frequent mistakes
seen in the reports of the site. For example, in the Science
and Culture page on Wednesday 7th July, the first headline
reads: "Commemoration of Princess Diana by the Queen of
Britain and the Memoirs of Sean Connery".
In fact, the webmaster has inserted two different pieces of
news under one title. The interesting point is that even in the
text of the report both news items are incorporated without any
space and at first glance one imagines that this is one piece
of news. This mistake has apparently occurred -- or justified
-- because the reporter of both news items is one person!
It appears that the problem of the incorrect distribution and
arrangement of news items as discussed above lies mostly with
those keeping the day-to-day affairs of Radio
Farda's website rather
than the organization's radio reporters and producers. In other
words while Radio Farad uses the expertise of professional
and experienced reporters and producers, this is apparently not
the case with its website. Radio and the internet are different
carriers. A piece for radio broadcast is not necessarily suitable
for online posting. Each medium has its own specific features
which should be properly addressed.
Radio Farda's website
is currently an audio-based news website. This particular feature
should be defined clearly at least in
short term and as long as the site remains an extension of the
radio service of Radio Farda.
And the site's viewers should be "trained" accordingly.
In medium term, the best solution perhaps could be the gradual
separation of the website from its mother i.e. the radio, to
become and independent internet entity rather than a secondary
source for those
who have not managed to listen to the news and programs of Radio
However, one can also think of interim solutions as well. If
the website of Radio Farda is
to be fed by its radio programs, this policy can be kept while
at the same time spending time
and energy (such as creating simple single shift schedule) to
produce proper up-to-date news items.
Even if the existing policy is to be continued, committing
to certain simple rules is vital; for example no program should
be merely an audio item, but it should also be accompanied by
a text which gives a synopsis of the item.
Finally, this simple point has to be indicated once more that
the language of radio is different from that of writing and particularly
web materials. Any reconstruction of the site towards a professional
one cannot ignore this fact. Language is the backbone and
basis of credibility of any news website.
1. Redesigning the website of Radio
Farda taking into account
all professional, aesthetic and applied factors.
2. Taking advantage of an experienced team of journalists familiar
with the language and world of the internet in selecting and
using materials for the website. Such journalists ought to be
sensitive to news and news language and familiar with the web
and creative photo journalism.
3. Being mindful of the principle that any radio material is
not necessarily an internet/written material. Materials for the
web ought to be 'selected' and 'edited' accordingly.
4. Removing the English website and devoting the entire energy
to the Persian website. With regard to the diversity and variety
of English news websites, it does not appear that the English
website of Radio Farda would
really have a lot of visitors particularly in its current state.
Therefore, probably the best solution,
at least in medium term, would be to forgo the English website
and spend all the energy on improving the Persian site.
5. Constant monitoring of the number and diversity of readers
and users through websites such as Red Sheriff and reflecting
them in the method of selecting and preparing material.
Criticisms of the Page Design
Although studying the structural weaknesses of the internet
website of Radio Farda includes various major and minor issues,
all the items addressed in the following as defects or technical
problems together form a single spirit which is suggested by
the website in the first encounter and later use of the website
to the user. The purpose of mentioning these items is merely
to change this overall structure.
Overall appearance and setting
The overall appearance of the website, design and setting of
different elements and the choice of colors are extremely unorganized
and dare we say, upsetting. Any news agency and website
which has the objective of informing its audience should create
a sense of confidence in them. Thus, the level of this confidence
can determine the qualitative degree of the website.
who wishes to obtain information needs to have confidence in
the material and believe that the source is a stable and consistent
source. This characteristic has to be reflected in all aspects
of the website and its services. News production and its presentation
on the website are factors which give confidence to the referred
that one can trust the news produced on this website.
This point (i.e. instilling a positive sense) is an important
principle in a news website which is generally producing news
and has to be taken into consideration in web design.
After a comparison of the websites of BBC
of America and Radio Farda, one can easily grasp the structural
differences of Radio Farda website with the other two sites.
Crowdedness, inconsistency, strong colors and overall the disorder
of page elements are among the major differences of Radio
Farda website with the other two.
* The absence of tabling and orderly divisions: Divisions
in the BBC
Persian site are so organized that one can easily
take its template for the purpose of publication and designing
a printed version for a newspaper.
* Tabling in a manner that the eyes and mind of the reader
automatically distinguishes between major and minor items and
proper use of space. The page space in the websites of BBC
Persian and Voice
of America are fixed, the table of the main page does
not change with different resolutions. This item has been ignored
in Radio Farda website by putting a 100% table which contributes
to the instability of the pages and further suffocation in the
pages. In 1024 resolution the entire page is filled from both
sides and there is no empty space in it.
* In confirmation of the previous point, the upper half of
the first page uses one form and the lower half uses another
form. None of the halves have a specific theme.
* The menu is not located in an appropriate place. Main menu
does enjoy the appropriate location and is placed somewhere which
falls out of access by scrolling the page. In the other aforementioned
websites, the menus exist in their customary locations and they
are in a form that traditionally the eyes of the visitor expect
them to be. A reference website must remain faithful to classic
principles of web design as far as possible.
* Extremely bad design of headers: For example, the photo for
the 'Negaah Taazeh' column depicting feminine eyes more than
anything else resembles the designs, shall we risk saying, behind
road trucks in Iran and Pakistan! You would never find such illustrations
in any of the pages of BBC
Persian and Voice
of America. Wild
and careless use of colors in an attempt to show the page to
be lively and attractive is one of the biggest problems of the
page which has turned it into a mixture of different colors.
* Main color theme of the site: One can ask the question,
by looking at the other two websites, why both the BBC and VOA websites
have used a blue theme of color along with a background of gray
white in a neutral way? Why have they not used a
combination of blue and orange or blue and yellow which are known
as reviving in primitive books?
* Disarray in all elements: Disarray is such that the photos
of the main page and photos of other pages each follow a different
size pattern. For example, the size of one photo is 112X150 pixels
and the photo below it is 114X170 pixels.
* Use of Flash pictures which is constantly moving on top of
the page in the live section buttons next to the logos of Windows
Media Player and Real Player. Which credible news website really
uses animated gifs of flash files in the website? Has the use
of these animated pictures been really necessary?
* Buttons design which is clearly reflected in the search and
correspondent archives design. Using buttons which are bevelled
has been outdated for a few years and generally web designers
have turned to using solid elements.
* Colored bar on the right hand side of the page does not really
seem to have any function. The bar is right next to the small
and big photos such that there is no space between this coloured
bar and the photos.
* In spite of all the disarray, a box exists for sending messages
with a free size and out of the page template. Was there really
no better location for placing this box?
* The welcome ticker of Radio
Farda's new website has made
it very, shall we say immature. Novices of HTML and FRONTPAGE
are among the most frequent users of this technique.
* The website logo which is expected to play the main element
of communicating and cast its shadow on the other aspects of
the website is really weak. Looking at the logo of BBC Persian,
for example, one can see the integrity and professionalism in
the header and logo design, which is missing in Radio
goodbye to spam!