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Finding the balance at News vs. Community

USA Today adds community features and Web 2.0 frills to its Web site. Has it gone too far? Or not far enough?

The new USA Today blends original content with the wisdom of its crowd. CNET Networks

USA Today is the subject of a lot of blogger commentary today due to its new Web site, which features community features like profiles and blog spaces for registered users, the capability for users to vote stories up (but not down), and open comment threads on every story. The paper's Web site also says it will be recruiting readers to send in their news: "We're going to be asking you to send us your photos... [so] you can be part of covering the story."

In addition, has been redesigned and modernized. It's a functional if not very attractive Web 2.0 design, with an Ajax story carousel and a list of the most popular and most commented-on stories. It's easily understandable by people accustomed to contemporary Web sites, although it bears little design resemblance to the paper with the same name.

The blogosphere is mixed. TechCrunch says, "bravo," but Steve Rubel says the new site "doesn't go far enough." Stowe Boyd found the limitations of the social features, "ultimately annoying."

The people who matter--USA Today's readers--are baffled. Initial feedback to the new site is negative. Following the trend of most publishing redesigns, however, the readers will probably forgive the paper eventually. And the article-based discussions are already taking off.

It's unclear, though, how the community features will actually improve the news content at the paper itself. We can get user commentary from thousands of online sources, but precious few sites pay people to research and write actual news stories. Say what you will about USA Today's reporting and writing style, it is a bona fide newspaper with actual journalists on the payroll. When I visit news sites like it, I want to read the work of those journalists, filtered by their editors, front and center. Learning from the community of readers is fine--as long as it doesn't get in the way. I definitely don't feel any pull to write a blog on the USA Today site.

I like that now has some community features. But call me old-fashioned: I like it even more that I can still just read the site as an online newspaper.

TechMeme has a great roundup of blog commentary on this topic.