American syndicated columnist Bob Greene has resigned from the Chicago Tribune "after acknowledging he engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a teenage girl," an Associated Press article reports.
According to the AP article, the Chicago Tribune printed an editor's note on the front page of Sunday's print edition explaining the resignation. Naturally, I was curious to see how chicagotribune.com treated the editor's note.
On the site's home page this evening, the only mention of the resignation -- which, again, merited a front-page message from the editor in the print edition -- was a vague link labeled "To our readers" located at the very bottom of the "Other top headlines:" section. Nothing more. Blink your eyes, and you'll miss it.
I'd like to point out a few ways this could have been done better. First, the message could have been set off from the "other top headlines." It gets lost in that bland text list, and besides, it's not really a traditional news headline -- it's an announcement. It deserves special treatment. More people would see it if it were in the "Columnists" list on the right side of the page. Who's to say the people who read Greene's columns regularly also regularly view the top headlines?
Second, the headline tease could have been worded much more clearly. "To our readers" establishes this as an announcement of some sort, but the helpfulness stops there. Is it an announcement about a site redesign? Or are they enacting a new, more intrusive user-registration policy, perhaps? And isn't every piece of content on a news site directed to the readers, anyway? Something like "Editor's note: Columnist Bob Greene resigns" would be immensely more helpful; people who cared would click, and disinterested folk wouldn't have to waste their time. Many users probably skimmed over the current headline.
Third, the Bob Greene archive page (registration required -- or use name: cyberpunk21, password: cyberpunk21) says nothing about the resignation. On this page, the e-mail link still works, the "about" page remains, and Bob still smiles. It's as if nothing ever happened. What of all the people who have bookmarked this page directly? How will they find out the unfortunate news?
In fairness, I didn't check chicagotribune.com until this evening; perhaps there was a more pronounced message earlier in the day. Also, in the site's credit, it is a weekend, and most staff members are probably not at the office. Still, a situation like this demands better action at a news site. Unlike a print newspaper, putting an announcement on the front page doesn't guarantee most people will read it. The non-linear nature of the Web doesn't only liberate us -- it obligates us to cover our bases in more ways than ever before.
UPDATE, Aug. 16, 12:53 PM EDT: All traces of Greene have been removed from the site, as far as I can tell. His archive page is gone, he's no longer listed on the columnists page, and a search for his name yields only the resignation announcements. They cleaned it all up. I do think they should have left his columnist page up for a few days longer, with a note explaining why his columns will no longer appear, for the sake of those who've bookmarked it directly and haven't heard the news.