CBS Erases History

Written by Nexcerpt on October 13th, 2010 in Patterns & News.
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Rapid, repeated changes to a website typically reveal that the business behind the site is in flux, or being poorly managed. Ongoing disruptions to CBS Local’s public face suggest that the online news business at CBS is — to be optimistic — in the worst sort of flux.

Longstanding domains for WBBM (a major CBS affiliate in Chicago) are no longer visible. Their disappearance is a prime example of the unnecessary thrashing of domains when online news sites update their publishing tools. Such rapid, inconsistent URL changes — abandoning a well-established online identity, and vast amounts of quality content — reveal that the online presence of CBS is in some disarray. Perhaps they’re trying to correct the problem, but it’s time to stop making the carnage worse.

Those Were The Days
Through 2010-06-23, articles were available at www.wbbm780.com. For years prior, URL structure had been consistent. Every URL ended with an integer; values were sequential, though not dense; they had grown well into seven-digits.

WBBM needed only 130 – 140 days to run a 1M span of integer values, as evidenced by a few select (now abandoned) Blago links:

   2009-08-13: www.wbbm780.com/Blago-performs-karaoke--hangs-out-with-Fabio/4999614

   2010-01-04: www.wbbm780.com/Blagojevich-competing-on--Celebrity-Apprentice--CO/6029983

   2010-05-15: www.wbbm780.com/Blagojevich-subpoena-s-Jackson/7055052

In the last 45 days of this regime, they burned over 0.5M values:

   2010-06-23: www.wbbm780.com/On-tape--Blago-says-he-wants--a-good-gig--for-seat/7534057

Even at that rate, their URL numbering system was nowhere near the end of its useful life.

Today, many thousands of links of that format lie entirely broken. This includes all news published by WBBM in recent years — well over 6,000 articles per year. Even articles from less than four months ago are absolutely gone from chicago.cbslocal searches:

   Your search - blago good gig - did not match any documents.

From 2010-06-24 through this week, new material was posted to wbbm.cbslocal.com. Sequential integers had been replaced by common blogging date formats:

   2010-10-01: wbbm.cbslocal.com/2010/10/01/blago-mask-lets-you-dress-up-as-ex-gov/

Since early this week, all such references are being redirected to a “chicago.cbslocal” server, no longer specific to WBBM: Blagojevich Mask Lets You Dress Up As Ex-Governor.

Of course, not even those ten-day-old articles appear searchable:

   Your search - Mask Lets You Dress Up - did not match any documents.

…so perhaps the CBS Local search tool doesn’t actually… search.

Beginning after 2010-10-10, CBS Local offers this Chicago path: chicago.cbslocal.com. It now subsumes WBBM News Radio 780, along with AM 670 The Score (which had recently careened through wscr.cbslocal.com/, after years of the explicit www.670thescore.com), and CBS 2 (which obliterated WBBM TV’s longstanding domain www.cbs2chicago.com).

Thousands of live links to 670thescore.com and cbs2chicago.com — everything from global media directories, to personal interests from private web pages — are now dead.

Similar changes are afoot for www.1010wins.com, which has been redirected entirely to newyork.cbslocal.com/category/news/. This sort of discrepancy (why “/category/news/” rather than the home page?) reflects internal inconsistencies that are common when news sites begin using blog templates. Somehow they can’t get multiple servers (on a single domain) to use the same URL configuration. I wonder whether they could configure such variations on purpose.

Some of the noise is actually funny. From time to time, the servers send back redirects to permutations ending in a combination of slashes and question marks:

   http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/?/
   http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/?

Those seem to read, “Do I really ~want~ to go to CBS Local?” Good question…

Fox Pursuing the Same Bad Habits
Be on the lookout for similar hijinks as “My Fox” rolls out to new markets. While the WOGX in Orlando domain persists, most articles above the fold are from www.myfoxorlando.com. (Both ocala.com and gainesville.com contribute content as well.) Many WOGX articles claim to link to the nonsensical “www.wogx.com/#” — so Fox is doing no better at site management than CBS Local.

Do the Fox webmasters actually not test any links? Not even to click on the main links on their home page? Any chance this reflects the quality of their reporting? ;-)

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