The article Newspaper Website Design: Trends And Examples had some good information and breakdown of how a newspaper website should be designed. When it comes to critical elements for newspaper web design, I think the most important thing to remember is ease of use. When I go to a news website, I want to see the article headlines first and foremost. I need to know a little about what I will find when I click on the link and articles with pictures always get my attention first.
The number one turn off for a news website is the use of ads. I get that ad use is necessary in order for news organizations to make money, and I not going to leave the website if there are ads. But ads must not be intrusive. I am there to read the news, to keep up with the world. My biggest pet peeve is video ads. I cannot tell you how many times I have closed a browser tab when an ad starts blaring through my speakers. First of all, it slows down my machine. Second, they are obnoxious. I had to look up something for work, a week ago, and I went to a website to look up warranty information on their product. As soon as an ad began playing, I closed the window. Everyone I worked with looked over at me and it was clear I had caused a disturbance. Video ads are an obnoxious blight on news websites.
Content for news websites need to keep up with current relevance. Front pages should not be much different than what is on the front page of a print paper. Important news articles, an article or two of entertainment and sports, and a lot of local links. Navigation bars with easily identifiable links to other pages of the site are a must. I prefer these to a side bar, but have nothing against them being along a top banner. As for ads, on the front page one or two at most, no video and they should work subliminally.
News sites I frequent are the New York Times, Huffington Post and Guardian. Of these three, I think the Guardian website has the best overall design. I like how the New York Times still has the look and feel of a print publications. Sometimes the Huffington post can be a little rough on the eyes. It can also be somewhat difficult to navigate and many times their headlines have only a picture and can be misleading as to content. Other pages referenced in the article that I liked were ABC news and Ars Technica. I especially liked the latter as the boxes made it exceptionally simple to navigate. I used to check out the L.A. Times site, but that is just an ugly page with way too many ads.