Andy Rutledge: News Redux

Andy Rutledge: News Redux

Rutledge’s online news redux has been linked around the internet like crazy this week and is of particular interest to me as someone who works on a news website for a living.

The most frustrating thing about reading the responses is the way it’s being treated as nothing more than an unsolicited NY Times redesign. This is not the case:

As with all of my previous redux efforts, this one is not a specific suggestion for how to precisely redesign a specific site. It’s just an exercise to discuss and examine specific issues via quickly-conceived, hastily-constructed visual comps.

The comps are just illustrations of his points. Everyone is ignoring this.

For what it’s worth, I find the NY Times homepage impossible to use. It’s like staring into a bowl of alphabet soup looking for words. Rutledge’s comp looks like something I want to use, his points make sense and resonate with me.

Gruber linked to a response by Joshua Benton which perfectly demonstrates the thought pattern that creates these shambles in the first place.

Similarly, stripping stories down to just headlines — no intro text, which Rutledge dislikes for some reason, no thumbnails — may maximize typographic beauty, but it doesn’t do much for enticing a click.

As Gruber pointed out, CPM advertising is a disease eating these websites from the inside out. Even at my place of work, a non-commercial operation, a click is valued highly because page visits are considered markers of success. This is the wrong metric. Attention, engagement, satisfaction and loyalty should define success.

Rutledge’s design, on a commonly sized laptop screen (1440×990), would link to exactly three stories in the first screenful of content. The Times’ current Politics page links to 13.

People know how to scroll. People can’t read 13 stories at once. People can’t click on 13 stories at once. Respect your users by treating them like they know how to use a computer. Treat them like humans. How many stories does the print edition of today’s NY Times have above the fold (the real one)? Three.

The Times generates a ton of content every day. Looking at Times Wire, I see 169 stories published just in the past 18 hours — and I don’t believe that’s actually capturing everything that flows through the Times’ blogs and sundry other online spaces.

Having a lot of something is only reason to organise more effectively, and reason against dumping the whole lot in the one place. The NY Time’s homepage says to me: “we have a lot of content, too much for us to deal with it, here it all is, you deal with it”.

Paul Scrivens sees it:

Instead of trying to narrow down what content needs to be shown on the homepage, they try to find ways to ensure that all content is shown on the homepage.

Khoi, previous director of design at nytimes.com, ended up responding to the piece but unfortunately dealt with it as nothing more than a redesign, just as everyone else.

I’ll close with something I think is important and for which a trend seems to be starting. Newspapers aren’t expensive but they’re not free. Rutledge is all for paid subscriptions, as am I:

Quality news is valuable. It must therefore have a cost. Quality news is subscription only. You pay for valuable information. Fluff you get for free.

Making something people want to buy has been the way newspapers have worked (and flourished) for over 100 years. It’s baffling why they’re abandoning it to their detriment as soon as they step onto the web.

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