Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Plain Dealer's Website, Cleveland.com, Finally
Gets A Redesign. Our Early Take: Pretty Good


Okay, it was an hour and one minute late, at least by our clock. For the last few days,
Cleveland.com boasted that it would be launching a redesigned site at noon Wednesday. We began looking for it about then, and kept hitting refresh every few minutes. Finally, at a minute past 1 p.m., there it was. We'll of course get deeper into it in coming days and let you know what we think as we see it more clearly (I'm guessing, for instance, that it will employ even more video, since the paper's marketing chief has been telling everyone that he commands his own TV station), but the early take is that it's pretty good, however loooooong overdue this refresh was. That's in large part a reflection of how bad and cluttered it has been. Its clumsy navigation had become an almost universally reviled element of the site, something one could hear complaints about from just about anyone you asked. And the bizarre policy of taking down articles after a couple of weeks (which I hope has ended) flies in the face of the industry norm, and only makes for less inventory, or virtual real estate, on which to place ads, let alone the very real problems it poses to those trying to find archived news and information.

But in fairness, you really can't blame the locals--they've been handicapped by the Newhouse chain's insistence on sticking with a very bad single web format used for years at all their papers. That uniformity hasn't changed, apparently. I checked
this page, which has links to all the chain's other papers (top left, under "regional websites), and the same refreshed format can be found on all of them.

We've been holding our breath a little, out of concern that the redesign would make for a worse rather than better experience, as so often tends to be the case in these things. After all, one of our favorite and most essential websites,
Romenesko's ubiquitous journalism site housed at the Poynter Institute, just got redesigned this week, and I'd be surprised if most fans of that site didn't share my horror over how it seems to have been almost defaced by white space gone mad. The reality is it takes the eye some time to adjust to a new look for our most cherished sites (not that anyone I've ever known or talked to cherished Cleveland.com, you understand), just as it's hard to see one's favorite print magazine undergo a redesign. You bitch and moan at first, but eventually you get used to it, and then you forget what the old one even looked like, and why it seemed to matter so much at the time. In the end, it's the substance that really matters. How it's dressed (that is, designed) isn't unimportant. Just far less important.

After all, as my friend Roldo Bartimole likes to recall, back in the day, The Nation was so eager to get started in its weekly denunciations of the latest political/social outrages, that it would forget about the design, and simply begin the article text on the cover. That kind of sustained fervancy is what keeps us coming back. If it looks nice, so much the better.

UPDATE: Thanks to the peerless uber-journalist Jim Romensko for his link to this post. And welcome again, fellow Romenesko readers.

9 Comments:

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Afi said...

OMG, A real website. I can find stories!
Finally.

 
At 11:15 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That will be a delightful change, won't it, Afi? As a former PD reporter and columnist, perhaps you can confirm for us the urban legend that few hated the old Cleveland.com website as much as PD writers themselves. Fair statement?

 
At 6:59 AM, Anonymous dmoney said...

whats going on up there in NE Ohio...two weeks ago The News Herald and Morning Journal also received a long over due redesign
www.news-herald.com
www.morningjournal.com

certainly less jumbled...but a work in progress

 
At 10:11 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting news. I hadn't noticed that. Lord knows that both papers needed improvement on their websites. It migth well be related to the fact the papers, owned by the same folks, are being shopped around and might soon be under new ownership.

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

It's a bona-fide miracle before God!

I detested Cleveland.com. This looks infinitely better.

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We'll see if the changes are only skin-deep. I still haven't spent much time digging into it, but one writer who has asked me this morning: okay, what's really so different about it? Apart from a cleaner design and improved organization of story categories, perhaps not that much. But those two things count for something. As I told him, if it only went from an F to a C or C+, that's at least something to build on.

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Speaking as a designer, I have to say that the container (the design) really DOES matter. It can make or break the quality of the experience, and determine whether or not one comes back at all. This is of course as true for print as for web.

Great design is transparent, and doesn't interfere with the information, it contains it and hopefully enhances it. But bad design can kill the whole vibe. And it's not hard to do, so not doing it is either laziness, ignorance, or stupid cussedness.

And I'm sorry to say The Nation has been matched in bad design repetition very few times, except perhaps by The Progressive, which sometimes seems to go out of its way to be ugly and off-putting. Too bad, because when the contents are so often as dismaying as they are, a more attractive package can make it an easier experience to take in.

 
At 11:41 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You've expressed it so very well, Art, that I can only nod in agreement.

 
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