Our Mini-Redesign

We’ve made some small changes in our front page design today. So if you’re a regular and want to hear the backstory, join me after the jump.As noted, we’ve made some small changes to the front page of TPM. So I wanted to explain the what and why.

First, you’ll see that we’ve gotten rid of the chronological feed portion of the front page that used to start just below the fold and had all of our news blog posts listed in reverse chronological order in one extra-wide column. We’ve gotten rid of that and gone back to what we had before late 2011, which is two curated columns of stories.

Second, we’ve expanded the real estate we give to LiveWire. It’s now 50% bigger vertically than it was before. This is a pretty straightforward change and reflects the expanded role of LiveWire in our site ecosystem.

Finally, we’ve nudged the Editor’s blog back up above the fold. So you now see it just below the news feature on the upper left.

As I said, these are relatively minor changes, at least superficially, small enough that non-regular readers might not even notice them. But they’re part of a series of changes we’re going to be rolling out over the next weeks and months. These first ones, mainly, undo changes we made back in the fall of 2011. So let me explain.

Back in late 2011, we did a major site redesign, most of the aesthetic changes of which we like and which remain. But a big change was to the front page. We decided to automate most of the front page — introducing the chronological feed I mentioned above. That left a relatively small curated (i.e., editorially chosen) list of featured stories up at the top and left the rest automated. As soon as a post got published in Muckraker or DC or 2012 it got pushed to the front page. That seemed like a good idea for a number of reasons. One, it reduced the amount of time we needed to take laying out dozens of stories on the front page and it also allowed us to spend more time and give more thought to the section we did curate — that smallish section up at the top. So it wasn’t that we didn’t think curation was important. We thought this would allow us to concentrate our attention on a smaller number of stories.

But it was a bad idea.

The first thing that readers didn’t like was that it meant that a lot of pieces ended up on the front page in multiple places. They might be featured up at the top and then also there in that lower section based on chronological order. Added to that I or one of the editors might also link or discuss a piece in the editors’ blog. The idea was that you could see one section where we were telling you what we thought were the big pieces or look and just decide for yourself where they were listed in chronological order. But that’s not how readers saw it. Some of you even thought we were trying to pad the page by listing stories multiple times.

I always found this last point kind of galling since in fact the new design left us relatively little of the front page to do anything with. So it definitely wasn’t that we were trying to pad. Actually we felt we had less space to put stories.

But again, it was a mistake, which we’ve now undone.

The experience taught me or retaught me a different lesson about how the site works, one that new design tended to undermine. The front page of TPM tells a story and not always a literal one. It gives you a visual image of what we think is happening in the world — through pictures, headlines, story choices, a bunch of different things happening at once. The role of the Editors’ Blog is also critical to that. We as the editors and staff have lots of different levers and buttons to push to fill out that story, to tell that metastory or visual story, if you will. But the post-2011 design basically left us with fewer levers to use. So we sort of muzzled ourselves. And moving the Editors’ blog down the page did that even more.

In each of these cases we’ve undone what we did back in late 2011. The exception is LiveWire, which has become increasingly important in the site ecosystem and increasingly popular with readers. TPM is fundamentally about iterative journalism — fast, reactive, looking for stories of opportunity that we can jump on and advance in creative ways. We started LiveWire because as we did more traditionally packaged stories I wanted to make sure we didn’t lost that iterative capacity. And that’s a capacity we want to expand.

We’ll be making more changes soon and we’ll keep you in the loop as we make them. Please let me know your thoughts.