Some Guidance on Our New Design

As you acclimate to the new TPM front page design, I wanted to share a few thoughts to give some context about what we’re trying to do with this new design and other details to help you make sense of it.

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback so far and it seems overwhelmingly positive, though there are definitely critics. I confess I’m a bit surprised by this response. That’s not because I don’t think it should get a positive response. But I’ve been doing this for a long time and people never like redesigns. Never, not ever and only seldom but really never. It’s human nature. Especially for a site with dedicated readers, you’re really used to one thing. Then suddenly it changes. At best it takes a while to get used to. So thanks for writing in and please remember: we appreciate the criticisms as much as the praise. If anything they’re more helpful, even if they’re not as fun to read. It’s not locked in stone and really most of the point of this relaunch is that we now have a system in which we can make revisions and deploy changes much more quickly than in the past.

So a few points.

First, the tablet version of the site which you’re seeing on iPads and other tablets is currently broken. We are working speedily to get that fixed. It should be done very soon. So please withhold judgment about the tablet/iPad version of the front page. That’s not how it is supposed to look or will look.

Second, there’s a basic change in how we’re going to be approaching the front page. I want to tell you what that difference is and loop you in on that discussion. The old front page had basically one kind of story slot, aside from the main feature story. We packed 10 or 12 stories into those slots based on a mixture of importance, newness and audience popularity.

The problem was that it didn’t give any clear guidance about the progression of core TPM stories, TPM storylines. What do I mean? Well we have the on-going Russia probe storyline, the Cohen storyline, the Manafort trials storyline. We also have our on-going coverage of state lawsuits to claw back Obamacare and parallel administration efforts to do the same. These stories have multi-day arcs and often go back weeks or months. In the old design, there was no way to capture this on the front page. Maybe there was one Cohen story down the page and another up near the top. Which is more current, which is more important, which is based on our original reporting and opposed to some small nugget of news? It was just kind of all there.

A major part of the shift we’re making here is creating a new palette which will allow us to cluster stories together which are logically connected at a given time. So if you’ve got the big Cohen news yesterday, let’s group that together in a cluster where the main story is clearly labeled as such but you also have the ancillary stories and updates, as simple headline links, the deep dive Prime explainer I did on the topic the night before, the reported piece that was current earlier in the day, etc. If I’m the reader that allows me to survey where we are in the Cohen story as well as just click on the single link I see in front of me.

This kind of iterative storyline has been the heart of what we do at TPM for going on twenty years (yikes!). But it’s never been something that’s been clearly visualized on the front page. We’re going to try to rectify that.

What this means is that there’s a broad change from a front page which a conceptual structure (new stuff at the top; commentary on the left; news on the right) to one that is more storyline focused (a series of clusters of links about an on-going story). Because of that, going from one to another can be really disorienting, though I think we will find that this a better way to capture the fullness and context of what we’re producing. If you’re finding it disorienting, try to think in terms of this broad strategy and see if it makes more sense and you can see the utility.

We are still going to have a big, punchy feature package at the top of the site. That will still in a lot of ways be the place where we’re putting the big story, the new story. One point that has always been key to TPM and which won’t change is this: beyond the specific stories that are linked, a quick look at the above the fold front page should give you a meta-sense of where we are in the news. Our take: here’s what’s important. Here’s what’s happening right now. Again, the mix of not only story choice but headlines, images and layout should give you an overall of picture and sense of our view of the moment. So the transformation I’m describing is not a total one. We’ll have both (conceptual and storyline) kind of coexisting. Just how they coexist in a way that is fluid and illuminating as opposed to jagged and confusing is one of the key things we’ll be working on.

One final point: What we’ve done here is to create a palette, a very expressive palette. This isn’t just a front page; it’s a tool, like the difference between a single drawing and a single app. I say this because there is going to be a learning curve as we learn and experiment with the best ways to accomplish what I described above. So bear with us and participate with us. Use our “talk” email to let us know what you like and don’t, what suggestions you think would be helpful.

More soon.

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