Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer gets a new skin, but still growing into its online self

This morning, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or as some people call it now,, debuted a new look that Executive Producer Michelle Nicolosi says "makes it easier for us to showcase some of the new content we've been creating in the past few months." In many ways the new skin improves usability, but in some ways, it's a step backward from past designs. A few thoughts...

First, having some white space is a good rule of thumb in web design, but there's just too much of it in the new Post-Intelligencer; it has a blinding effect. The last P-I skin used darker background colors, which provided a clean contrast. The new P-I, so far, has used really big photo thumbnails, which helps make up for the all white background somewhat, but there's still too much white.

Second, an opportunity was missed with this redesign to do something more fundamental than repackaging the site's content in a new skin. The Post-Intelligencer is still employing the same content structure that was created back when it was a newspaper. It's a bit of a hodge-podge: some content is formatted and presented more traditionally as articles or columns, but most content seems to be appearing on what Nicolosi calls "staff blogs".

Which brings to mind a question: Is the Post-Intelligencer merely a network of blogs housed under one roof, or is it a groundbreaking online publication providing news to the people of Seattle and beyond? (If Hearst wants to build an audience long-term, the latter is what it should be aiming for.)

I ask this question because there are already plenty of blogs in existence, covering pretty much every topic imaginable. Whether they are authored by one personal or several, blogs are truly online journals, presenting their contributors' thoughts in backwards chronological order. This format is particularly well suited to analysis and commentary about a particular subject or range of subjects, but isn't necessarily the best fit for a news organization.

Particularly a news organization that is trying to innovate and make money.

My advice: Merge the staff blogs into the website so they no longer exist. Content created by the Post-Intelligencer's staff should be seamlessly presented by category: Local, Nation, World, Politics, Business, Sports, Entertainment, Arts, etc., with selected headlines on the front page.

This would give the site a more serious, newsy feel. It would also provide readers with a cleaner and simpler interface. Less confusion is a good thing.

Within each section, edited stories and columns should be presented on one side (anything original with depth should be published as a story or column with a byline) with asides on the other side. Asides are just what they sound like: quick observations. The following is a good example of an aside:
Stranger endorses McGinn for Seattle mayor

The Stranger has released its endorsements for the Aug. 18 primary.

The alternative newsweekly picked environmentalist Michael McGinn over incumbent Greg Nickels. In the King County executive's race The Stranger tapped Dow Constantine.

For City Council Position 4, Dorsal Plants was chosen; Position 6, Nick Licata; Position 8, Mike O'Brien. The paper also endorsed Referendum 1, which would uphold Seattle's proposed 20-cent per disposable grocery bag fee.

Posted by Chris Grygiel at 5:08 p.m. | Permalink | Comments (12)
Categories: Seattle City Council, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Seattle politics
This short item appeared on the Post-Intelligencer's politics blog yesterday, sandwiched between two longer posts. It didn't contain anything original; it merely summarized The Stranger's endorsements for the August 18th primary. It's so short that excerpting it isn't really possible. It's an aside.

Instead of being presented between meatier content, the Post-Intelligencer should group asides together and list them chronologically.

In other words, each section on the P-I's website should have its own embedded microblog, separate from the regular content, although not styled or labeled as a blog. The idea is to borrow the basic concept and adapt it for a news site.

Back in March, we launched a microblog, In Brief, to serve as a companion to The Advocate. We regularly update it with links, quotes, and observations. Asides appear on the sidebar without cluttering up the content posted in this space, and they can also be viewed together on their own.

Finally, I've read comments that the advertising on the Post-Intelligencer's website has become more intrusive. I haven't verified this because I block scripting by default (it does wonders for keeping my computer free of viruses and spyware) but the ad behavior described sounds obnoxious. Ads should never get in the way of content or disrupt a reader's browsing experience.

Making ads bigger and flashier, having them pop up in new windows, and having them play sounds by default are all practices that should be avoided. Irritating readers is simply not a winning strategy for monetizing a website.


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