USA Tomorrow

Kinsey Wilson, the editor who built USAToday.com into the powerhouse that it is, gave me a sneak preview of their redesign and rearchitecting, coming out next week: a big, five-month, 50-person effort that will continue in a rolling redevelopment effort. Inside, they called it the “networked journalism project” (and I’m proud to have contributed to their jargon, Kinsey tells me). It entailed new design and organization but also social-media tools and an effort to link out — to triangulate the news, in Kinsey’s word. They’ve even appointed a network editor whose job it will be to find opportunities to bring the audience in to elevate the journalism. Here‘s an image of the new front page.

On the mockups (keep in mind that they were put together by designers, who sometimes needn’t bother with dictionaries) you’ll see on the top of the home page a quote from the comments the site has under its articles (note that they don’t have forums — and their unruliness — but do have, Kinsey said, civil and valued discussions around articles). They want to emphasize interactivity and put the commenters out front. I said it will be interesting to see whether these out-of-context quotes will be compelling (I had trouble doing this with forum quotes in my prior life). Kinsey said it’s as much about valuing the commenters as it is about the quotes themselves. Much of this redesign is about such cultural change.

usatodayweb.jpg

On this page, you’ll see the On Deadline blog front-and-center. It has been “enormously successful,” Kinsey said, for USA Today. I do like how papers have discovered that the incredibly light and easy content management tool called a blog enables them to publish faster and easier. On the lower left, they — like other papers — are now promoting lots of their own blogs.

Here they expose the most popular stories as determined by readership, commenting, emailing, and recommendation — note the Diggification. (I look forward to most-linked as well.) In their effort to link out to other sources, even competitors, see this example of on-page external RSS feeds, powered by Newsgator.

Here they begin to use tags (these are machine-generated; given the biorhythm of news, I wonder whether a folksonomy can take hold in time). We’ll be seeing much more of that on news site, I’ll bet, as they move away from strict (USAToday-like) taxonomy to an all-roads-lead-to-Rome structure to give you many paths to relevant news, via links, tags, and search.

And one of the cooler features is a personal page that is populated with, among other things, the comments you leave around the site. It is an effort to enable a social network on the site built around content, theirs and ours. (I said that I hope they will make this portable; I’d like to put up on my blog a feed of the comments I leave on a news site with reviews I leave at Amazon and so on: my distributed identity.)

It’s a good design and all the steps are in the right direction. That’s especially important because USA Today is, indeed, a powerhouse. I was amazed when Kinsey told me that a majority of their readers come back every day — multiple times a day, in fact. That is quite unusual for newspaper sites. Elsewhere, the daily habit has been broken. But not here. With the addition of social elements and the valuing of commenting and the willingness to link out to other sources, I suspect that they will increase their frequency even more.

From an uber-view, what strikes me is that we are seeing a coalescing among the news sites around a roughly common aesthetic. Look at the Times, the Times, the Telegraph, and the Post: They’re all less-cluttered with more white space (and, as a result, more scrolling) and they share an affection for the same shade of blue. I think that’s a good thing: We are establishing a visual grammar for news.

But I also think this means that someone can break out and push to a next generation of news sites. In fact, since most visitors to most news sites I know don’t even go to the home page in a day, I think the next frontier of design will be about exploding home pages and sites in a looser network of distributed content. But more on that later.

: LATER: Here‘s the USAToday.com announcement, just posted.

  • Duffer

    Did you find it amazing that people come to their site everyday? or multiple times a day?
    Doesn’t Borrell Associates have research that indicates that newspaper.com draws regular daily visitors?
    The people you know that visit newspaper websites don’t go to the home page? I’ll look forward to you writing more about that.

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  • http://www.OURcountry.com OURcountry

    Come check out http://www.OURcountry.com, our redesign goes up in 3 weeks!

  • http://www.quietkid.net/ Steve Clancy

    This looks pretty great – I may start reading them online. One thing that bothers me is they have full page advertisements that resize my browser window. I finally figured out how to disable that on my browser, but its still really annoying if you don’t know how.

  • http://www.regrettheerror.com Craig Silverman

    Looking forward to the new site. I’m hoping that one of those 50 people thought to add a corrections page to the site, which currently lacks one. Hoping and praying…

  • Cooler Heads

    yawn

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  • http://hartsbigpicture.blogspot.com/index.html Hart

    I look forward to the rollout, but I wonder about your assertion that, “We are establishing a visual grammar for news.” Robert Picard at Shorenstein just wrapped a big research paper that challenges that trend toward “sameness.” Forgive me the long pullquote:

    “Many of the challenges of news organization today exist because the professionalism of journalism and journalism education have determined the values and value of the news, commoditized the product, and turned most journalists into relatively interchangeable information factory workers. Average journalists share the same skills sets and the same 56 approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. Few journalists encounter skills-related problems changing from one news organization to another and the average journalist is easily replaced by another. This interchangeability is one reason why salaries for average journalists are relatively low and why columnists, cartoonists, and journalists with special skills (such as enhanced ability to cover finance, science, and health) are able to command higher wages. Across the news industry, processes and procedures for news gathering are guided by standardized news values, producing standardized stories in standardized formats that are presented in standardized styles. The result is extraordinary sameness and minimal differentiation.”

  • http://randyrifts.com Randy Hoffman

    Steve Clancey, how do you disable the resizing in your browser? It happens with mine as well. The folks at USA Today should take note. I am one of those readers that come back multiple times a day. I use USA Today as my opening page in my browser. But this resizing thing is VERY annoying.

  • http://www.quietkid.net/ Steve Clancy

    I use Mozilla Firefox. Go to Tools > Option, then click on the Content tab, then next the the check box for Enable JavaScript there is a button labeled Advanced. Uncheck move or resize windows to disable this. You may get poorly sized windows in the future – but I’d rather have control over it then let web pages do it.

    I’m glad to see someone else is bothered by this, I have major OCD problems with my web browser so this drives me nuts.

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  • Mike

    As a frequent reader of the online version of USA Today (and a fulltime web designer), I must say that I’m disappointed with the new site. True, it might integrate all of the web 2.0 buzzwords (blogs, etc.) and provide more opportunities to interact as a user, BUT the design is very uninspiring and a little all over the place. It’s nothing revolutionary as many of the trackbacks above mention. Just my 2 cents.

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  • David

    I have tried repeatedly to get to the new website, using Firefox and Safari. All I get is a “server is not responding” message.
    I was a regular visitor of the old website. I know they planned to make to make it more interactive. Perhaps they meant inactive.

  • http://www.myspace.com/old_telephones Bakelite Gal

    I used to live in Altanta and I now live in the UK so I love USA today, very pleased to see its keeping uptodate. Regards Karen

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  • http://www.spotesya.com/ Martin

    This looks pretty great – I may start reading them online.

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  • http://www.alimsatim.info/ Serin

    I’m glad to see someone else is bothered by this, I have major OCD problems with my web browser so this drives me nuts.

  • http://ikincielesya.alimsatim.info/ ?kinci el e?ya al?m sat?m

    I wonder whether a folksonomy can take hold in time.” But that “biorhythm of news” is mostly a byproduct of traditional news media: TV and Newspapers, one with limited time, the other with limited space

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  • http://www.ikincielesya.com.tr Kuty

    Enable JavaScript there is a button labeled Advanced. Uncheck move or resize windows to disable this