NBC News dials back visuals-heavy homepage to better serve desktop readers

Score one for those [Digiday] who [Nieman Lab] bemoan [Poynter] the rampant mobile-fication of news site designs on desktop.

NBC News has redesigned the image-heavy homepage layout that drew more than 100 angry comments to Poynter in February — and more than 300 supporters to a Change.org petition to “Reinstate a content-rich, word-navigated NBCnews.com site design.”

According to audience surveys and data obtained through the use of a test site, preview.nbcnews.com, NBC News determined what its desktop readership wanted: “The audience was looking for a faster homepage, for more scannable headlines, and for greater density,” said Gregory Gittrich, executive editor of NBCNews.com.

(That meshes with the barrage of complaints I received after writing about the February redesign. One opined, “I guess reading text is second-rate these days. Big pictures, big boxes… let the fifth-graders revel in it.”)

RELATED: Time.com website redesign: ‘There’s a lot of text, and that’s intentional’

So the new homepage, rolled out this week to all readers, looks a little more like the pre-February site now (not every story has to have a huge image anymore!). But it still emphasizes large visuals for some stories and gives a prominent role to video, one of the news organization’s top priorities. (Also: rest in peace, humongous hamburger menu button.)

“While the audience that comes into the site via the desktop homepage is a minority of our users, we wanted to improve the experience for them,” Gittrich told me. “The days of people going to singular destinations are going away, so we’re investing in reaching an audience in places where people are naturally going. But we also want to do right by the audience coming directly to the homepage through desktop.”

That’s a recognition that homepage visitors still exist, especially for big, long-trusted news brands. Between 30 and 35 percent of NBC News visitors still arrive through the desktop homepage. They might be among the 2.3 million people who still subscribe to dial-up service from AOL, or they might be an older demographic than those who are on Twitter or WhatsApp all day, but they exist — in substantial numbers. And direct visitors are more engaged and spend more time on sites than social visitors do.


(The previous NBC News homepage last week invited readers to try the new one.)

Gittrich has no doubts about the imperative to be mobile-first. But that doesn’t mean NBC News — and other news organizations rightfully and finally enamored with mobile — can’t also spend some time ensuring the desktop experience is as good as it can be, too, and that’s why NBC News is iterating to maximize engagement on all platforms.

The public test site allows for “continuous testing environment” for all kinds of A/B testing, Gittrich said. NBC News can roll out features to small segments of readers at a time, and can also appeal directly to readers to play around with new features on the preview site.

“Some of the things we try are going to be relatively small, like changing the color of the play button,” he said (they decided on black on yellow for video buttons). “Some of the things we try are going to be relatively big, like testing new video players.”

"We really wanted to systematically get data and feedback not only around the desktop homepage but around the whole experience,” Gittrich added, emphasizing that desktop needs are different from mobile needs. “The thinking and the goal is we will continue to iterate and optimize based on audience feedback and audience data.”

Since January, the site’s bounce rate has declined 13 percentage points, which can likely be attributed to the site’s continuous scroll feature.

RELATED: Time.com’s bounce rate down 15 percentage points since adopting continuous scroll

Video views per visit have increased 249 percent since January, and page views per visit are up 81 percent, he said, per internal Omniture data.


This week’s NYT Magazine cover was inspired by a Fugazi flier

The former MTV VJ Kennedy is indirectly responsible for this week’s New York Times Magazine cover, which depicts U.S. Sen. Rand Paul as the star of a hardcore punk show.


Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein “really wanted us to do a cover that conveyed the energy and spirit of the libertarian movement,” art director Gail Bichler told Poynter in a phone call. Robert Draper quotes Kennedy at the beginning of his cover story: She compares Paul to Pearl Jam (and his father, Ron Paul, to Nirvana, and fellow Sen. Ted Cruz to Stone Temple Pilots). That got the art folks thinking: This piece needs a rock treatment

They decided to “use that rock reference and twist it a little bit,” Bichler said. “Since it was a story about Washington politics, we wanted to appropriate the language of D.C. hardcore.”

Since Bichler has “very little experience” with that genre of music, she said, she did research online and looked at Bryan Ray Turcotte and Christopher T. Miller’s book "Fucked Up + Photocopied" for inspiration.

Two posters stood out: A Dead Boys one from the 1970s and a Fugazi flier from 1989. The former band was from Cleveland, but Fugazi are probably the most famous band to come out of D.C.’s punk scene, and the poster that caught Bichler’s eye was from a show they played in Rockford, Illinois (you can see buy a recording of the show here).


(Flier courtesy Dischord)

Bichler asked Matt Dorfman, the art director for the Times op ed page, to work on the cover. “I kind of thought he might have a typewriter at home, which he actually did!” Bichler said. The brief was to make this look analog, not Photoshopped.

Dorfman “used a copier to get the textures, and I think he really paid a lot of attention to the details, adding scuff marks and tape marks,” she said.

Silverstein contributed the “All Ages” language in the corner, which is a nice touch. (D.C. hardcore bands strove to play venues that allowed underaged patrons, which is why a lot of shows took place in venues that weren’t nightclubs.)

"There’s been a little bit of pushback on Twitter about applying this language to libertarians," Bichler said, but mostly the reaction has been positive.

Dorman was surprised the cover got through the higher ups, Bichler said. (She told Ally Schweitzer at WAMU that inserting an anarchy symbol in the magazine’s masthead had to go up the chain.)

"It’s definitely something very different for the Times," she said, and Silverstein, who she said really liked the cover, "seems very up for wanting to do some things that are different."


ESPN suspends Stephen A. Smith, did Benny Johnson actually commit plagiarism?

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 (OK, OK, it’s more than 10) media stories.

  1. ESPN suspends Stephen A. Smith: “We have been engaged in thoughtful discussion about appropriate next steps,” ESPN President John Skipper says in a memo obtained by Richard Deitsch. “Those conversations have involved a diverse group of women and men in our company.” (SI) | ESPN’s statement “very specifically does not mention the word ‘suspension.’” (Deadspin) | Richard Sandomir: “Smith’s weeklong suspension is less severe than the 30 days imposed on Max Bretos, an ESPN anchor who used the term ‘chink in the armor’ in reference to Jeremy Lin in 2012. In 2010, Tony Kornheiser was suspended two weeks for comments he made on radio about an outfit worn by Hannah Storm, a ‘SportsCenter’ anchor.” (NYT)
  2. Benny Johnson isn’t a plagiarist, because what he was doing wasn’t journalism: That’s the argument advanced by Gene Weingarten: “Reading a listicle in Buzzfeed, just what level of diligence does a reader expect?” (The Washington Post) | Weingarten’s fart joke in the piece is not original. (The Awl) | “Links and quotation marks are as easy to place in a listicle as in any other piece of journalism.” (The Washington Post) | Tom Kludt interviews @crushingbort and @blippoblappo, the mysterious Internet detectives who catalogued Johnson’s lifts from Wikipedia and elsewhere. “The underlying problems at BuzzFeed aren’t unfixable,” @blippoblappo says. (TPM) | Michael Calderone: “Agree with @crushingbort: Johnson’s anonymously sourced ‘killing Snowden’ story more problematic than the plagiarism” (@mlcalderone) | Charles Johnson, who offers a bounty for reader-submitted instances of plagiarism on BuzzFeed, ran photos on his site without credit, Sam R. Hall reports. (The Clarion-Ledger) | Johnson says he’s preparing to sue Hall for defamation. (@ChuckCJohnson) | Johnson: “When I have something to announce publicly, I’ll announce it publicly.” (TPM) | This problem isn’t confined to BuzzFeed: The New York Times is looking into a Carol Vogel lede that’s very close to a Wikipedia passage. (Poynter)
  3. The New York Times’ new digital tiers didn’t roll out smoothly: “CEO Mark Thompson acknowledged these multiple options have ‘left some customers confused.’” (Poynter) | “The Times’ digital-subscription growth looks particularly weak coming days after the Financial Times reported enormous digital-subscriber gains, and paid digital circulation now more than doubles its print circulation.” (CJR) | The Times is considering a shorter version of its print edition, an item a spokesperson says is among several “in the earliest stages of exploration.” (Capital)
  4. Tribune wants to buy more papers: Yeah, OK, wait, what? “We think there are more of these opportunities around the country that are geographically adjacent to where we run big papers and big brands,” Tribune Publishing Co. CEO Jack Griffin tells Lynne Marek. (Crain’s Chicago Business) | Trib Publishing spins off from Tribune Co. Monday.
  5. Twitter, it’s like a real company: The company had a strong second quarter, with rising user numbers and revenue. It “outperformed in just about every metric that we can see,” one analyst says. (USA Today) | The World Cup “gave people who once signed up for Twitter and then ignored their accounts a reason to come back.” (Pando)
  6. Israelis take journalists into Gaza tunnels: The IDF is “certainly pushing” the tunnel narrative, NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren says, “but I don’t think they’re pushing it in some way that has nothing to do with something real. … It really is what they’re afraid of.” (HuffPost) | Related: “David Frum’s claims are false,” NYT says about Atlantic senior editor’s assertion that it published false photos from Gaza. (Poynter) | Frum promises to “review & reply” (@davidfrum)
  7. Comments aren’t going anywhere: 82 percent of editors surveyed by APME said they’d either never ban comments or were unlikely to. (The Spokesman-Review) | The editors are “more supportive than you might imagine — given that dialogue around news site commenters usually centers on which circle of hell fits them best.” (Nieman) | Related Internet technology news: Preroll ad threatens to electrocute puppy if you click “skip.” (Glass)
  8. An exemplary use of PDF technology: Richmond, Virginia’s Style Weekly offers a downloadable “McDonnell Trial Activity Book” to mark the corruption trial of Virginia’s former governor and his wife. Games include “Find the Anatabloc” and “Help the Feds Make Their Case” (Style Weekly)
  9. Garbage truck named for area man: A resident in the English county of West Sussex is honored for his volunteer efforts to pick up litter. His name is David Sedaris, and Horsham District Council has named a truck “Pig Pen Sedaris.” (West Sussex County Times) | Sedaris on his litter-picking-up activities. (The New Yorker)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Fred Groserwill be senior vice president for sales at Interstate General Media. Formerly, he was publisher at Newsday Media Group. (Philly.com) | Ken Armstrong will be joining The Marshall Project as a staff writer. Formerly, he was an investigative reporter at The Seattle Times. | Bill Lord, general manager at WJLA, announced he will leave the D.C.-area station Sept. 30. (Fishbowl DC) | Madeleine Haeringer is now an executive producer of international news at NBC News. Previously, she was senior producer of NBC worldwide newsgathering (TV Newser) | Rachel Smolkin will be executive editor of politics for digital at CNN. She’s currently the managing editor of news at Politico. (@RachelSmolkin) | Alex Seitz-Wald is now covering Hillary Clinton for MSNBC. Previously, he was a political correspondent for the National Journal. (aseitzwald) | Jayson Rodriguez is editorial director at Revolt TV and Media. Previously, he was director of content operations for Connected Ventures. (Jayson Rodriguez) | Job of the day: The Center for Investigative Reporting is looking for a data reporter! Get your résumés in! (Center for Investigative Reporting) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org.


Jill Abramson out at New York Times, Dean Baquet will lead newsroom

Jill Abramson “is unexpectedly leaving the position” as executive editor of The New York Times, the Times announced Wednesday. Dean Baquet will be the new executive editor, Ravi Somaiya reports. “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear,” Somaiya reports. Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. attributed the change to “an issue with management in the newsroom,” Somaiya wrote on Twitter. Abramson will not stay on at the paper in any capacity, a Times spokesperson tells Poynter in an email.

Abramson became the Times’ executive editor in 2011. She is five years away from being 65, the age at which Times executive editors traditionally must retire. On Monday Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan noted that under Abramson, “not only is the top editor a woman – the first — but many department heads and section editors are, too.” Baquet will be newspaper’s first African American top editor. Abramson in 2010. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini) Here’s the Times Co. press release. Here’s Sulzberger’s memo to staff:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to announce a leadership change in the newsroom. Effective today, Dean Baquet will become our new executive editor, succeeding Jill Abramson.

This appointment comes at a time when the newsroom is about to embark on a significant effort to transition more fully to a digital-first reality and where, across the organization, we are all learning to adapt to the rapid pace of change in our business.

We owe Jill an enormous debt of gratitude for positioning the newsroom to succeed on both of these critical counts and of course, for preserving and extending the level of our journalistic excellence and innovation. She’s laid a great foundation on which I fully expect Dean and his colleagues will build.

As those of you who know Dean will understand, he is uniquely suited to this role. He is a proven manager, both here at The Times and elsewhere. He is also a consummate journalist whose reputation as a fierce advocate for his reporters and editors is well-deserved. And importantly, he is an enthusiastic supporter of our push toward further creativity in how we approach the digital expression of our journalism.

I know you will join me, Mark and the rest of the senior leadership team in wishing Jill the best and congratulating Dean on his appointment.


Gawker bans ‘Internet Slang’

"We want to sound like regular adult human beings, not Buzzfeed writers or Reddit commenters," new Gawker Editor Max Read says in a memo to the publication’s writers. Words like "epic," "pwn" and "derp" are no longer welcome on the site. Read also says the word "massive" is "never to appear on the website Gawker dot com."

He also asks staffers not to use strikethrough for corrections, preferring they “change the wording and link from there to a comment noting the corrected text.” He singles out a correction by J.K. Trotter that was done in “the proper spirit and is funny to boot.”

Full memo:

I meant to send this out on Monday but forgot. These are my exclamation points.


• Strikethroughs. No more strikethrough tag. It’s HTML styling, and it gets stripped in Google searches, RSS, tweets, through copy-pastes, etc., completely fucking up our meaning, especially in headlines (e.g.: http://gawker.com/5974190/here-is-a-list-of-all-the-assholes-who-own-guns-in-new-york-city)

For corrections, rather than strikethrough, change the wording and link from there to a comment noting the corrected text, as Tom does here: http://gawker.com/thanks-ill-correct-it-and-link-down-to-this-correctio-1554296985.

(While we’re at it I want to note Keenan’s correction here, which is done is the proper spirit and is funny to boot: http://gawker.com/david-brooks-may-not-have-gotten-divorced-after-all-1555282728)

We should strive to make our writing clear and precise even absent any text formatting.

Jokes made using strikethrough are generally not worth saving.

• Internet slang. We used to make an effort to avoid this, and now I see us all falling back into the habit. We want to sound like regular adult human beings, not Buzzfeed writers or Reddit commenters. Therefore: No “epic.” No “pwn.” No “+1.” No “derp.” No “this”/”this just happened.” No “OMG.” No “WTF.” No “lulz.” No “FTW.” No “win.” No “amazeballs.” And so on. Nothing will ever “win the internet” on Gawker. As with all rules there are exceptions. Err on the side of the Times, not XOJane.

• The word “massive.” Is never to appear on the website Gawker dot com. Here’s a handy list of synonyms for your headline toolkit:

> huge, enormous, vast, immense, large, big, mighty, great, colossal, tremendous, prodigious, gigantic, gargantuan, mammoth, monstrous, monumental, giant, towering, elephantine, mountainous, titanic; Herculean, Brobdingnagian; monster, jumbo, mega, whopping, humongous, hulking, honking, bumper, astronomical, ginormous

Keep reading Roy Peter Clark’s story to find out how you can show signs of listening, rather than the bad habits he has laid out above.


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Join us in 10 minutes for a live chat with Yumi Wilson, Corporate Communication Manager at LinkedIn to find out how to make the most of LinkedIn when searching for a job. 

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The winners of four 2013 Pulitzer Prizes came together Tuesday night at Poynter to talk about their work and their wins. They came from Florida, New York and a shop with people scattered around the country, from three large papers and one nonprofit news site. They won for work on speeding cops,diluted bitumenfluoride in the water and cross-border corruption at Wal-Mart.

Other than that Pulitzer, the work of the seven people present Tuesday night didn’t have much in common.

But, for most, the processes they used to produce their work did.

(story continues)

Keep reading Kristen Hare’s story to find out what the winners had in common and how you can apply their processes to your work in the newsroom.