Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dear nytimes.com: change equals death

Some people think it looks like The Onion. It also looks like a college newspaper.

Mostly, though, it looks like dump.

The problem isn't just that people are resistant to change. The problem is that the Times website has been redesigned by half-blind coked-up teenagers.

Instructions: To fully enjoy this exercise, I recommend opening a new window on your browser, going to nytimes.com, and clicking back and forth as we go along.

The Top of the Page

Such a mess that we need to take this issue by issue.

1.) No lead story. What first jumps out is a scatter of light-blue font. Gone are the big bold black fonts of the old Times site. It takes a couple seconds of scanning the page, skipping over the inevitably boring photo, and squinting at baby-blue typeface to see what story the Times deigns as its lead story. But the lead is in a narrow column with a typeface barely larger than the jumble of headlines underneath it. Thus, the mainstay of any front page -- the big story -- is gone.

2.) The photos suck. In an effort to break up the mess, the Times has slotted a large photo at the top of the page. Your first instinct is to think that this photo is the lead story, but that's not the case. Often, the photo features a middle-aged man standing or sitting. The Times's policy should be to feature an attractive or dramatic photo in this slot, even if the story is some random piece about Cairo or a brushfire in Texas. Sure, it might be bad news judgment, but it's better than seeing a 50-year-old in a suit every time you go to the site.

3.) Blue headlines. This is news, motherfuckers, and news means big black ink, not some pussy Crayola shit.

4.) Too much information. As of this posting, there are 10 stories at the top of the page, and 14 if you count the newly emasculated opinion section. (More on that in a second.) Part of why I go to the Times, as opposed to Raw Story or the Drudge Report, is because they've got some degree of news judgment. I may not always agree with the choices, but when the Times picks four top stories, it means something, and I'll at least skim the headlines. I don't want news to resemble the cereal aisle.

5.) The self-perpetuated irrelevance of the opinion section. I'm a sucker. I signed up for Times Select. Apparently not content to relegate their stable of columnists to a narrow, nerdy elite, the opinion section is exiled to a tiny, 3-point-font corner of the page. The Times online hates its columnists.

Chunk two: white space and video

Scrolling down the page, the tossed salad of text segues into a bunch of white space.

One of the nice things about an online newspaper is getting some original video. I'm all for that. I can't complain too much.

I will, however, note that the current video features a very chipper-looking David Pogue. The teases underneath are jarring. First is a mini-Pogue; second is a lady who looks like a country singer; third is what appears to be a showgirl; and fourth is a close-up on the face of what appears to be an elderly, severely ill, wounded African on the verge of death. I'm not tech-savvy enough to do a screen capture, but the juxtaposition is jarring as hell. The Times is retarded.

There are also some links to major world stories that weren't important enough to make the top of the page, yet deemed sufficiently important to get their own tease. If this was intended to play up these stories, the Times fails. Slivered between Pogue and an ad wherein the Times pimps itself, these stories might as well not be posted.

Chunk three: here comes some ugly

The site is next bisected by an uninterrupted line of images and teases, under the incongruous label "Inside nytimes.com."

I imagine the pitch that accompanied the powerpoint presentation for the phrase "Inside nytimes.com":
Jackass 1: The phrase "Inside nytimes.com" implies the sort of intimacy and physical presence that our readers would associate with a daily newspaper. In this feature, we're not just providing colorful original content, we're inviting the reader to look further and explore.
Jackass 2: That's just we're going for. Excellent work.
It's garish, and features the kind of bullshit, weirdo stories that contribute to the hate half of my love-hate relationship with the Times. We get 1.) Gorillaz playing at the Apollo without cartoons; 2.) some shit about Barry Bonds and Ann Nicole Smith; 3.) big picture of an ant (okay, that's kind of cool); 4.) a cartoon rendering of Buenos Aires; 5.) large text reading "Synagogues for Hipsters" (earlier in the day, this was the main image on the top of the page, and the only one not to feature middle-aged guys in suits); and 6.) a Pakistani woman who features in one of Kristof's projects.

So most of this is the kind of stuff I don't want from the Times, and even if I did, it's presented unattractively. It's a blob running the width of the page. The big-font, graphic-intensive barrier makes for an awful transition for the horror to come.

Chunk four: OMG I just got my first-ever migraine

After the breaking-news jumble at the top, this is unequestionably the worst part of the page, and that's saying something.

In teeny-tiny baby blue type, we have no fewer than sixty (60!) headlines. The mind shudders, then shutters. It looks like a phonebook just crapped all over my screen.

The problems with this:

1.) It's just a bunch of uninterrupted text.
2.) If there's a section you're looking for (say Books, or [God fuckin' help you] Dining and Wine) you squint at the screen as you search through the dense three-column crumble of headlines and section labels.
3.) The font is (again) really really tiny.
4.) The teeny-tiny font is in baby blue. Either I need a new contacts prescription, or the Times wants to give its readers a headache.
5.) In contrast to the preceding segments, there is no white space.
6.) The Times has dumped so much shit here that you have to through down to see all of it.
7.) Very little prioritizing between these featured sections.
On the plus side, the Times's "Most Popular" feature has been dropped down to the bottom of the page. This saves me the old annoyance of glancing down and seeing that the most popular story among Times readers is about sneakers and Pilates.

Concluding Thoughts

Obviously, the redesign blows. It's an aesthetic mess.

The Times appears to be a very confused institution. There are three things about the Times that keep a hater like me reading, and even signing up for their pay service. They are 1.) the brand value associated with the name, 2.) the presumptive respect given to the paper's story placement, and 3.) the columnists.

The Times website seems intent on rendering its columnists irrelevant.

Apparently favoring some kind of imaginary, blog-inspired, egalitarian information-dump to actual news judgment, the Times has buried the lead in every respect.

Also, in the two days since the redesign, I've read the Times's stories much less than usual. Generally I click through two or three of the top stories, check out the columnists, and at least skim the book reviews.

My reading habits haven't changed because of any principle. There's just too much junk to digest. This new site isn't a newspaper, it's a dictionary page crossed with Red Book.

Postscript: This isn't one of those posts about how the Times prefers to cover worthless shit instead of hard news. Still, the story at the top-right of the page -- the spot reserved for the lead in a traditional newspaper -- is currently teased: "'Cross Country,' the best of the new psychic shows, takes the channeling right to people's doorsteps: a psychic reading with home visits." (emphasis added)

3 comments:

winston said...

amen.

Crunk Raconteur said...

It's nice to see the Times trying to emulate the Washington Post (and LA Times), who keep changing their website and, without exception, always always ALWAYS make it noticeably worse.

Wait..."nice" isn't what I mean. What's the opposite of that?

As for being an unhappy TimesSelect subscriber, I've guest-bitched about that in this space before, but come on, CrimeNotes...think of that 50 bucks as payment for the joy of joining John Tierney's apparently-now-defunct book club!

CrimeNotes said...

I recall your love affair with the John Tierney Book Club. Sad that I didn't join in time to share the experience.

Keeping with my new policy of giving credit when people/institutions that I bash correct their errors, I'll be posting a much shorter piece on some of the changes apparently made in the last 12 hours. Extra-credit if you can guess what I single out.