GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

News websites – appearance makes a difference

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 12, 2009

The website design of online news services may not be a big deal if you keep up with news via feeds from specific sites or from aggregation services, which I do, but I also like to visit particular news sites. One thing that bothers me about some news sites, though, is their layout. I wish they wouldn’t find it necessary to use glitzy, gimmicky designs. If I want show and sparkle, I’ll visit an entertainment site.


Speaking of entertainment sites, I can’t decide if the Huffington Post is news or entertainment. It opens with a large sensational headline/picture combo. Scrolling down you find a cluttered razzle-dazzle three-column layout (in theory nothing wrong with 3 columns–my blog uses three as well. Anyway, I’m just a hometown blogger using a standard WordPress theme).

Left-hand column headlines for featured blog posts get varied colors; until recently, the right-hand column jumped up or down a line every ten seconds! (click images for larger size).


The comment links below each story periodically flash yellow (shown in the second shot); I’ve seen the entire page background flash yellow momentarily from time to time. Lots of pictures and video, pictures and video. The chaotic hopscotch multicolor design makes the site not only unappealing for finding news, it makes me want to leave as soon as possible.


Locally, SignOnSandiego (which just rolled out a major site redesign intended to “rock the town” according to an earlier U-T tweet) doesn’t look very newsy when you first reach the page. It presents a selected main story accompanied by a few additional headlines, followed by a popular (and superfluous) technique of embedding a large picture/headline slideshow looping 4 or 5 stories every 8 seconds. The navigation bar at the top has rollover pulldowns to various topics, a technique which provides reasonable coverage. Still, to me the overall layout and commercial focus feels like a billboard. I hope they phase out the recurring nagging popup window asking for feedback.


As an aside, SignOn’s search function is seriously broken; a search for “Sanders budget” pulls up nothing for 2009. A search for “San Diego budget” pulls up listings, but the entries listed show incorrect publication dates unless you click through to the article. When I did the search today (Nov 12), the first page of results included 14 entries all dated Nov 12 but a click through to the articles reveals a wide variety of actual publication dates (the Nov 12 date on the search screen entries appears to come from the date you did the search. Other entries show no date at all.





The New York Times is very busy. Scrolling down you can see they try to pack everything in on one page. It’s usable, but crowded. And where you end up when using that URL has been changing by the minute. This morning it changed three times. This morning when I first went there, the page redirected to (which is a merger with International Herald Tribune), later it went to its own page, later it was redirecting again. There is a button that allows you to switch between those pages, but I don’t know why it can’t make up its mind about a default page to display. Perhaps the behavior has something to do with recent noises they’ve made about going behind a paywall.

Drudge Report takes the prize for persistence, as it hasn’t changed its design since it began publishing. A screaming world-is-ending headline followed by courier-font columns of links without context. DrudgeReport



So what’s out there that I like? The redesigned LA Times is clean and attractive, and the navigation bar at top uses topical (rather than commercially oriented) buttons (that have further drop-downs to additional topics) to help you navigate to your area of interest. The search retrieval page has an easy-to-read format with entries containing extra contextual data.


McClatchy has an approachable design. I like the pull-downs to individual articles that you get when you roll over the topical navigation bar at the top.


Techmeme has a good idea where each story is followed by links to other news sources that discuss the same story.

I also like blog-style news, such as found at Think Progress although this format works better with sites that have a specialized focus or agenda rather than for comprehensive news.


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