Two News”paper” Site Re-do’s: Washington Times, SFGate

Two major news-related websites have debuted redesigns.

One of them serves the most sophisticated, affluent digital market in the country and is backed by a strong, tenured publishing brand.

The other is funded by a company controlled by a mephistophelian international cult leader that serves second-rate content to one of the most blockheaded audiences in the nation.

You can guess which has debuted the better site.

It’s the Washington Times, funded by the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and the sweetly obedient house organ of the Bush administration and those who feed off it. If ever you’ve wondered who those 23 percent of American are who think Bush is going a good job, the answer is “people who read the Washington Times.”

The new Washington Times homepage is far superior to the updated, the site operated by the Hearst Corporation and serving the San Francisco and greater Silicon Valley area.

The Washington Times homepage is — I use this word carefully and rarely — groundbreaking in its presentation of information, at least in a popular medium like news. More than any newspaper-born site I have seen, it has disposed of the idea that a news written for a daily newspaper should be presented facefirst on the web. The project leaders seem to have started with a slate clean of many of the assumptions that have held back newspaper sites for over a decade.

Have a look:

New Washington Times Website

A quick glance reveals how different this is from most news”paper” sites (I may punctuate it that way from now on). One big story given billboard play, a big headline and enough text to let you know whether you want to click in or not. The two bigger stories topping the second column attract more attention and top a column of crisp headlines.

This is all smart and satisfying stuff. But the money shot here is the semitransparent Dig Deeper thingbat that lies over the main image. Click on it and the entire main image flips over like a playing card. On the “other side” you’ll find either related media (pictures, videos), themes (topics) or stories.

Washington Times DigDeeper feature

Sure, lots of news sites do that sort of layered aggregation. And the Washington Times isn’t doing a very good job curating or automating the content so far. (The site almost operates as a beta at this point. Bully for them launching it anyway, I say. Meeker minds would have left it aging in the shop until it was “ready.”)

But the Dig Deeper tool itself is a joy — once again, a term I use rarely and carefully. When you flop back and forth the WT square spins like a die, and the whole flip-over motion provides the sort of brainpie satisfaction you get from any inherently entertaining interface, like the endless procession of currently viewed videos rising over the horizon on YouTube.

Meanwhile, on the Left Coast, the folks at Hearst have debuted an iteration of the news”paper”‘s (ok, last time, I’m tired of that already) home page. renovation

It manages to integrate just about every commodity-level news web design feature that has appeared over the past three years. I couldn’t find anything I hadn’t seen done many times, and better: you’ve got your blogsphotogalleriesyourcommentsmostreadtopicpagesmashupssocialmediasortastuff, in all their tepid familiarity.

News editor Vlae Kershner’s announcement has a bit of the involuntary cringe familiar to all editors who introduce changes that some readers are certain to hate. [“Our talented staff of online editors is still learning the new programming tools and figuring out where to best place content, so please bear with us.”]

Even the site’s “annotated tour” seems to have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for itself.

To be plain, there’s nothing bad about the renovated sfgate homepage. It’s just the newspaper of the leading technology community in the nation catching up to, oh, mid-2007. (In its previous re-do, last year, had essentially updated to 2005, in my estimation.)

The current re-do will do nothing to forestall the paper’s death or expedite its transformation. It’s just keeping pace with what the other folks do, though without much energy. Which is what newspapers have done for decades. Why start innovating now?

Which brings us back to our friends at The Washington Times. Why indeed start innovating now?

The paper has just undergone another of its major upheavals. [The history of the Times is a comic operetta of steadfastly conservative editors denying the Unification Church has any influence, and ultimately being ousted or quitting due to excessive church influence. In the background, a solemn chorus of Washington conservatives weeps, rends it garments and gnashes its teeth over the fact that the nation’s capital doesn’t have a legitimate answer to the Pinko Post. Like the Fantastiks in New York, it’s a Washington show that plays for decades.]

A site redesign cannot solve the fundamental problem of the Washington Times–that it is, politely put, rotten at the core.

But the folks who redid the Washington Times site were able somehow to engage with one fundamental problem of web news presentation by disposing of the “paper” and working directly with the news and how users interact with it. They ignored their peers’ habits. Along the way they’ve brought some new energy and ideas to web news design.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a San Francisco news source took up a similar challenge?

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19 Comments on “Two News”paper” Site Re-do’s: Washington Times, SFGate”

  1. Kristen Says:

    nicely put, Craig.

    And, oh, wouldn’t it be nice if the Bay Area presses would (be bold in design and) follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow–

  2. James Ashley Says:


    Keep in mind that what is going on at the Washington Times these days is more than a cosmetic change. They are also purging their editorial staff at the highest levels. Hyun Jin Moon is a different sort of fellow than his father; Pruden is gone; the new executive editor comes from the Washington Post. Even Tony Blankley is gone. And the heads continue to roll.

  3. Craig Stoltz Says:

    James: I hope you’re right–that this transformation of the Times is fundamental. My own inclinations notwithstanding, I think it would be valuable to have a legitimate conservative viewpoint represented in D.C. media. I think the paper’s elimination of its Civil War (!) column is a positive sign. If the new editor, John Morton, lasts long enough to retire rather than being pushed out or quitting, that would be a better one.

  4. […] company I can name here) and now the Washington Times. Yes, the Washington Times. Craig Stoltz reviews the new web design there and I think he’s right: It’s groundbreaking. The ability to […]

  5. […] Two News”paper” Site Re-do’s: Washington Times, SFGate « Web 2.Oh. . .really? Love the dig deeper thing (tags: web2.0 news webdesign journalism) […]

  6. Robbo Says:

    Like all early technlogy adoptions there are users who get left out. For whatever reason I cannot see any content in this so I have a gaping hole in my screen. Without an alternative to view (easily) the content I have to leave the site disappointed.

  7. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Robbo–Have you downloaded the most recent version of Flash? That may be the hangup. You may need Flash 9 in order for this to work.

  8. Robbo Says:

    @Craig Stoltz this is my point – “You may need Flash 9 in order for this to work.” What happens if I’m restricted through corporate barriers to download upgrades. I agree that for a ricker more dynamic experience download it, but to simply read the news seems crazy? When designers design a website they include browser sniffing / version targetting to ensure everyone gets to view the page.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, I just wonder if developers could think a little more about the vast spectrum of users too.

  9. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Robbo–You make an excellent point. The sophistication of the Times’ technology may indeed make their front matter inaccessible to many users.

    I’d love to see comments to the Times’ reader feedback area to see how many folks are left out — and angry.



  10. Karen LH Says:

    The Washington Times redesign is a disaster. We actually cancelled our subscription over it.

    1. It is impossible to find anything in the new print edition. I don’t mind their rearranging sections, but apparently it never occurred to anyone to include anything as useful as a table of contents.

    2. The registration/login procedure doesn’t work. The links are inconsistent and ask for different information in different places. I finally managed to register for the new e-edition, but I couldn’t tell you how I did it, and I don’t think I could do it again. If you do manage to login successfully, the site doesn’t remember you, and so you have to go through the whole nightmare every time. I would post a comment in reader feedback if I could figure out how to log back in.

    3. Speaking of the e-edition, this is nothing more nor less than an electronic facsimile of the print edition. Why would anyone want to look at the print edition online? A format that works for print is completely inappropriate for a computer.

    4. There is no “printer friendly” format for articles on the website. If you are trying to read an article, you must — MUST — put up with all of the distracting advertising, you must click to get to successive pages of the article, and — my personal favorite — if you want to actually print the article, you must print each webpage on which the article appears: ie, if the article is broken up across four webpages, you must do four prints.

    5. The website is difficult to navigate. It is very long on whiz-bang eye-candy and very short on logical organization. And what in heaven’s name is a Theme?

    The Washington Times used to have an excellent website. It was easy to navigate and used links in a way that added value. (For example, a story would always be followed by a set of links to previous stories on the same subject, so that it was easy to catch up.) There wasn’t a lot of extraneous eye candy, which only distracts from the written word.

  11. […] Raves for new WashTimes home page, yawn+eye-roll for SFGate’s.  Here. […]

  12. […] blog entry last week in which I gave positive reviews to The Washington Times’ renovated website provoked a response from a reader whose confession may mark a key moment in newspaper history: A […]

  13. joypog Says:

    Just wanted to mention that I think the SFgate redesign was an unmitigated disaster. It took what was distinctive about the website (its retro long column of news on the front page) and made it look like every other paper. I think they most likely wanted more clicks, more pages and more ad views but it took away the defining feature of the site.

    I was unhappy at first but I did not expect to completely stop visiting the site — which is what has happened over the past few weeks since they did this change.

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