Design decisions and highlights of Scripps’ newest local news site

Earlier this week, the team at Scripps Interactive Newspaper Group launched a major newspaper website overhaul for the Evansville Courier & Press in Evansville, IN. This project has been brewing for almost a year, and has been a full-time responsibility for some of us for more than six months. Here are some of my favorite changes for readers:

The new homepage. Hover to see the old version.

Improved scanability

The old site, while framed by a strong structure, was difficult to scan for content. The font was small, and headlines lacked necessary spacing to pace a reader from one to another. The column arrangement of the homepage forced a reader’s eyes to scan on both x and y axes. These two factors made readers work harder to locate valuable content.

The new site uses fonts sized appropriately for their line lengths, and headlines are spaced with room to breathe. There is no doubt where one headline ends, and another begins. Wherever possible, we’ve reduced the number of columns on a page. On the homepage, once a reader has scrolled past the top stories he will find related chunks of content spanning the entire width of the page. We saw this convention first on MSNBC and decided it would keep readers’ eyes moving in one direction down the page in search of content of interest.

Improved discoverability

The old site linked to related/popular content on story pages only from the sidebar and in a small bucket atop each story. Links atop the story mean readers aren’t yet ready to click away to other stories, and readers may never change focus from the main content area to scan sidebar links.

The new site presents readers with links to related content at the end of each story - where readers have finished with one task and are ready to be guided to another.

Other highlights
  • Instead of only showing one thumbnail for each gallery, the new photo gallery list shows 6 thumbnails for each, with a link to a full gallery that now loads within the standard site layout instead of the old pop up window. All photos and videos are now presented on a black background to make the imagery pop.
  • Forecasts atop the weather page are just sexy.
  • Searching can now be done across multiple content types with ease.
  • Local band pages, a very neglected section of the old site, feel like first-class citizens in the new site. Same goes for polls.
  • Event listings are now filtered in place, and it’s wonderfully easy to jump from day to day.
  • Restaurant listings can be quickly browsed by cuisine or neighborhood, with maps only a click away.
  • The homepage “poster”, a set of rotating images/headlines to link to top content, is no longer assembled in Flash. Thanks to jQuery, readers can finally open these links in new tabs, which Flash had prevented in the past. jQuery is used all over the site to enhance functionality and interactivity.

These design changes would not have been possible were it not for a huge effort by our backend developers. Like all our sites at Scripps, is built on top of Ellington. But in the years since we purchased our license, our development team has transformed the original codebase to make some really cool stuff happen despite limitations of its Django .90 framework. Think of it as Ellington’s awesome, mutated clone.

Ultimately, my favorite part of the new site is how easy it’s going to make future development. Scripps’ previous round of sites gave each newspaper property a full set of templates on which to build. This meant whenever we created new feature or fixed broken functionality, we had to spend days, sometimes weeks rolling the change out to each site. is the first of our new sites built on a shared set of templates for common functionality. In the coming months, we’ll be moving all our properties onto this platform, where improvements we make for one site will benefit all sites without duplicate effort. This means less time duplicating changes across our network and more time building useful stuff.

I think Evansville has itself a pretty sweet site, and I’m proud to have been a part of its creation. What do you think?

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Kudos! I love the design. The grouped content is excellent and the ability to sort them is a nice touch. I also like that the weather block on subpages has more than just the current conditions. The media overhaul is great, very fitting.

A question and a statement. Is the "Media" link in the header purposely pointed to "#"? And as a note, it's worth pointing out that Ellington is now on Django 1.0 (although it wasn't when Scripps purchased it).

May 18th 2009, 9:45 a.m. by Daniel Lindsley
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Daniel - Good catch on the media link. The Evansville staff is putting together a "Media" page that will be linked to on the nav. Guess they haven't gotten that far yet.

Thanks for checking out the site!

May 18th 2009, 10 a.m. by Ryan Berg
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Great write-up Ryan! I was going to publish something similar, but you beat me to the punch.

May 18th 2009, 1:27 p.m. by Patrick Beeson
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"This project has been brewing for almost a year," is a perfect example of why nerds from Silicon Valley are destroying newspapers. No one from SV would take that long. They would quickly get a prototype up and then tweak it later.

May 18th 2009, 3:51 p.m. by Dave Barnes
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Whoa, Dave. Lemme put my flame suit on here...

When I say "brewing for over a year" I mean that's when the first whiteboard sketches and Photoshop experiments began to establish the new direction, all on the side of our standard full-time workload. Full design comps started in late 2008, and development began less than 2 months before launch. It was actually a very fast build development-wise.

When it comes to a community-serving website serving news, photos, galleries, videos, polls, quizzes, bands, albums, musicians, cds, events, places, restaurants, blogs, podcasts, etc there is no such thing as fast, with awful lot of pages to integrate into a brand new template structure.

With that said, this was built to be the codebase for 15+ local websites. With the first site (the one that required all the from-scratch work) alive and kickin', the remaining sites will be rolled out in a matter of a couple weeks each. And because we took the time to build a proper platform, improvements we make to one site will be shared by all.

May 18th 2009, 4:22 p.m. by Ryan Berg
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Ryan, interesting post. Is Scripps rolling out these kind of changes to its other newspapers?

May 18th 2009, 4:47 p.m. by Richard Thompson
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Richard, Scripps is beginning the process of rolling out these changes to its next newspaper as we speak.

May 18th 2009, 5:09 p.m. by Ryan Berg
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I apologize. You are correct. It was fast. I look forward to all these changes coming to the Rocky Mountain News.


May 18th 2009, 7:25 p.m. by Dave Barnes, Troll
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Looks like avery good site.

May 18th 2009, 7:41 p.m. by melbourne
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There's that old saying , "That if I can do it, it ain't art." Your re-design is art ladies and gents. Very nice job.

May 18th 2009, 8:40 p.m. by Shawn Van Dyke
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Looks like I should have been on the lookout for trolls instead of gearing up in my flame suit!

May 18th 2009, 9:14 p.m. by Ryan Berg
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Love the troll treatment! :) Can we roll that out to the newspapers? LOL

May 19th 2009, 2:14 p.m. by Will Hortman
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DUDE I want your "mark as troll" button. I can haz WordPress plugin? (ha)

May 20th 2009, 2:47 p.m. by Ryan Sholin
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It's just a quick little hack (extra boolean field) to my already-hacked django.contrib.comments app. Glad you like it :-)

May 20th 2009, 7:43 p.m. by Ryan Berg
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Very cool my boys

May 25th 2009, 8:21 a.m. by Diego

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