Tuesday, September 25, 2012

USA Today website beta hears the beat

One of the undercurrents at last weekend's Online News Association convention in San Francisco was the focus on mobile platforms, particularly smart phones and tablets, and the consensus that websites are just about to change in a big way.

Some already have.

USA Today, as I noted on Twitter a week ago, rolled out a beta of its new site the day after it unveiled the redesign of its paper paper. As the screen shots below demonstrate, it looks a lot like mobile app configured for a desktop screen.

The top of the new home page looks a lot like what The Orion home would look like if the changes I suggested yesterday were made.


In the bottom half of the home page, a photo grid (which can also be viewed as a list) presents top stories from the standing sections. It also serves as a second navigation tool (in addition to the top-of-page menus).

A click on the News menu or News section photo takes readers to a page dominated by a photo/story and a horizontal, photo-driven menu of other stories in the section.

Like the original USA Today, the design will set a standard that others will emulate (copy), especially the emphases on great photos well played, simplified and intuitive navigation, and the predominance of art as a storytelling method.

Poynter's Julie Moos made a crucial observation in her review of the launch:
"My overall impression: The new site does not feel like a newspaper website, it feels like a news website."
That distinction, and the reality that the audience is moving at breakneck speed to iPhones and iPads for its news, should start being a bigger part of the news consciousness at The Orion, where the staff is still working on the transition from print-focused to digital first. The next big jump--to a new mobile app sometime this fall--is going to take another big leap of thinking if readers are going to be served well.

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