The New New York Times Home Page

For a long time now, I have been annoyed by the design of the NYT home page which, in technical terms, sucked REALLY badly. (See the masthead of today’s edition, above.) Now, finally, The Times has announced a new and improved version of their home page.

If you go to the NYT website RIGHT NOW, you will still have a chance to see the older version of their home page, which will soon be gone. That’s an important part of this exercise because without the old version in front of you, none of these comments will make sense.

Let’s do a quick analysis of what’s wrong with the old home page.

  1. On my standard-size laptop computer, the menu bar extends far beyond the width of the rest of the page. Amateurish at best.
  2. The headline of the lead article in column one is misaligned so that the first word in the headline is obliterated by the menu bar. This is not an anomaly. This happened regularly.
  3. There are at least five different typefaces on the home page. This is a matter of taste but it seems to distract me from the content of the articles.
  4. There are HUGE holes in the format where there is no content in one or even two or three columns for the equivalent of several column inches where there should be copy. (This is something that would NEVER happen in the print edition of a printed newspaper.)
  5. On the old version of the home page there’s another anomaly that has been driving me nuts for years: Many of the articles listed on the home page are repeated two, three and sometime even four times. If you look at the top of the home page in today’s edition, you will see headline declaiming that “Kris Kobach Is the G.O.P. at Its Worst.” I have no idea who Kris Kobach is (just because I subscribe to The Times doesn’t mean that I actually read it) but I do know that the Times headline writers aren’t even following their own rules about headline capitalization, nor anyone else’s apparently.
  6. This story also appears three-quarters of the way down the page under “Opinion,” followed immediately by a Thomas L. Friedman article calling upon us to “Keep Up the Blanket Coverage of Trump. It Hurts Him,” which also appeared at the top of the page.

Watch how the current home page disappears as you scroll down the page…

From a four-column spread:

To a three column spread:

down to a two-column spread:

and finally down to one lonely column:

Note that the one-column spread continues for approximately 12 column inches. This is something that would never happen in the print version of any newspaper, much less The Times.

If you want to see what the new home page is going to look like, using today’s articles, click here.

The improvements are very noticeable.

  1. They got the menu bar under control through the simple expedient of using a smaller typeface for the menu bar. They couldn’t have done that years ago?
  2. The headline in column one is no longer hidden by the preceding row.
  3. There are now an average of three different heading typefaces, instead of four or five. An improvement.
  4. The HUGE voids in the layout are gone. There’s still much too much white space around, and especially under, the larger articles on the home page, but the big holes are gone.
  5. Unfortunately, they still haven’t figured out how to avoid repeating the same articles in different places on the home page, but they have made this less obvious by grouping the articles in a more logical manner.

They have managed to eliminate the large voids in their news columns by removing in-line advertisements. Those voids in their home page were being created by advertising blockers. Whenever a visitor had an adblocker on, the voids appeared.

Now, instead, The Times is running their home page advertisements in separate blocks that are inserted between the sections of the home page. That’s a great solution, because the visitor simply scrolls through the empty ad sections and goes on to the next section of editorial text.

That raises another question: If I am paying $15 a month to subscribe to The New York Times, why are they still giving me a version of their website that carries advertising? Wasn’t the deal with the paywall an agreement that, if I paid $15 a month, I wouldn’t be subjected to advertising?

In addition to that quibble, someone really should explain to the NYT that no one ever drills down to the bottom of their page, where they deliberately duplicate the same articles they have already posted at the top of the page. We’ve all seen what’s down there by now and, since we know there’s nothing down there we haven’t already seen, they should simply skip the reiteration.

We used to call The New York Times “the paper of record” when I was growing up in New York. We used to be duly impressed by their venerable motto, “All The News That’s Fit To Print,” which used to appear directly to the right of the logo on the home page.

Well, The Times is no longer the paper of record, the authoritative voice of editorial accuracy, but there has been no successor to that title because “the record” is now on Google if it is anywhere at all. In an age where there are no limits to the amount of material a newspaper can publish in a digital format, “All The News That’s Fit to Print” no longer makes sense. It’s also not true, because, in recent years, The Times has been caught printing quite a few things that should never have been printed.We used to make fun of The Times logo by rephrasing it as, “All The News That Fits We Print,” but that motto now seems more accurate than the official version.

Before I let you go, let me just add one last thing. We also used to call The Times, “The Gray Lady” but most people don’t know why. The Gray Lady nickname harks back to the days when The Times refused to print photographs on its home page long after almost every other newspaper in the country was doing so. The combination of black ink and the slightly gray tone of the old newsprint stock made the whole paper appear gray. (Another theory holds that this was a reference to the old New York Times building in Times Square, which had a gray granite facade.)

Both the old home page format and the new one give readers the same gray look. The Times insists on using fewer images on its home page than most other online publications and the images it does use are, for the most part, small and, well, dull. It seems they have a style rule against publishing brightly colored images on the home page.

Still and all, no matter how The Gray Lady gets there, she still gets there, slowly, ponderously, dragging the weight of her history around with her, but she’s still stepping up to the plate, which is more than we can say for a lot of newspapers that have already thrown in the towel.

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(Note: no one is ever going to convince me that home page should be homepage.)

Alan is a poet, journalist, short story writer, editor, website developer, and political activist. He is the executive editor of BindleSnitch.com.

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