Turning inner space into outer space

October 1, 2012

Why we need to pay attention to

USA Today has taken a major step forward into the digital age — and other news site publishers should sit up and take notice for two major reasons.

1. Sponsorship. Yes, readers are initially hit with the mother of all ads when they visit the site, but the ads at USA Today have a few things going for them. First, they’re actually attractive and interesting. Second, they’re easily dismissed with a nice big X. And third, they act as major sponsors, so we see precious few other ads cluttering up the site.

2. A news site layout. It is first and foremost a website about the news — not a website that tries to imitate a newspaper. It’s amazing that publishers have taken so long to come around to this. A news site is not a newspaper with hyperlinks. Instead of doggedly sticking to print habits, we need to free ourselves and take full advantage of the fact that people consume news differently on the Internet than they do on paper.

Newspaper editors desperately want to tell us what is important, and so insist on telling us what the top stories are. Readers appreciate these efforts, but they are also just as interested in the latest news and the most popular news. USA Today breaks from tradition by giving these three points of view more or less equal prominence. Quartz — the new biz-news site from The Atlantic — does this as well.

For years, I’ve seen other types of websites beautifully rendered by designers with incredible talent. But for some reason, news sites always seemed to lag behind — looking like they were tossed together by a programmer with an eye for functionality and little else. It seems now that news sites are finally seeing the light. And it’s not just about making things “pretty.” An attractive, easy-to-read site is one that will keep people coming back time and again. We know how important typography is for newspapers — why do we skimp on it for news sites?