In redesigning their website, the Chicago Tribune staff focused on what they could take out of the homepage, not what they could add in. So when you go to the new Chicagotribune.com today, it’s not hard to notice how simple the design appears: Plenty of white space, clear lines and borders, clean fonts and a basic color scheme — dropping the familiar Trib blue in favor of black and white, not unlike its sister paper in Los Angeles.
I spoke to Bill Adee, the vice president for digital operations for Tribune Media Group, about the new look, an update from their last redesign two years ago. “It’s cleaner, more organized, there’s a sharper focus on breaking news. We tried to hint at that in the tag line, ‘Breaking News, Since 1847,'” Adee said. (They’ve got a nice breakdown of the new parts of the homepage)
In general, the new look is meant to serve breaking and personalized news, with more recent stories (ones that have been populated the Tribune’s breaking news blog) in the center and on the left rail and a widget for localized stories on the right. “We’re serving two kinds of local users,” Adee said. “Users who have read our newspaper in the morning and want the latest updates and the person who hasn’t read the newspaper and is coming to our site to see what the Chicago Tribune has to offer.” (Also worth noting: Adee made mention on Twitter that the Tribune would soon debut an iPad app.)
But one of the more interesting things Adee told me was that they’ll soon be launching real-time ads, through a partnership with Brad Flora of NowSpots, a winner of the Knight News Challenge last year. As Adee describes it, the ad — which can change on the fly by pulling in tweets or other content — will be featured high on the homepage. It’ll initially be used to market other Tribune content and eventually opened up to other businesses. Adee told me plans were already in the works to incorporate real-time ads into the site, and the redesign offered a good opportunity to launch.
What makes the ad (there will be one for the time being) unique, Adee said, is the flexibility it gives advertisers and the integration with social media. So along with pushing out tweets, ad information could come from Facebook, Tumblr, or Flickr. While the Tribune may be one of the biggest organizations to use a real-time ad, Flora’s Windy Citizen, MinnPost, and others have made use of the format.
What may also be significant for the Tribune is that aside from a prominent place on the page (before the first scroll on most screens), the real-time spot would be one of a small number of ad slots on the homepage. (Looking at the page now, there are currently only four ad positions.)
As part of his job Adee oversees much of the digital machinery for the Tribune Media Group, meaning not just the Tribune but the features- and culture-centered RedEye and ChicagoNow blog network. Like most news sites, all these publications rely on traffic that comes from multiple sources, including social media, search, newsletters, and RSS. I asked Adee how important a traffic driver the homepage remained.
“It’s one of the single most powerful pages in Chicago,” he said. “There aren’t many pages where you have that kind of (mass) audience. Everyone’s got their own Facebook, their own customized Twitter. This is still where people go.”