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Aug. 23, 2018, 9:51 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Bylines on the homepage? Not The New York Times’ priority anymore in the latest homepage redesign

Bruised journalist egos or important missing metadata?

Amid Trumpworld whiplash this week, people might have been visiting certain website homepages more than usual.

It’s unclear exactly how much traffic the site derives today from the homepage. One point made in the famed 2014 Times Innovation Report was how much it was shrinking as a traffic driver: “Our home page has been our main tool for getting our journalism to readers, but its impact is waning. Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”

The Times’ 2020 report, last year’s unofficial Innovation Report sequel, complained that the homepage’s largely unchanging look signaled a lack of cohesive product thinking at the company:

The central flaw in the current setup is that the newsroom ends up focusing on short-term problem solving (How do we make today’s report excellent?), while the product teams focus on longer-term questions (What’s the best future news experience?). Our editors still aren’t involved closely enough in thinking about how the Times experience across different platforms should evolve, and our product managers often aren’t aware of coverage priorities. The results can be problematic. For example, the design and functionality of our homepage have remained effectively static for the past decade.

But as this week showed us just how different some homepages can be in the midst of national breaking news surrounding the country’s most controversial figure, it also showed us that homepages still matter. And many would strongly argue that bylines on the homepage still matter, too.

In The New York Times’ latest homepage redesign, introduced this week, the only bylines that remain are those of op-ed writers. (Bylines remain on individual article pages, of course.) Twitterers grumbled about not being able to discern the latest work of Times superstars at first glance, and other bemoaned the loss of individuality for the sake of the institution. Even among Times employees themselves, the reaction seemed mixed (but they did get cake).

But still! It’s not supposed to be the reporters’ opinions that matter here, right? It’s about the READERS. The CLICKERS. The SUBSCRIBERS. You can scroll on down in this post to see more of the reaction. A Times spokesperson said that the organization intends “to explore ways to bring bylines into the new experience in more thoughtful ways…We also are in the midst of evolving the bylines on our story pages and many of our stories have begun to feature more prominent bylines on them that share information about the author, including a photo and brief biography.” In a note to the newsroom (also posted online), executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn emphasized that bylines still matter:

There will always be bylines on New York Times stories. We love to boast about our writers, their backgrounds and expertise, and the risks they take to deliver the news. In fact, we put our writers forward as never before.

This is why we are moving toward placing their head shots and backgrounds on the article page. It is why, when appropriate, our journalists narrate reporting experiences in their stories, or talk about their findings in our audio and video productions.

With the new design, bylines are now not displayed above summaries on the desktop home page. Desktop will now resemble mobile. Bylines have not been displayed above summaries on the mobile web or in our mobile apps, where more readers view our journalism than on desktop computers, for quite some time.

As a digital news organization that takes pride in its varied forms of storytelling, from video, audio and multimedia to intensive collaborations on breaking news, placing newspaper-style bylines above articles is not always the best way to engage readers or display the most important elements of our journalism.

We will continue to develop and improve the home page and article page presentation of our report. The result will do more, not less, to call out the distinctiveness of the journalists who make it all possible, and encourage the one thing that matters: getting readers to the stories themselves.

But more changed in the redesign than just the byline disappearance. (And we should note, they still remain on the article pages themselves.) Here’s more about the Times’ design process, and Fast Company explained the changes beyond the bylines:

The central goal of the redesign was to bring the Times’s desktop experience in line with its suite of mobile apps, which were updated in October of last year. But it was also to understand how people like to read their news in 2018. To find out, the design team talked to 40 readers in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston and asked them questions such as, “How do you start your day?” and “What helps you stay up to speed on current events?” The design is a reaction to these people’s main answers: They come to the Times to catch up on news, of course — but they also want to hear analysis of major events and discover unexpected stories (perhaps to brighten their days after reading about national politics).

The challenge for the designers was to implement a system that would actually help people find what they were looking for on the homepage. The prototyping process was extensive. The team tested out real-time prototypes with 4% of readers and got 15,300 survey responses before doing more in-depth sessions with about 60 people. Some concepts had less text, which in theory would encourage scrolling, but readers didn’t like how empty those designs felt. Other layouts had too many photos–the team realized that images of politicians in suits get boring and repetitive, so those were downsized a bit. Eventually, they settled on a new homepage that still packs a lot of information onto your screen, but also breaks out into sections such as “Most Popular,” “Discovery,” “Features,” and “In other news,” which highlights stories not focused on the United States.

The Times’ announcement focused on the new design’s accessibility from any device (“Whether you visit on your phone, tablet or computer, you’ll now see the same groups of stories across all your devices each day”), more convenient and sensical grouping of similar stories, and individual behavior curation (“Our editors will choose the most important and compelling stories each day, and we’ll supplement those selections with pieces we recommend for you, based on your interests”).

But but but…the BYLINES.

As promised, here’s the roar of the crowd:

POSTED     Aug. 23, 2018, 9:51 a.m.
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