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The Kansas City Defender is a nonprofit news site for young Black audiences across the Midwest
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Aug. 22, 2011, 10 a.m.

The Lab’s new look: A quick tour of our new redesign

A more open, magazine-like look, with more room for customization — plus the debut of Fuego, our heat-seeking Twitter bot.

You’ll notice we’ve got a new look here at the Nieman Journalism Lab today. We’re coming up on our third anniversary — we launched October 27, 2008 — and other than a few tweaks, we’ve had the same design ever since. So it felt like time to freshen things up a bit. A few of the highlights:

The new front page

We finally took the step away from traditional blog format — our last 15 articles, all in a row — toward something a little more magazine-y. That new slot on the top left of the front page allows us to have fresh featured art every day.

You’ll see that we now include a yellow highlight above articles that have been particularly popular on Twitter, noting how many hundreds of tweets they’ve generated. And the freshest pieces get a green tag above their headlines.

Below Fuego (more about that in a sec), you’ll also find the most recent pieces from our three Nieman siblings, Nieman Reports, Nieman Storyboard, and Nieman Watchdog, each of which tackles its own sector of contemporary journalism.


The big new feature on the front page is Fuego. Why Fuego? You may remember that in May we launched Encyclo, our encyclopedia of the future of news, which features profiles of the most important players in journalism’s evolution. Well, if Encyclo is all about context and background, Fuego is all about right now — what people in our field are talking about at this very instant.

Every hour, Fuego searches through thousands of Twitter accounts related to the future of news, sees what links people are sharing and talking about, does a little math to favor fresh stories, and spits out the 10 links that are getting the most attention, with sample tweets for each. It’s like spending your day reading Twitter — but without having to actually spend your day reading Twitter.

We took a ton of inspiration from earlier efforts in the field, most notably the great Hourly Press, but the coding credit here goes to our Andrew Phelps, who spent many hours wrestling with PHP caching and the Twitter API to bring Fuego into being. We’ll have more Fuego-related stuff to tell you about soon, but in the meantime, come back to our homepage a few times through the day and you’ll get a quick dose of the top stories of the day among your peers. (Click the black arrow at right to scroll through all 10.)

Article pages

The new article pages are a lot more open and spacious (compare, old vs. new), and hopefully a little bolder. The sidebar is no longer a monolith — it can change from page to page and story to story. Plus we have many more options on the backend to have unique layouts for unique stories when it’s called for.

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On longer, more essay-ish pieces, we can do things like section breaks, pullquotes, subheads, and dropcaps in a more typographically appealing way. There are a couple more sharing tools, for those of you who go beyond Twitter and Facebook. And now columns and regular stories get different looks, fixing one of my biggest complaints about the old design.

There are lots of other little changes you might notice — search results can be sorted by date or relevance, author and tag pages pull thumbnails from stories, and a lot more. We’re not done — there’s more new stuff to come in the coming weeks, and we’ll keep tweaking what you see now as we live with it. Hope you like it.

POSTED     Aug. 22, 2011, 10 a.m.
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