Poynter.org redesign woes

Written by Adrian Holovaty on November 18, 2002

Poynter.org, the site of the Poynter Institute (a journalism think-tank and training facility) and home of the E-Media Tidbits and Romenesko's MediaNews weblogs, redesigned Friday -- and was met with a flood of discontent. More than 70 readers posted negative remarks on the new MediaNews comment system, and a number of Tidbits readers did the same.

A few features of the redesign...

Poor URL scheme. Smart, friendly URLs such as "poynter.org/medianews" and "poynter.org/tidbits" have been eschewed for anonymous, stale addresses such as "poynter.org/column.asp?id=45". Two things immediately wrong with this scheme:

  1. They're ASP-dependent. If Poynter decides to change its back-end system to, say, PHP, every URL will change, resulting in hundreds of broken links. (Granted, this can be remedied with URL-rewriting methods such as mod_rewrite, but that's a messy hack.)
  2. They're unfriendly and unhelpful. What tells you more, poynter.org/column.asp?id=45 or poynter.org/medianews? I find it particularly difficult to navigate the site now, because I was accustomed to using URLs as UI.

QuickLinks. Almost every page has a unique QuickLink code -- e.g., "A9035". "You can use these codes however you like," the site explains. "Jot them down as a quick reference; e-mail them to colleagues; or use them as a fast way to link to Poynter Online content." It's an interesting idea, but I doubt people will use it, because it offers no clear advantage over bookmarking a page or e-mailing the full URL. (The URLs aren't so long that they'd wrap across lines in an e-mail program.)

Chunky code. Spotted on MediaNews:

<font face="Trebuchet MS"><font size=2><font size=3><a class="" href="mailto:medianews@poynter.org">

I did not make that up.

There's no acceptable reason, in the year 2002, for a site to be using font tags. Not to mention redundant, nested, font tags.

Unusable comment system. Reading comments is an incredible hassle. Try it. From a comments list page, you've got to click into a comment separately, then click back to the list page, then click into another comment. Not to mention you're supposed to click the overly subtle binoculars graphic, not the commenter's name.


Posted by Mike Janssen on November 18, 2002, at 8:20 p.m.:

I felt similarly about the deplorable comment system. In fact, I wanted to read about why so many users disliked the redesign -- but after encountering the clunky navigation, I quickly realized I would NEVER read said comments or any others on MediaNews. A major misstep. How could anyone have thought it sensible?

Posted by Shayne on November 18, 2002, at 8:54 p.m.:

Doesn't it seem like this redesign was simply for the sake of design? I couldn't find any notes that explained exactly why they did this. Nothing on the site really works better. A shame really....

Posted by Mark on November 18, 2002, at 9:02 p.m.:

Their attempt at an explanation is here: http://www.poynteronline.org/content/content_view.asp?id=9080

Re: quicklinks, this would be an acceptable system if you could actually use them as URLs. For example, if article A9080 (above link) was accessible at http://poynter.org/A9080 . This is trivial to implement with a custom 404 error script. php.net uses this to good effect (try http://php.net/fopen ). I also do it to a limited extent (try http://diveintomark.org/apple or http://diveintomark.org/google ).

Posted by Carl on November 18, 2002, at 9:44 p.m.:

I love the unused "class" declaration in the above example. Three font declarations, nested, and an empty class declaration - that would look great on a parody site.

Posted by Jay Small on November 18, 2002, at 9:49 p.m.:

Besides the mechanical problems, which Adrian documents quite well, I found the article-level typography disconcerting.

The new Poynter site calls Microsoft core Web fonts for presentation on Windows clients. For those of you familiar with them, that choice might seem like a good thing for on-screen readability. But Poynter appears to use them at sizes for which on-screen character rendering is not ideal.

The text type face for most articles is MS Trebuchet. At its default size in contemporary browsers, it's open, attractive and readable. But the font's letterforms feature more curls and swashes than, say, Arial or Verdana -- and as such, it does not hold up well at the size Poynter chose as its standard for displaying stories. Those curls tend to be "squared off" in the limited matrix of pixels available for each letter.

I'm guessing the text is styled using fixed pixel sizes, too, because my attempts to change the size using browser controls failed.

Posted by Nathan on November 18, 2002, at 10:05 p.m.:

Does anyone else get a "Flash Player Debug Console" window that pops up from any page on Poynter? Whenever I try to close it, another one pops up in its place.

Posted by kpaul on November 19, 2002, at 1:23 a.m.:

The nested font tags look like the work of Dreamweaver or another WYSIWYG html editor.

I do think this was a case of make it look different and a little prettier w/out thinking of the usability.

One of the comments I saw said their left nav (now all images) had no alt tags so some people were just seeing [image] [image] [image] etc. in other browsers.

Also, I wonder if their content ratio went down... Anyone check yet?

Posted by Adrian on November 19, 2002, at 2:49 a.m.:

The text-content ratio of Poynter's home page went from 4.30 (Nov. 11) to 8.73 (right now).

Posted by James Dunn on November 19, 2002, at 4:46 a.m.:

http://www.poynter.org/medianews works.

They aren't ASP dependant, their intro article said they are in a database now. They could export to anything they want including flat files.

I like the quicklinks.

Comments section needs repair.

Posted by Adrian on November 19, 2002, at 5:44 a.m.:

James: Here's an example of how the site's URL structure is ASP-dependent. Take this address:


If, down the road, the site doesn't care to use ASP anymore, all the links might change to, say, poynter.org/subject.php?id=5 or poynter.org/subject.cgi?id=5, breaking all links to the ASP pages.

A better solution would be to remove the "technology" (e.g. ASP, CGI, PHP) from the URL completely, like so:


...or, better yet...


Posted by AgentKen on November 20, 2002, at 3:56 a.m.:

Forget missing ALT tags, the left nav images don't have _any_ attriutes to them at all, save BORDER.

Is it my imagination, or is that typical of sites that are .asp dirven? becauase it smells like something I've seen before from Microsoft.

SaltLake2002.com snafus

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