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Editor's Weekly: What's behind our new website design?

news that matters with stlpr logo

St. Louis Public Radio switched to a new website design this week, and the reaction was generally positive. The most common complaint was confusion about how to listen to radio streams through the website, and we're working to make that clearer.

Most of you didn’t click the feedback link, and that’s fine. We hope that means you like what you see. We trust that you’ll let us know if that changes.

Good design is a deceptively difficult challenge, especially for news organizations. It must gracefully carry the weight of multiple tasks. The better the design the more invisible this effort becomes.

Using our new design, we’re working on several, sometimes competing goals.

News that matters

First and foremost, we want to focus on news that matters. Rather than feed you a constantly changing selection of incremental developments, our homepage gives prominence to a few main courses — stories chosen for their significance.

At the same time, we know interests vary. More reporting appears where you can easily peruse it. Or you can search or click on menu categories to explore particular topics.

We don’t have the staff — and you don’t have the time — to pay attention to everything. The news ecosystem as it now exists can feel like a wilderness with pathways that wander through Facebook, Twitter and myriad other sources and distribution channels. St. Louis Public Radio aims to be a reliable guide to news that matters for St. Louisans.

You may not always agree with our news judgment as reflected in what stories we cover and how much prominence they get online or on air. For that matter, we in the newsroom don’t always agree with each other in the daily process of sorting this out. But in the end, we hope our homepage reflects our constant, honest and humble effort to winnow what matters from what happens.

Easy to use

While expressing sound news judgment, our website design must also address logistical challenges. Content needs to be easy to access and easy on the eye whether you’re using a laptop, tablet or phone. And that applies whether you arrive via the homepage or via a link that takes you straight to a single story. The Digital Services division of NPR created our new design to be responsive — meaning it automatically adjusts presentation to the size screen you’re using.

A responsive design is no guarantee that a website will look good. In fact, many push users away with popup ads or other intrusive elements. We want to draw you in with a clean look and thoughtful attitude at any size.

Easy to understand

A third important function of design is perhaps the most basic — to make complex topics more comprehensible. Our new homepage design helps address this challenge in some ways. We tackle it as well through other presentation tools and techniques. Our All Ferguson section, for example, organizes months of reporting so that you can zero in on certain topics or follow the chronology of events. Data and design specialist Brent Jones and editor Donna Korando created All Ferguson from the work of the entire staff.

In another example, Brent worked with health reporter Durrie Bouscaren recently on Vaccines, outbreaks and personal choice: Measles by the numbers. It includes an interactive map that shows vaccination rates by county in Missouri and Illinois.

Just as great athletes or artists can make world class feats look easy, great design can make inherently complex news developments easier to comprehend.

In the digital age, anyone can report and distribute news. That means everyone has to be an editor. Everyone must figure out what’s reliable, what’s significant and what’s missing from the fire hose of information that blasts us each day. At St. Louis Public Radio, we hope our new design and the reporting that fills it will help you with the task.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.