March 20, 2002

I do it out of love.

DAMN UGLY WEBSITE. Find out why.

Some less-sucky-looking college newspaper websites: The Stanford Daily, The Daily Free Press, The Daily Californian, The California Aggie, The Daily Bruin, The Chicago Weekly News, The Columbia Spectator.

I’m not saying these are the cream of the crop but there are definitely some sources to draw from in terms of studying what the competition is doing. Does anyone else have some good college newspaper website links?

[Update: Okay, now that I’ve had some sleep I’m realizing this is all a little cruel. And I apologize. But I stick by my assertion that the Guardian website desperately needs a redesign.]

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Patrick Runco

We had the same problem at Pomona; we built the very first site for The Student Life — and the incoming staff felt they needed to redesign it while our chairs were still warm. I think they’ve had at least four redesigns in the five years since I was there. The first couple used my masthead (it had a lasting quality to it), but after that they just went crazy. Colors, alignment, buttons, changed for the sake of change — and implemented poorly.

Point: every new editor is going to come in and look for some way to leave his or her mark. The big, fat target is inevitably the Web site, since these new editors know they can’t very well overhaul the paper itself (that requires too much knowledge and experience!).

I believe sites need refreshing every year, and I think it’s great that each incoming class has a ton of ideas to try out. But I also think they should pay attention to what came before and try to provide a little continuity. I suppose that’s too much to ask of kids who have trouble imagining what they’ll be eating for dinner that same night.

Walt Dickinson

It is an interesting challenge. There is, with good reason, always strong resistance to changing the look of the newspaper. I wanted to drastically change the way it looked of course. And there were obvious areas that needed improvement. But my attempts at complete redesign never really impressed even me. In the long run, what worked best was making subtle changes over the course of many years. I’m happy to see that many of the little things I changed have hung on so far in some form or another. (The skyboxes, the Guardi face for the body copy, the tall thin staffbox…) And I’m also happy to see that some things have started to change. The design has to evolve, new people have to try new things. Sometimes you’ll get talented people making significant improvements. Sometimes less-skilled designers degrade the quality. But the trick to making substantial changes is to know the paper’s history, have a certain degree of talent, and stick with it for a long time. With web design it’s tougher. There’s a lot of infrastructure in websites. Harder to separate the style from the content. It would be relatively easy to redesign the newspaper, whereas (depending on the underpinnings of the site) it can be next to impossible to redesign a site. And this means that you have to stick with it for even longer. I think the Guardian would best be served if they started over on the web. Start from scratch. Screw the archives (for now). Who cares? Just design something easier on the eyes. More scaleable. Then work back in all the frills as needed. And, for god’s sake, use permalinks.

Nick Runco

i think it blows. i told them then, i’ll tell them now, the webmaster should not be designing it. the design editor should. if there should be a separate web design editor fine. but programmers make web pages work, and a lot of them think they can design. this happened right after i gave up the web editor position. that whole dynamic caused me to rethink how the guardian should be set up in the first place and it dawned on me that most of the problems with that place are due to a vague employee hierearchy that leaves responsibilities to fall through the cracks and other to be fought over. the most irritating was, the photo editor getting on my back for how i was using a photo. i opinion was and is, that the design editor (or what i thought should be renamed to art director) should of had control over those things. photo/graphic usage (and even guidelines, scheduling and assignments) the web design. that’s the only way [the very practical and important issue of] continuity can be established and you don’t get those arguments.

Nick Runco

boy, i can’t type very accurately.