It’s All Journalism: How to Survive a Website Redesign

It’s All Journalism is a weekly conversation about the changing state of the media and the future of journalism.

First Boston had the Big Dig; now the local NPR station, WBUR, is undergoing its own massive construction project.

WBUR’s Executive Editor for Digital Tiffany Campbell, fresh off a collaboration with It’s All Journalism at the Online News Association conference, said that “the redesign,” as it’s known internally, is at the “end of the beginning” of what will be a lengthy overhaul of WBUR’s digital presence.

“I think we’ve done something really special,” she said of the project, which began earlier this year. “We’re working on a beta version of our site right now that we hope to release to the public soon,” one that will still run WordPress on the backend but which will be geared to be “super-fast on mobile.”

The experience for listeners has to be immersive, engaging and easy to use. The audio player on most newssites is not much more than a rectangular box tucked into a corner that could’ve otherwise been used for a story, Campbell said. It deserves a better design with more prominent, attractive placement.

“Our next big opportunity is on mobile,” she said. “We want to be able to not just replicate the experience of a radio. We need to be that solid, for sure. … We want to bring the serendipity back into it,” and make listening to the station, whether online or off, as varied and rich as the environment for streaming music.

Roughly 60 percent of WBUR’s audience is mobile, but there’s still a strong group that listens to the station via their desktops. That means the station has to “do everything” and upgrade the service available to all users, regardless of how they come by WBUR.

“In some ways, it’s very freeing. Designing for mobile is exciting in the sense that you get to pare down and think about how people use your product in a way we weren’t really thinking about when we were building a site around text and images,” Campbell said.

It’s a similar challenge for websites centered heavily on video, she added, going from “a lot of boxes” and trying to break out of that mode to incorporate new things.

There’s also the challenge of making “super-fans” happy while creating a welcoming website for “drive-by traffic,” or listeners who arrive at the site from social media, Google or other avenues. It’s important to connect the new site with the station’s personality, connecting listeners with “what we do, what our model is or who we are” without looking like “any other blog post on the Internet. … We want to make the same connection digitally that we do on the air.”