Sneak preview of VTDigger’s new website

RedesignFullSize

VTDigger’s new website will be unveiled a week from today.

Our hope is that you find it easier to navigate and more pleasing to the eye.

The new site has all the old standbys — commentaries, press releases, comments, forms for tips and error reports — plus many new features, including color-coded category sections, a weekly archive, larger cartoons, a share rail, Twitter feed and quote of the day.

Most importantly, VTDigger’s hard-hitting stories will be in a more accessible format.

Instead of developing an app for VTDigger, we have created a “responsive design” site that automatically resizes to fit whatever screen you’re using — iPhone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. If you want ready access to VTDigger on your phone or tablet or computer, you’ll be able to download an icon to your desktop that links to our site.

In keeping with our approach to innovation here at VTDigger, the website is in beta form. Expect to see more improvements over time as we launch our data reporting page, a multi-media section and landing pages for health care, energy, politics and business. We also plan to make a major projects section available for our reporting on special topics, including EB-5, mental health, the health care exchange and human services.

The redesign wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation and the expertise of our web developer, Stacey Peters, who honed her skills in the cutthroat environment of New York City’s interactive media world before she moved to central Vermont.

Please check out our new front page and let us know what you think.


Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Rolf Mueller :

    Not impressed.
    Designed for the smart phone not the widescreen laptop I’m using to read vtdigger.

    • Rolf Mueller :

      Glad to be proven wrong!

  2. Tom Buchanan :

    I hate the ads, and had actually forgotten they exist. What will the site look like with Ad Block Plus, or similar readability programs?

    • Jason Wells :

      Yes I am wondering this as well living out in the boonies and tethering data off my cell phone makes me very conscious of my data usage and addblock plus is a HUGE data and money saver for me. I refuse to visit sites that have adds hardcoded in as jpeg’s and such. VT Digger also uses 4 tracking cookies that I am aware of they are Google Adsense, Google Analytics, ShareThis and WordPress Stats.

      • Moshe Braner :

        When I was on dial up (and even now on DSL, most of the time) I had images turned off in the browser. Saves most of the bandwidth and also blots out most of the ads.

  3. Erica Heilman :

    I think it looks great. Can’t wait for the launch!

  4. Are you upgrading to the livefyre commenting system? If not why not?

  5. Alan Taplow :

    Like it !!! Like it !!!

  6. rosemarie jackowski :

    I reserve judgment till it is up and running. Just a couple of thoughts… Is there a reason why the comments are delayed till ‘approved’. Also, it would be good if the commenter could edit the comment after it is posted.

    Also, please don’t get too hi-tech. Many of us do not have cell phones. No need for apps for us.

    The big issue is one that seems to have no solution. We need a way to include those who are not on-line. Many older folks on limited budgets have no computer.

  7. Ralph Colin :

    Rosemarie makes some really sensible suggestions. I hope you will address them positively.

  8. Jason Wells :

    Please dont go to livefyre or any other such service. Livefyre uses tracking cookies and is not very secure. Granted I have no clue about the word press comments tools that are used here they do work on all devices and do not require the browser to connect to a 3rd party site. And to respond to Rosemarie the delay seems to be due to the fact that VT Digger has chosen to personally review each and every comment before it goes live. It feels like censorship to me but I also understand it is not my site and therefore free speech does not apply. But perhaps allowing comments to post instantly but also have a way for community standards like a “report this comment for abuse” button could be a fair compromise? It may also free up the staff to do other things instead of approving tons of comments each day.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Yes, I agree VT Digger has the legal right to censor. My newspaper does in all the time. It is legal, but is it right? Where do journalistic ethics fit in here?
      My public tax supported library also does it. That is a violation of the First Amendment. They get away with it, because citizens allow it.
      By coincidence, right now there is a discussion going on at CommonDreams about some comments there ‘disappearing’. Strange times we are living in.

      • Jason Wells :

        What library might that be and what do they censor? From very close personal experience I have found most librarians to be some of the most staunchest supporters of free speech and find any type of censorship to be deplorable. They take it very seriously almost with a major religious zeal. Let us know more public library’s are tax funded and not allowed to ban or censor things.

        • rosemarie jackowski :

          The American Library Association has a policy prohibiting the banning of books; however, when a member library does censor or ban, no action is taken.
          It is not known how many Vermont libraries ban or censor books. The public tax supported library in Bennington is one that does.

          • Jason Wells :

            I really don’t think any libraries censor anything at all. So what does the library censor? Too embarrassing to post here? Understandable but except for some personal issue where they are just plain mad at you or something I just don’t see it. Did you take up the issue with the Library Director. Most Vermont Libraries have adopted the following as basic standards.

            Freedom To Read

            The freedom to read is guaranteed by the Constitution. Those with faith in free people will stand firm on these constitutional guarantees of essential rights and will exercise the responsibilities that accompany these rights. We therefore affirm these propositions:

            1. It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those which are unorthodox or unpopular with the majority.
            2. Publishers, librarians and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation contained in the books they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what books should be published or circulated.
            3. It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to determine the acceptability of a book on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.
            4. There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.
            5. It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept with any book the prejudgment of a label characterizing the book or author as subversive or dangerous.
            5. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standard or tastes upon the community at large.
            6. It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality-and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a bad book is a good one, the answer to a bad idea is a good one.

            Were are way off topic here now so Ill leave it at that.

  9. Jason Wells :

    My last and most important suggestion NO FLASH, NO FLASH!!!

  10. Kyle Martel :

    Not very impressed by this redesign.

    When designing a site it is import to consider how long the life cycle of the design will be and to plan according to that. This design will be obsolete the day it is launched and was built off dated web styles.

    All sites built today should be approached with a mobile first attitude, because the reality is that four years from now most of your readers will be viewing your site on a tablet or mobile device.

    Look at what USA Today has done with their redesign, very impressive stuff their from a tech standpoint.

    Also AdBlockPlus is gaining constant and considerable traction and your redesign will not meet their guidelines for quality advertising and will be blocked by the plugin, rendering your banner advertisements useless.

    • Moshe Braner :

      “four years from now most of your readers will be viewing your site on a tablet or mobile device.”

      – unsubstantiated assumption. Regardless of the march of technology, we humans have certain ergonomic needs that will not change, and tiny screens will not replace larger ones, for many of us, especially as we get older. As a matter of fact, the whole “pad fad” seems to be an attempt to stretch the smartphone ambiance to a somewhat larger screen. Guess what’ll come next…

      • Matt Fisken :

        Like the natural gas supply/price situation, short term trends are often poor predictors of the future.

        One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that my vision blurs if I use wireless to connect my laptop to the internet while I have no problems if I disable wifi and plug the same computer in via ethernet. I suspect this is a short-term effect similar to the known phenomenon of microwave energy causing cataracts over long periods of time.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3068822
        http://bjo.bmj.com/content/61/6/380.full.pdf

        I also know people who have stopped using wireless devices and found their vision measurably improve at their next eye exam.

  11. Matt Fisken :

    I applaud VT Digger for focusing on CONTENT and SIMPLICITY while updating its website. I don’t think it would make sense to follow the mainstream media’s lead by putting added resources into making multiple platforms so that the mobile/microwave crowd can feel catered to. If your brand new device can’t read the internet, then maybe you got swindled….?

    • Briana Kuk :

      Matt, the problem isn’t the device, but the lack of standards (or enforcement of standards) in web design related to accessibility. This new design will not be (should not be) multiple platforms, but ONE that works across the board.

      And, why wouldn’t a business want to cater to their customers? I read VTDigger on both PC and a mobile tablet (which can alternate between landscape and portrait orientation) so I will appreciate the new changes.

      • Matt Fisken :

        Briana, I think we’re basically on the same page. Sorry if my comment was confusing. The point I wanted to make is that VT Digger stands out from other news sources because they have put so much effort into covering stories that others don’t, or simply gloss over. Maybe its irrational to worry that the additional time/money it would take to build an App for every mobile platform would take away from the reporting, but I do. As far as accessibility, yes, I hope VT Digger does some testing of their new site from 10 year old PCs dialing up to the internet, but I think if you can afford to be an early adopter of the newest device/OS, and it does not read relatively basic sites, it isn’t fair to expect those sites to constantly respond to the newest proprietary systems (like it isn’t fair to expect to find an electric car charging station in every lot).

  12. andew nemethy :

    Rosemarie Jackowski’s comments on the comments section misses the point. It has nothing to do with “journalistic ethics” and everything to do with the comments sections generally, which many publications are considering dropping entirely. They seem often to be the domain of vitriol, spam, obscenities, racist comments and personal attacks. Digger has one of the more erudite and empassioned commenting crowds and the debate is healthy, but if yous aw some of the comments that await moderation you would understand why. The reasons for approving all comments, a time-consuming and thankless task that is to Digger’s credit, are for all the reasons above, not to mention avoiding lawsuits, unfairness, and preventing out-of-control posters from hijacking a section. Think of it as a moderated debate a la town hall discussions, instead of a free-for-all three-ring circus ultimate fighting match. Go look at the Times Argus of Freeps posting sections and you’ll see what they have degenerated to. All opinions are welcomed and posted at VtDigger, but they need to be civil in the best sense of the word.
    This has nothing to do with “journalistic ethics”, which is all about the reporting and editing process, and not a comments section.

  13. Moshe Braner :

    Glad to see the new design has the top stories all appear (listed vertically), rather than scroll over each other at random times as it is now and very irritating (to me).

    Also glad to see no space wasted on the left for navigation menus etc – if I zoom in then hopefully the left end will remain put, and the fluff on the right wil scroll off the screen, leaving the body text visible. That’s how it should function IMO.

    But why the blank margins on the sides? Please use the whole window (and have the text reformat the line breaks to fit whatever the window width is). Make no assumptions on my window size. Perhaps it’s a netbook with 800 pixels display width. Perhaps it’s a desktop with zillions of pixels but I sized the window to 640 pixels wide. Whatever it is, use all of it. If the window is too large (for me) I’ll make is smaller on my end. That should be a user choice, not a web designer choice.

  14. Ron Pulcer :

    Anne,

    Best of luck with the site redesign. Regarding:

    “Instead of developing an app for VTDigger, we have created a “responsive design” site that automatically resizes to fit whatever screen you’re using …”

    From what I read in your post, it sounds like VTDigger is designing for responsive “webpages” which is a completely different approach compared to “native apps” on smartphones and tablets. The terminology can get a little confusing with these smaller devices.

    I think this is the smart way to go. If you went the “app” route, you would probably have to roll it out like VPR did. First, they came out with a VPR I-Phone compatible app, and then many months later they finally came out with the VPR Android compatible app. So VPR is not only maintaining a website (not sure if it is responsive to screen sizes), but also two separate apps (I-Phone and Android). I-Phone apps are written in Objective-C language and Android apps are written in Java language, which is why it is more expensive to do cross-platform “apps”. But webpage based content is by definition, more or less cross-platform (not identical, but close, and one set of code generally).

    By going with responsive webpages, you have only to maintain one set of WP templates (= one set of generated HTML pages). You can also have one set of stylesheets (CSS) which handles at least 4 screen widths (computer monitor, laptop display, tablet and smartphone). Actually, there could be some more widths for when people rotate their smartphone or tablet from portrait to landscape, and the display adjusts to new width. Also when people resize their desktop or laptop browser widths, the content could also adjust to fit the selected width.

    This approach would seem to allow you to reach readers with almost any device. All of these devices would be rendering pages in a browser of some sort. The I-Phone and Android have browsers that originate from the “webkit” browser. The webkit browser, just like Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE, etc., all operate in the same codebase (HTML / CSS / JavaScript).

    This approach basically adjusts text content and sectioned content (div’s) primarily based on “screen width”. There is not as much of an emphasis on compatibility with O.S. (operating system, i.e. Mac OS / I-Phone, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux).

    I looked at the PDF file above (VTDigger redesign). I can see the differences in layout, but I am now on a wide flat screen monitor, so I don’t know how that will translate exactly to other devices / screen widths, with just one example.

    Ironically, since you are aiming for “responsive” design, you have offered only “one” (1) example which is a “fixed” width image inside of a PDF file. Maybe if you had several examples labeled desktop, laptop, table and smartphone to show how content is fluid and adapts to screen width, it might have been more helpful to readers (since we are all reading this on various types of screens).

    Having said that, I look forward to the new design. I read VTDigger on desktop, laptop and smartphone depending where I’m at. It will be nice to be able to read VTDigger on smartphone without having to zoom in multiple times. Once you zoom into readable text size, you then have to do more scrolling. Also, the comment section can get truncated horizontally on my Android phone, until I play around with the zoom to make the comments come back.

    Has the VTDigger tech folks tried putting in the Viewport meta tag in an existing VTDigger page (non-responsive page), as an experiment? Sometimes you might be able to improve the view on some devices with just one line of code, before going to the total redesign. See article below:

    http://webdesignerwall.com/tutorials/viewport-meta-tag-for-non-responsive-design

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