March 13th, 2008

Radical Idea For News Sites: Show What’s New On Your Homepage


What’s the most obvious sign that a traditional news brand is merely reproducing online what they do in print, instead of publishing in a way that makes sense for the web? They way news is organized on the homepage.

Let’s compare three news site homepages — TechCrunch, Digg, and New York Times.

TechCrunch is published using blogging software, so the stories on the homepage are presented in reverse chronological order — this is an approach to news publishing pioneered by blogs (through the software’s default functionality) that is truly web-native.

Why publish in reverse chronological order on the web? Because news is 24×7, breaking throughout the day. Which means that news consumers come to a news site more than once a day — checking the homepage is just a click away, and news consumers on the web click often.

When someone visits a news site on the web, what’s the first thing they want to know?

What’s NEW.

TechCrunch publishes multiple posts per day, but when you visit TechCrunch’s homepage, you can always figure out what’s new, because it comes first.

This approach aligns with RSS syndication — a news feed is a chronological stream of stories.

Now let’s look at Digg, which also presents news on its homepage in reverse chronological order. This can be disorienting to new users, because the number of Diggs are not in order. But it works great for power users who visit the site multiple times a day, because they can easily see what’s new.

Digg takes it a step further, allowing users to rank stories by number of Diggs, displaying what Digg users think is most important.

But it’s notable that Digg’s default is most recent, not most Diggs. This makes sense on the web, where people visit sites frequently throughout the day to check for news or read via RSS.

But beyond the default, Digg’s approach to presenting news is so innovative — and so web-native — because users have the option of viewing what’s new OR what’s most important.

Speaking of which, why isn’t this a feature of blogs — to allow users to rank posts on the homepage by most important or most popular? There’s lots of available data for that ranking, e.g. Alex King’s Popularity Contest WordPress plugin would work, if you wanted to rank by popularity. (Hey WordPress and Movable Type, stop posturing and spend some more time innovating!)

Of course, there are more interesting, distributed models for ranking importance (see Digg), but even ranking by most popular would be a worthy start.

Now let’s look at the New York Times. It’s homepage is arranged, like most traditional media brand sites, by what is most important.

Here’s the problem — if you visit the New York Times throughout the day, and no important news has broken, the homepage remains largely unchanged, static, like a print newspaper.

Organizing news by importance as the default makes sense when you’re only delivering the news once a day (and the “default” is all you get). But when news publishing is continuous, it’s not the best way to server frequent news consumers.

I used to take breaks to check the homepage of throughout the day, but I stopped doing it when too many times I came back only to find the homepage hadn’t changed much — or at all.

Imagine — I’m visiting the homepage of the NYT, archetype producer of original content, and they didn’t seem to have anything new.

To be fair,, like many other traditional news brands, have embraced blogs, which do display the stories in reverse chronological order. In fact, the is now publishing a prodigious amount of blog content — but you wouldn’t know it going to the homepage — you have to go looking for it in the blog ghetto.

Why should’s web-native publishing be relegated to one corner of the site? Why shouldn’t the WHOLE site — especially the homepage — be aligned with the web, instead of aligned with the static print product?

Dave Winer, who first got the NYT to adopt RSS, has been advocating this forever with his NYT “river of news” publications.

So here’s another challenge to print publishers with websites: When are you going to become web publishers with print products, i.e. care more about your web readers than your print readers? Or at least do what makes most sense for each medium?

If traditional news brands were really up to the challenge, they would listen to Howard Owens advocating blogging as the key to transforming how editors and journalists think about creating content on the web:

Too many publishers, or more to the point, the editors and reporters they employ, still see online as just another place to shovel the same journalism they’re doing in print or in broadcast.

Online is different, and blogging is the key that unlocks the kingdom of how online is different. If you can get blogging, you can get online.

If traditional news brands REALLY wanted to embrace the web, they would make their homepage into a blog — or even better, make it like Digg, so users can view content ranked by most recent OR most important.

Want your readers to check your site’s homepage frequently for news? Then show them what’s NEW.

Of course, you could argue that the entire notion of a homepage has radically changed on the web. Here’s my new NYT homepage:


And this is the other homepage the New York Times cares about:


With all that NYT’s web savvy, why not take the many homepage out of the newpaper and actually put it on the web?


Quick clarification — adopting elements of Digg doesn’t necessarily mean letting readers decide what’s most important (although it certainly could). The element I wanted to emphasize in this post was presenting news in reverse chronological order by default, and give users the choice of whether to sort news by date or by importance, i.e. web-native news presentation.

How importance is determined is a whole separate — and “important” — discussion.

Comments (25 Responses so far)

  1. This is a great article. By far the best structure of an online newspaper I have seen so far is by German magazine Der Spiegel

    The problem with reverse chronological order is that when you have high-throughput sites, ‘news’ disappears too quickly from the homepage. Der Spiegel uses a combination of a blog (newest ‘big’ stories at the top) and after that has a short pre-view of posts by category. It works beatutifully, which is why this is the No.1 german news site and all other German news sites have adopted this style. Amazing that Anglo-Saxon sites are not copying it, yet.

    Der Spiegel is not perfect though. They don’t allow comments on articles. Instead, they rely on old-fashioned discussion forums. Also, their RSS feeds simply suck, as you can’t preview the firest few sentences of a story.

    Nonetheless, it is still the best I have ever come across.

  2. It’s true that homepages strive to please everyone–showcase a story from every section, keep high-interest stories in top positions–rendering most of the page irrelevant for readers seeking targeted, updated information.

    I like the idea of Digg-style control over how the homepage looks. But if sites don’t want to give that a shot, a robust set of RSS feeds and, perhaps, widgets, should help.

    Great post.

  3. It has to be tough for print media to make the leap to a Digg style approach. After all, they were the decision makers in “what’s important” for the longest time. They were the entity that told the world what they should be concerned about. And now, they are being told that time should dictate what goes on the top of the page.

    This is an interesting article because this isn’t just about a transition in style or print to web; it’s about a transition of power. Digg lets its users decide what’s important…what is news worthy. Could you imagine if CNN or Fox News let their viewers decide what news should be reported? …if media, in general, let the public dictate what stories were broadcast/printed? That would be the end of it. It’s a good thing the web is unique.

  4. Interesting suggestion, but what about the consequences of a Digg-like newssite? I covered your blog post with some commentary. Please check it out! Thanks.

  5. Just noting that the NYT homepage currently has an “ON THE BLOGS” section with links to four posts. Middle column, you should be able to see it without scrolling, depending on your screen resolution. Also, they do a pretty good job featuring blogs near related content. Go to /soccer, for example, and you’ll see the GOAL blog at the top of the page.

  6. Jens,

    Thanks for the pointer — Der Speigel is indeed laid out like a website and not a print newspaper. It’s a very nice model.


    That begs the question of why feels the need to separately categorize the blog content from the rest of the content, i.e. the print content repurposed online.

  7. Why not keep the blog content separate from the rest of the content. If nothing else, for reporting purposes, to see how many readers are hitting the blog content vs. everything else. Wouldn’t, in these times of change, you want to know where your readers were going…to help you customize your site, not only for ease of use, but for maximum use of ad space?

  8. [...] was inspired to write this today because Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has come to basically the same conclusion. I think we may finally be coming to [...]

  9. Great post. I think the most important point is allowing the user to customize his/her news reading experience. Reverse-chrono should be default, but everyone has their own personal habits and preferences – lets allow everyone to personalize their ‘digital newspaper.’ Full disclosure: I’m confounder of NewsCred, and we’re trying to do just that with.

  10. I think the problem with making the strictly a reverse-chrono publication like a blog is that there is simply too much news happening on the website to go completely in that direction. First off, they need to break the news into categories. I may be interested in international news, politics, and science, but I may not be interested at all in, say, fashion news.

    So the news is broken up into categories. But the stuff that makes it to the homepage is the important stuff — that the editors choose. In the case of digg, votes and perhaps some editorial involvement bring a story to the front page. That is to say that the stories on the front page are not simply all the news that is happening on the site. I go to the because I trust that the editors will highlight what stories are more important at the moment. To get at more stories in a specific category, I drill down into the category homepages — that is true of NYTimes and Digg.

    But the question in my mind is are people seeking the same thing at Digg as they are at the NYTimes. When I go to the NYTimes I don’t want to have to hunt and find the most important stories in a chronological list of stories. The editors have done that job for me and show me by size of headline and placement the important news of the moment. But the NYTimes homepage is not a static thing as I think you’re suggesting. The headlines that are shown are frequently moved, removed, etc. as the news filters through the day.

    So yes, I think you’re right, the is operating as some kind of dynamic newspaper and not as a blog or something equivalent. But to my mind, with the diversity and quantity of news floating through the homepage on a given day, their format helps me see stories as they evolve. There’s an information hierarchy there that is key to keeping the news easily parsed. Without it, it would be a much more daunting task to get a sense of what the news of the day is.

    Most blogs are in reverse chronological format, and most of them are completely random. There’s a story about someone’s cat followed by what they did at work or a post about the last basketball game they went to. There’s no organization by content — you have to do a lot of skimming to find the good stuff.

    I think the NYTimes gets so much traffic online because they’ve always done a stellar job with their website. If you compare it with, say,, it’s clearly superior. has a reverse-chrono list of 16 or so headlines in the center column at the top. It’s just a block of undifferentiated text. Sixteen stories with no rhyme or reason to them. It seems like CNN is pushing their editorial work off onto the user. Let the user decide which stories are important to them. But with a relatively random list of headlines organized solely by reverse-chrono order, it takes a lot of extra parsing.

    That’s a difference between a blog and the NYTimes — on a blog I get a bunch of stuff that’s not really organized. But with the NYTimes website there are editors there making news judgments about what to present and how to present it. And that’s why I read the for the news and not some blog.

  11. I think APML would be the best technology to imploy. Then it doesn’t matter if it’s Digg style or blog style, it’s what matters the most, your style.

  12. The most subversive, and threatening, thing about news sites like Digg to organizations like NYTimes is that the editors – a small group of people with salaries paid for by any number of questionable interests – no longer get to decide what’s important. We do.

    Digg, of course, has it’s own problems but those are primarily problems with execution, not the model they have built.

    Great post. Interesting times ahead for the media biz.

  13. The focus on the homepage is important, but somewhat misplaced. It’s not 1998 anymore — nowadays, most savvy news publishers know that every page is the home page, because the majority of traffic is coming through at the article level — driven by Google News, organic Google search, references from other sites and blogs, and RSS. I think the NYT and other MSM publishers have realized this — besides a clear site navigation at the top of every page, one of the most important article-level tools appearing on most articles is the “most read” and “most emailed” list.

  14. Clarin, biggest newspaper in Argentina, implemented reverse cronological order for news in its homepage almost 2 years ago.
    I don’t think it works: unimportant news like a local car crash push down important news.
    You can take a look at

  15. Ian,

    The homepage is still relevant for readers who seek out the brand directly — that group of users is shrinking everyday, but is still sizable, especially for a premier brand like the NYT. The homepage is also emblematic of the larger print-centric approach to web publishing. The homepage is as good a place to start as any.

  16. Despite the call for how news should be read, all these news sites won’t start offering reverse-chronological view of the news. But what they are doing is offering a RSS feed. So this is the job for the RSS feed reader, to show news in reverse order by date; by interest to the user; by popularity, etc. The RSS reader can slice and dice that data.

    Shameless plug here, but I’m one of the geeks behind a new web-based feed reader called Alertle ( I think it gets the river of news idea just right. Do check it out. What you want has already kind of been done.. :)

  17. [...] rather than one person trawling for news and updating the content hourly, there are hundreds of thousands of users doing the trawling and submitting stories by the minute. furthermore, rather than having one person dictate the importance and therefore placement of the story on the site’s front page, the site’s enormous user base votes on what is important and how important it is. lastly, rather than manually updating the list for to replace old content with new content, the site’s algorithm automatically pushes down older stories that are losing steam with the audience and pushes up newer, more active ones, and even gives you the option to automatically hide the stories you have already read. karp has more. [...]

  18. The Flint Journal switched to this format Jan. 30.

    We organize around six areas: News Now, Business Now, Sports Now, Entertainment, Voices, and Community. We post the news and information about Flint Michigan as it happens, as it is reported and written/recorded. Sometimes, it is online days before it makes the newspaper.

    Some folks want what is in the newspaper, so we continue to shovel those stories online to their own pages (See From The Newspapers on the left side)

    It is a work in progress. Next steps include a data center with answers fo questions as basic as who is my mayor and when is the Crim or Buick Open to who gave to the presidential campaigns.

    The site draws from 9 newspapers owned by the company. We often highlight what the local television stations are reporting.

  19. Hi Scott
    I like the ideas you promote in ths article. The BBC have just launch a new home page and have asked users to give feedback – no doubt they will make adjustments based on the feedback. The use widgets and allow users to re-configure the hoe page to their liking – this, i think give the users the best of both worlds.


  20. [...] I’m a fan of the reverse-chronological, perma-linked and time-stamped nature of blogging. As Scott Karp noted the other day, other approaches treat online content (and by content, I mean photos, video, [...]

  21. [...] DealBook, a web-native “section” of the site, which displays it’s reporting in reverse chronological order, so that you can actually look back at how the story unfolds. Here’s what I see now in the [...]

  22. So here’s another challenge to print publishers with websites: When are you going to become web publishers with print products, i.e. care more about your web readers than your print readers?

    When they figure out how to actually make money from online readers…

  23. Scott, I think you’re being too newspaper-centric centric. That is, you equate an organizing principle–what’s important, what’s new, what’s interesting–with a production method: newsprint. As several commenters–most eloquently Daniel Stout–have pointed out, “newest” isn’t necessarily something all users want. Whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing that evil editors masticate the news and, like mother birds, regurgitate it in some order onto a newsprint page or a pixelated page, it is an understandable format that most readers grasp.

    I remember sitting on the other side of the mirror during a focus group of readers, one of whom said he checked our web site several times a day, “to make sure the world hadn’t blown up.” I don’t think he’d be served by a home page that had Britney Spears’s latest mishap above a nuclear explosion in Pakistan, just because the former happened 15 minutes ago and the latter 20.

    I’m also irritated by web sites that seem to “game” my attention by moving stories and images around in ways designed to make them look fresh. I agree that newspapers should always be striving to remind readers of their rich content and should be making it easier for them to find.

    And I agree wholeheartedly that media web sites should offer more choice to users. If users want to see what’s new, by all means make it easy. Why not have a toggle button at the top that allows users to switch, the same way I can switch between the UK feed of the BBC’s web site and the BBC’s international feed?

  24. [...] was inspired to write this today because Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has come to basically the same conclusion. I think we may finally be coming to [...]

  25. Hi Scott,

    Here is another reason that newspapers should use blogs. Legacy CMS (Content Management Systems) are broken; and can’t keep up with the feature creep of blogs, widgets, and ranked content. Publishers should quit legacy systems and switch. It’ll be less expensive.

    -Dash Chang
    The New Economics of Advertising

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