Nip/Tuck: The Political Journalism Edition

The Politco goes under the knife

Nope, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: you haven’t visited, in error, The Washington Post’s Web site. You’ve reached; it’s just that the site—one of the go-to destinations for political reporting and analysis—has had itself a facelift. And, in the same strange and somewhat disconcerting way that Michael and LaToya Jackson’s shared enthusiasm for nipping-and-tucking leads them to look ever more alike, the Politico and the Post now seem bound together in a shared fate of cosmetic alteration.

Politico’s transformation, as far as it goes, hasn’t been so much a makeover as a makeunder: chunky columns have been narrowed; big, somewhat gawdy graphics have been shrunk; a red-and-blue font scheme has given way to a calmer, mostly-blue format. And that makeunder has been a while in the (under) making. As Politco Web guru Ryan Mannion explains,

We spent the greater part of six months analyzing our current website, studying traffic patterns and evaluating reader feedback to help us decide how to reorganize our content in a more friendly and cohesive manner. This is the second time in a little over a year that we’ve implemented an extensive redesign. We’d like to think that each iteration is a drastic improvement over the last, and we hope you agree with that assessment.

Mannion’s right: the new design is an improvement over the old. It’s better organized, more intuitive, and thus more easily navigable than its previous incarnation. Functionally, the redesign works.

On a purely aesthetic level, though, I’m already missing the jaunty, vaguely tabloid-esque feel of the previous Politico, the visual verve of its iconography, the somewhat jumbled, jolie-laide quality of its layout. The Politco is now, appearance-wise, virtually indistinguishable from the Post, down to the dusty-blue hue of its sans serif font. And I can’t help but think that that bodes, if not badly, then at least somewhat boringly, for the Web design of journalism’s future: in which the universal laws of navigability—derived, of course, from the universal laws of page-view economics—slowly streamline the unique visual character out of our media sites.

Politico has, though, for now at least, preserved one unique element of its design: its trademark, charcoal-sketched, swollen-headed caricatures of each of its bloggers—Jonathan Martin’s toothy grin, Ben Smith’s dimpled smirk, Michael Calderone’s pronounced eyebrows—stacked in a column at the right side of Politico’s homepage. They’re smaller now, and subtler, but at least they’re still there. Here’s hoping they stay.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.