At last, a facelift for Canwest papers

It’s a welcome and refreshing change. The Ottawa Citizen and its sister papers at Canwest have been undergoing a major renovation for months and this past weekend they unveiled the results and invited us to inspect them.

Here’s a look at the Citizen’s website on Sunday night.

The results are impressive. Of course, the old site was so ugly and so unfriendly to users that even a small touch up would have been welcome. This is much more than that. As the online tour of the new site explains the pages are wider, the navigation is clearer, the layout is cleaner and the opportunites for readers to comment on stories and blogs and contribute photos are much greater. What’s more, there’s finally a prominent showcase for the photos, videos and multimedia features that used to be so hard, if not impossible, to find. On his blog, the managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, Kirk Lapointe, described that as a major goal of the redesign.

“We were creating a lot of content but didn’t have the platform to exhibit it. Our journalists operate in a Web-first culture and wanted a site of their own making. Now we have one.”

As with anything new online, some of the links still bring you to blank pages. There’s a video player on the page about Ottawa Senators that plays no video. Other prominent links to features from the front page bring you to pages on the old site, which serve as a reminder of how unattractive and clunky the old site was. There also seems to be no way to subscribe to RSS feeds from the main page. I assume those are temporary glitches that will be fixed over time.

The search tool, which was next to useless on the old site, seems quite effective now. Thankfully, you can sort search results by date and relevance to find the most recent stories on a subject easily.

These days news organizations are judged by the look and content of their websites and Canwest journalists were embarrassed by how dated and dowdy their look was. Now they can stop apologizing. They have an attractive new look and a useful new vehicle for news and multimedia content.

The new look deserves more than just a passing grade.

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