February 9, 2012

Do you like this?

Color us stunned. Last week, the local news website, The Chattanoogan.com, finally unveiled a new look. Let’s not call it a “redesign,” but rather the adoption of a new template, since there is precious little design here—and, perhaps, justly so. This is meat-and-three reporting.

The Chattanoogan’s cramped, Angelfire/Tripod-era design has been an aggravating eyesore for those who visit the site for its kitchen-sink compilation of breaking news and opinion. The site is a “must read” for many—and a “must comment” for many more—but it’s oh-so-1990s layout irked even casual readers.

The Chattanoogan delivered, but in the process bewilderingly lost some of its soul. Yes, the awkward, sometimes confusing, sometimes laughable headlines remain. And the faithful Peanut Gallery—led by Roy Exum, who churns out “columns” seemingly every 15 minutes—is still a prominent feature. But with this upgrade, the charmingly retro site has abandoned a “design” that truly fit its quirky personality.

But perhaps we protest too much. The site is certainly easier on the eyes, if a tad vanilla. But what’s the point, besides an obviously overdue facelift?

“The old site was in danger of crashing, so we’re glad it’s here,” publisher John Wilson told us via email.

The Chattanoogan.com launched in 1999, the brainchild of Wilson, a veteran Chattanooga reporter who grasped the web’s possibilities long before local publications fully embraced online publishing, and remains one of the region’s most-trafficked websites, averaging between 50,000 to 80,000 visitors a day, Wilson claims.

The new look was developed by threeHD.com, a local firm that was recently acquired by Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, an advertising agency with several offices in the South.

Advertisers are the clear winners here, with banners and boxes no longer miniscule but of contemporary and comparable size with other websites. And making money is, of course, a central part of the equation.

Media futurists hail the death of print, but few news organizations have made money online. The upgrade offers more splash, but more cash? Nooga.com looks and reads better, but has few ads. The jury is still out.

February 9, 2012

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