An Unsolicited Redesign of a Cover Story

So, this Saturday, I was binge watching episodes of The Daily Show and I saw an interview that I immediately wanted to watch again. Jon Stewart had Steven Brill on the show, he was there because he had just spent 7 months investigating the American health care system for TIME Magazine. Jon Stewart was ecstatic, he thought the piece was unbelievable and the interview split into three extended parts online. Bitter Pill is journalism in the highest sense, it took expert digging and editing, it is the kind of story that can reframe the discussion around an industry that owns a massive chunk of our economy.

I wondered why I had not heard about it up until this point so I took out my computer to look for it. I found this:

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In the print version of the article that Jon Stewart holds in his hands, it’s clear that this is a historic story for TIME. It’s the frontpage story, it’s full of extraordinary eye-catching visuals, and it’s introduced by the managing editor like this: “For the first time in our history, we are devoting the entire feature section of TIME to a single story by one writer.” The web treatment is 24k words dumped into a wordpress post. 

This is insane and it needs to stop. Getting people to say “Wow,” when they land on the page can mean the difference between a handful of facebook shares and a post that stops the internet for a day. It is an art to pull this off, every pixel counts, and if you are an editor charged with bringing Bitter Pill to the web your problem is that most of your job has been decided for you before you even begin. This is the part of the article your CMS allows you to edit:

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The reason culture-denting stories are so often born in newspapers and magazines is because they are places where intense collaboration is common. Someone who is good at uncovering information works with someone who is good at visualizing it, who then works with someone who is great at inserting it into the world. The fact that is integral to this collaboration is that you own the page. When you know you can use every fiber of the page to tell a story you can create emphasis and go places that only you can imagine. If traditional publishers want to cultivate their authority on the web, they need to retake control of the pages they publish on.

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When most people think about a redesign of big site like, they start with the home page or a rethink of its central navigation. I think it’s more simple: start with the story page. Instead of trying to design a solid story template for all your content, give your editors the ability to break free of the template when necessary and shape the story themselves.

The Verge, Buzzfeed, and The New York Times are doing this and use a mixture of hand coding and in-house software to produce the articles they want to stand out. This kind of work is expensive and time consuming,  we’ve been working on a tool that makes it significantly easier for others to produce these kinds of stories then integrate them into the site they already have.

This afternoon I found a print copy of TIME Magazine, scanned many of its pages, and made a new version of Bitter Pill for the web on scroll kit. It took me a few hours and I imagine the editors at TIME could do a better job but I think that, if this version went live in place of the other one, it would have had a bigger response on the web.

You can take a look at it here.

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If TIME had our WordPress plugin installed, they would be able to drop it into their site in one click.

If you’re interested in producing stories like this, send me an email. We are looking for an initial set of publishers to work with this spring.