America’s largest journalism organization recently completed the first phase of ongoing efforts to transform its website from an information dumping ground to a user-friendly destination.
From its pioneering code of ethics to FOI lessons, the scope, breadth and quality of the resources offered by the 8,000+-member Society of Professional Journalists has always stood out. But SPJ.org has accumulated a glut of content since its launch 14 years ago, and the site sometimes snags users in a spider web of slow-loading, text-heavy, link-laden subpages hosted on outside servers.
The good news is that SPJ staff, including executive director Joe Skeel, say they recognize the site’s areas of improvement, and they promise more changes in the coming months (short of the time and expense of starting the site from scratch). So far, their progress has been encouraging.
SPJ.org’s new homepage and main portal subpages are cleaner thanks to fewer links and less text. The site’s menu toolbar is now visible atop every subpage, and the Society added a “breadcrumb trail” feature in the upper left corner of each webpage to let users know where they are at all times.
The Society also installed a main search box to transport users directly to the most relevant subpages. Plus, SPJ.org is now viewable on mobile phones, and users can share its content more easily via social networking sites, emails and instant messaging services.
Those using the organization’s famous ethics code and chapter/member resources shouldn’t have any trouble, and it’s still easy to join, donate to and learn about SPJ. But the new SPJ.org still has areas of improvement.
Parts of the site, such as its training sections, overflow with content, including outdated material. And it can be difficult to maneuver inside the site’s subpages, some of which display too many pieces of clip art, text and links. Other parts lack effective search tools and a central element on which users can focus.
Nonetheless, it’s clear SPJ’s leadership is trying hard to rectify the site’s problems. The result is SPJ.org has been transformed from a Greek labyrinth to a Halloween corn maze — users may still get unnerved or lost at times, but the site is dramatically easier to navigate, more fun and there’s no Minotaur.
Daniel Axelrod spent five years as a full-time newspaper reporter, most recently in Scranton, Pa., before moving into public relations in April 2009. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org