PBS NewsHour website redesign to integrate upcoming weekend program

By Dru Sefton

In addition to launching a weekend edition of the PBS NewsHour, New York’s WNET has secured a contract to create an integrated website for the flagship series and its new sibling.

The WNET Interactive Engagement Group (IEG), a subsidiary that specializes in developing customized WordPress platforms, will complete the web development project by December, but aims to make some enhancements before the Sept. 7 launch of PBS NewsHour Weekend.

That new Saturday and Sunday evening news show will originate from the New York City pubcaster, while the weekday NewsHour maintains its longtime home at WETA in Arlington, Va.

The redesign will be the first major back-end overhaul in 10 years for the NewsHour’s website, which is built on a homegrown content management system (CMS), according to Vanessa Dennis, online art director. Traffic to the site, which is hosted by PBS.org, has grown 190 percent since the NewsHour’s on-air and online newsrooms merged three years ago, she said. With such increases, “we need to move to something more nimble.”

According to NewsHour, the site averages more than 4.5 million pageviews per month and contains 150,000 pages of legacy content going back 18 years.

The 25-person IEG, established as a WNET subsidiary two years ago, provides web and mobile development for some 60 public stations and national programs such as Moyers & Co. and Tavis Smiley, according to Dan Greenberg, g.m.

“We’ve built the Lamborghini of WordPress,” Greenberg said. “It’s specifically built for public-media journalists and content providers. It’s really intuitive.”

Dennis credited PBS for facilitating the redesign partnership between IGE and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, which produces the NewsHour. Neither Greenberg nor NewsHour representatives would reveal the cost of the redesign project.

The website will be “gorgeous, modern and clean, and optimized for all devices and for speed,” Dennis said. Designers plan to put less focus on the homepage and highlight content pages. Photographs will be larger, and text easier to read.

As an example of the look and style of the redesign, Dennis pointed to a NewsHour multimedia report on the use of drugs referred to as “bath salts.” The online presentation won a 2013 Gracie Award for outstanding news website.

As IEG prepares for a full overhaul of the NewsHour’s site, its developers will visit the program’s studios at WETA to analyze the editorial workflow, Dennis said. “Within the PBS system, we probably have some of the most complicated publishing structures,” she said. The news unit typically produces 12 pieces of video and 10 to 15 text-based stories each day.

Dennis will lead the design team and work with IEG developers on implementation. The contract calls for IEG to maintain the site for seven months, then turn it back over to Dennis’s three-person crew at NewsHour.

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