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Journalism makeover! Two local news sites redesign

Monday, City Pages and Minnesota Monitor flipped the switches on website redesigns; in Minnesota Monitor’s case, it heralded a new name, Minnesota Independent.

While neither design signals massive new content, or multimedia come-ons, the changes underline the direction in which each title is headed.

At City Pages, daily emphasis
City Pages’ reconfiguration looks modest, but one thing is not: The site has firmly shaken off print’s dominance. Weekly paper stories — even on the Wednesday publication day — are now at the bottom, below blogs. And for good measure, blog items now horn in on the “featured stories” box; for the past eight months, only print stories made the cut.

The changes make sense; is supposed to be more dynamic than the paper. A wide-open feature-box slot means a good item won’t get lost amid YouTube referrals and wisecracks.

Beautiful, it is not — the idea is to show as many items and calendar options as possible. CP has shrunk the feature box and non-story elements like its logo and menu bar.

One distraction: rotating feature-box items resize depending on text quantity. This causes the stories underneath the box to jump around as different-sized features scroll.

Of course, as time goes by, fewer readers may even hit the home page. The site more aggressively promotes its RSS feeds – automatic email-like updates you can view in Google Reader or Bloglines. (Infoholics: if you haven’t tried RSS, you should. See this good video tutorial.) also serves the God of Mammon with a nicely searchable home-page calendar, though like the site itself, text is crammed and a bit difficult to read. There are a few search bugs that web guru Jeff Shaw is powering through, but overall, the calendar is much more useful.

The site has made its “most popular” story widget easier to find, adding “most commented” and “most emailed” tabs. (I’d make fun of this not-very-cutting-edge feature, except MinnPost doesn’t have it yet!)

One other nice addition: It’s easier to email authors; just click on their byline. However, that takes you to a form, rather than your email program.

The home page menu bar more quickly links to blogs such as “Twin Cities Eater,” though it’s harder to find other hugely popular non-local items like “Savage Love” and the horoscopes. Another bit of weirdness: Diablo Cody is still listed first among staff bloggers; the Oscar-winner abandoned the site 10 months ago.

Independent (née Monitor)
Minnesota Monitor doesn’t have CP’s traffic, but its change is more dramatic.

The rechristened Minnesota Independent – “MnIndy” is the preferred abbreviation, though “Mindy” seems inevitable – looks much more professional now, with a sharp olive-green logo and clean design.

The Independent name, ironically, is a nod to Minnesota’s place in the Center for Independent Media empire. The nonprofit publishes six state sites plus a national D.C. site, and is applying a template across its properties.

In the partisan blogosphere, the new moniker has caused a spot of controversy. The Monitor slammed Republicans more than Democrats (though new editor Steve Perry, never the DFL’s pal, got rid of naked partisans). The name doesn’t reflect Jesse Ventura capital-I “Independent,” but free-of-corporate-influence independent.

There’s little risk in rebranding; Monitor’s traffic – about 2,500-3,000 visits per day – hasn’t caught up to the site’s increasingly muscular reporting.

One of the best moves is creating a more traditional front page, which can feature deeply reported stories, rather than bumping them for newer, less consequential pieces. MnIndy is an edited product, and now looks like one.

It was once insanely difficult to leave comments; registration is now a snap, and works across all CIM sites. MnIndy lets readers “vote up/down” comments; ranters should now see their eruptions devalued. (For now, chronology, not rating, seems to control comment order.)

Like CP, MnIndy now lets you view its most popular/commented stories, though the site buries that function while links to other CIM sites are too prominent. (Do I really care if Lansing, Mich., allows gay-celebration fireworks?) It’s a nit, but Minnesota Independent should prioritize for Minnesota readers, not headquarters imperatives.

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