Building a home for new journalists

Recently I’ve been working with Journo Resources, who are building a launchpad for people making a start in journalism.

They’re trying to break down the barriers to entering what’s traditionally been a very exclusive industry, ruled by unpaid or low-paid work placements and a steady intake of Oxford graduates.

Journo Resources offers a lot of different services, ranging from lists of salaries and job opportunities, to invoice templates and lists of awards to enter. It was important to clearly signpost the right users to the right service.

The more users need to root around on a website to find what they need, the more likely they are to bounce.

It was also important to improve the way the website displays long-form content, both to improve user experience and make sponsored content a more attractive proposition for partners.

Lastly, I focused on properly showcasing the Journo Resources brand, which already has a great presence offline and on social media, but it was difficult to introduce it to the website, since a generic Wordpress theme was being used.

The right users to the right service

Often webpages will have a single clear goal — a call to action — and the intention is to “convert” as many users to that goal.

We looked into the most popular services and considered the best way to group them into fewer menu choices.

But given the diversity of Journo Resources’ offering, that approach doesn’t make sense. Instead, I focused on helping users understand as soon as possible whether a service is for them, so they can find their own way.

Previously, the website had a header navigation menu in the header with eleven options and various sub-menus. Presenting every service at once is likely to confuse new users.

So, we simplified the header menu down to five high-level “themes”, and moved the individual services down the page into a “directory”.

In this grid, each service has room to breathe, and users can see a description of what each is for. This way, they can be confident they’re clicking on the right thing.

Since not everyone’s use case will be covered in that directory, I also chose to make the search bar more prominent.

Coincidentally, this isn’t too different from how the GOV.UK homepage works.

What each service is called, and what kind of description text is most useful needs to be tested with users. Unless there’s a very compelling brand reason to do otherwise, our websites should always use language that users are familiar with.

The new homepage uses deliberate content design to send users where they need to go first time, removing the need for them to click around finding what they want.

I also did away with the slider on the homepage in favour of static content, since these essentially don’t work for users that need screen readers, and there’s good evidence that engagement past the first slide falls off a steep cliff.

Lean code

Journo Resources did not want a total redesign and parts of the site were already established and working well.

Because of this, I chose to use a Wordpress child theme rather than write a completely new one. That way, I can write code only for the parts of the site I want to change.

Making long reads presentable

The second focus of the project was making the long-form advice content Journo Resources produces a first-class citizen of the website.

Out of the box, the theme being used had a basic blog template — a left hand column of text in a fairly small font, with a sidebar — ideal for short posts but less well suited to features and long-form articles.

I produced a new template with a single, distraction free column of text. I pumped up the font size to improve accessibility and put information about the author prominently at the top of the article. Since Journo Resources champions new journalists, it makes sense to practice its own teachings.

Mockups like this one were used to discuss not only what would look different, but the rationale for doing so, with the client.

The new single article template was complimented by a new three-column grid design for the archive pages (for which I of course used CSS Grid).

All in all, these changes offer a more usable experience for readers, and move away from the basic “bloggy” appearance of the website’s other posts.

Journo Resources are doing great work, so if you’re at all curious about journalism as a career, or just want to donate to help them out, why not pay them a visit?