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As you can probably tell, I’ve been on a nonfiction and sports fix lately. Just finished “Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting” by ESPN’s Bruce Feldman. Considering my job now revolves around college recruiting, it was a good look into the world I now inhabit. Highly recommended for any football fan.

From the BBC:

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more about "Three generations", posted with vodpod

By popular demand — and I define popular demand as two reader requests — here’s another flashback to one of my old tops.

After reading “:07 Second Of Less,” it was a pleasant surprise to find this top I wrote the night the Suns came back from a 3-1 hole to eliminate the Lakers in the 2006 playoffs. Looks like it was the same day as the Kentucky Derby, the derby that Barbaro blasted onto the scene. And if I’m right, it was probably a Saturday, which meant I pulled a double shift as the only Page 1 editor that day. On those days, I didn’t care though. I was drinking Red Bull, eating terrible Chinese food and having way too much fun to care I was on hour 15.

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One of my life’s goals is to win the New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest. I thought I had a winning caption last year, but sadly, it didn’t make the final three.

Here’s this week’s image with the caption I submitted. What’s yours?

“This form of water torture is approved by the Obama administration.”

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New York Magazine has an illuminating feature on the journo-tech wizards at the NY Times. I suggest that anyone who is interested in journalism, the role of the press and the future of information to  read it.

As the industry fumbles its way toward reinvention and relevance, the article points out the challenges — and they are big challenges — ahead. But it also offers hope.

Here’s one quote I found myself nodding my head to:

“Print is just a device. The New York Times is not just a newspaper, it’s a news organization.” For those who believe these changes are gimmicks, he has no patience: “This isn’t a storm! This isn’t something that’s going to pass! It’s the ice age. People aren’t going to suddenly open their eyes and we’re back in print.”

But the real question is: Can a news organization, even one as innovative as NYTimes.com, make money and sustain itself in the 21st century?

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Users — er, fans — have had a week (a month if you’re an Insider) to play with and navigate the redesigned ESPN.com. The .com is an industry leader, so it’s no surprise each redesign makes big news. It’s covered by the mainstream media and by the blogosphere.

Most of the reviews lean toward the positive. Although you do get the occasional curmudgeon, who vows to never click on the site ever again. It happens with every redesign on every major site. I’ve been through my share of redesigns — — at FOXSports, the .com and msnbc.com — in my relatively young professional career. There’s always an initial avalanche of resistance. “This is the worst redesign ever!” “This sucks!” “I want it back the way it was!” But one of my former bosses once told me something that rings true with every redesign:

Most people will forget what the old site looked like after six months.

How many people remember what ESPN.com looked like a decade ago? Thankfully, there’s this retrospective gallery to remind us how far the WWL — and the wild, wild Web — have come. Shoot, ESPN.com was still hyperlinking within blurbs in 2006 (I still remember the edict to stop that practice — not everyone liked it).

It does take time for users — and editors — to get familiar and comfortable with the new design. The route to your fantasy league and team is no longer programmed into your memory — it’s as if your favorite sub sandwich joint (Tubs Subs in Lake City for me) moved to a different neighborhood. It’s going to throw a wrench into things, but you eventually figure out the fastest way to get there.

Although most people have chimed in on the redesign — those interested should check out Mike Davidson’s erudite insights — I figure I’ll add my two cents as a user and a former Page 1 editor.

As a user, I dig it. Less clutter, a larger canvass for photos (the photo editors must be pumped), a site that’s easier on the eyes. I still get the top headlines above the fold; I still get the scoreboard up top; I still get the Sports Guy. Most importantly, I can now log onto the site while I’m listening to Pandora on my headphones without fear of rupturing my ear drums when the video auto-plays. I thought ESPN.com’s previous design was tops among  the other sports sites — sure, I’m a little bias — with SI.com coming in second. Nothing has changed with this redesign.

As an editor looking at the redesign, I might be more critical. Instead of one “top” story, there are now 12, four on each page. There is also an area for the day’s top 12 videos. That’s 24 “packages” to program, although videos are much easier since there’s no main headline nor blurb to write. At the bottom of the page there is an area for 18 features. There are probably other areas — editor’s choice, the columnists, perhaps the poll — that the page 1 editor has to keep track of and update.

The workload, which is probably more now, doesn’t really bother me much since I don’t work there any more (I’ve heard they’ve hired a couple more Page 1 editors to handle the page). One gripe from an editorial view is that stories and features have a lower profile unless they are in the top story spots. I wonder how many people will scroll down to the bottom of the page. Some of you might disagree with me, but I liked the revolving slide-show of features in the old design. It was functional, versatile — prime real estate that everyone could get a piece of. Now, many of the secondary stories/sports will be relegated to the bottom of the page. It would be interesting to see what kind of click-throughs those stories will get, considering most people don’t scroll or click on tabs.

One other concern — this one is a little personal and selfish — is the real estate and control given to the Page 1 editor, who sets the editorial tone of the home page. In the previous designs, there was always room for the editor to inject a little color and personality. In fact, that’s what the Page 1 editor is supposed to do. I always spent a lot of effort, if not time, crafting my “tops”, making sure they were well-written, creative and better than the competition. At first glance, the space for the main headline is longer but the area for the blurbs seems to be shorter, especially if you include other links.

That means less room for words and wordplay. Here are a couple old tops of mine from the previous design:

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Oh, I’ve got more screen grabs if you want ’em.

The current top leading the site (I wonder what the nomenclature is: first top? top dog?) has just 18 words, about 95 characters. Although the design is sleeker and simpler, space — especially for words — is at a premium. I guess we could all appreciate a little brevity. It will be interesting to see the editors getting to know the site, right along with the users. One thing I appreciated about my former boss at ESPN.com was that he wanted us to push the envelope, try new ideas, break rules. He loved it when one of the other editors wrote a haiku for the lead story. He gave me a lot of leeway in how I approached writing headlines and blurbs. It was important that I was given the freedom — and space — to be creative. There were a few misses, to be sure, but I’m pretty proud of my work as a Page 1 editor.

I’m hoping this redesign will allow the Page 1 editors to showcase their wit and unique locution —  and not just pigeonhole them as glorified content aggregators.

Overall, I’m impressed by the redesign. ESPN.com showed once again why they’re considered the King Kong of sports sites. I’ve excited to see the evolution of the site, because I’m sure they left room to fiddle with it. And I’m pretty sure some of the Page 1 editors are already devising ways to break some rules. I know I would.

Now that I’m getting back into the game, it’s time to get mentally sharp. With the way my right shoulder is holding up, I’ll be winning ugly from here on out.