March 14, 2014

When NBC News relaunched its website just in time for the Winter Olympics, reaction was fierce on social media and in comments at Poynter. (Facebook commenters have even been pushing a petition at

Much of the criticism has focused on how the new image-heavy design makes it more difficult to quickly find the most important news. As one Poynter commenter put it:

The appeal for me has always been organized categories with lots of headlines, but I guess reading text is second-rate these days. Big pictures, big boxes… let the fifth-graders revel in it.

About a month into the relaunch, I asked Gregory Gittrich, executive editor of, to respond to the criticism and give Poynter an update on how the audience has reacted. He said the transition was naturally going to be a little bumpy.

“We do have a loyal audience who has a strong emotional connection to NBC News,” Gittrich said. “We weren’t surprised by the initial feedback because the change was so significant, but that’s why the data and metrics were obviously important.” on an iPhone before and after the relaunch.

Mobile traffic nearly triples

Gittrich emphasized that it’s still early, but he said numbers for the new site are encouraging. Average daily page views post-Olympics are up 30 percent from pre-relaunch figures, and page views per visit are up 46 percent, according to internal Omniture data.

The new site’s story page automatically transitions into a related story when readers reach the bottom, echoing the seamless scrolling strategy growing in popularity at sites like Quartz and Time (although I’ve noticed considerable sluggishness as I scroll down story pages at

Most significantly, page views on mobile have increased 186 percent, Gittrich said, reflecting why NBC News saw the need to go mobile-first. Video streams per visit are up 32 percent.

Adjusting along the way

Viewers on desktop have seemed most upset with the changes. Grid-based, image-heavy designs that de-emphasize visual hierarchy and quickly scannable headlines have grown increasingly popular. Many of the concerns seemed to come from readers who had long bookmarked the legacy news brand’s homepage.

Since the relaunch, NBC News has addressed the issue of homepage elements all looking alike by adding two headline-only modules — one for top news, the other for video. They’re “easy to scan and monitored around the clock,” Gittrich said. The changes were always planned post-launch, but he said reader feedback confirmed the need for them and added some urgency.

Said Gittrich: “We are listening to the feedback and watching the metrics.”

Related: Bloomberg View: latest mobile-first site to embrace the grid, shun visual hierarchy | NBC News reveals responsive redesign of website in time for Winter Olympics

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
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