How can we transform the CJN’s online brand and deliver a modern user experience for CJNews.com?
Transition the CJN from a fixed-width content platform into a news service that is designed responsively and ready to deliver personalization features in the future.
A redesigned and fully responsive CJNews.com, new hires for the CJN’s digital/editorial team, and an increase in online readership from 10,000 to 200,000 per month that kept the paper in publication.
“The award-winning Canadian Jewish News (CJN) is Canada’s largest, weekly Jewish newspaper with an audited circulation of nearly 32,000 and read by more than 100,000 people each week.”
These words open the CJN’s About page that describes its readership, what they write about, and their role in being the forum for Canada’s Jewish community.
As a former journalist who transitioned to user experience (UX) design, redesigning cjnews.com as Analytical Engine Interactive‘s UX Specialist # 2 could not get any more exciting.
The CJN had two distinct challenges.
Tactically, the CJN wanted to know if their website was delivering the best possible user experience. Has it successfully communicated a strong brand identity? Is its design on par with its peers (e.g. Jewcy, Times of Israel)? Has the website been an effective monetization vehicle?
An Editorial Board member would capture all the answers to these tactical questions:
“There is a general sense, at least in the editorial department that… our website is out of date. It’s so archaic in a way that we’ve lost interest in putting that much time and effort [to the site]…
We always knew that the next big step would be doing the website. So, we’ve just been waiting patiently for this moment.”
The strategic challenge runs deeper. At the core of the CJN’s redesign is an existential question that asks, “Is it still enough to be a digital newspaper in this day and age?”
Given a climate of disrupted print business models and changing media consumption habits, can the CJN still stay in business or fold completely?
Analytical Engine Interactive‘s response to the CJN’s challenge was to build a news website that delivers an informative, responsive, and personalizable user experience.
We wanted to use personalization to drive relevance among the CJN’s readers and create a user experience that feels tailor-fitted. This fulfills both the CJN’s community-building role and addresses the relevance challenge for print publications.
Such personalization primarily comes through trending articles and laying the technical groundwork for further personalization and customization.
Here’s what I’ve done to help this redesign come to life:
- User Research
- Usability Testing
- Content Modelling (communicated through the wireframes)
Because personalization will be a key feature in the new CJNews.com, it was crucial to identify the typical users (or readers) of this website/publication.
This was done through user interviews.
These personas suggest that there are key lifestyle (and political) interests among the Jewish community. While they cannot be distilled into these four user types, it offers a picture of who the CJN must consider when writing news articles and features.
This would also guide us in selecting a WordPress theme that accommodates the sensibilities of all four personas.
I also conducted usability testing on the previous site to identify navigation and architecture issues. Here are some of the issues noted for resolution:
- The slider went way too fast and seemed like a “flashing banner”.
- The Home page felt too busy with the many boxed sections that kept breaking out into smaller boxes. It’s as if the CJN wanted to show every section of the paper in one Home page.
- The navigation bar and its fonts were too small it was almost unreadable.
- There is a mismatch between the site label and the content being offered, e.g. “Celebrations Directory” implied a listing of birthdays or milestones (it was actually a business directory).
- Subscription or sign-up methods were hard-to-find and buried in a far-off section of the site.
Since the CJNews.com is a news website, I expected some repetition in the page layouts. It was important to specify the website’s content types and its individual sections so the editorial team have consistent notes on what each content type is and how they should work with it.
Here is an example of a content model:
Content models prepare content for full responsive deployment since it clearly tells the content management system (CMS) the page type and what content must be ‘ingested’ in order to display properly on multiple browsers.
This is a huge shift from the way most articles are written because of the structure it enforces and how they should be encoded on the CMS (i.e. filling out forms vs. writing a full story).
Here is a sample Event Page that follows the content model:
The new CJN website has launched and has remained fully responsive. It was a huge leap from its former fixed-width design and can now be viewed on desktop and mobile.
Here are some before and after shots of the CJN’s Home Page + a mobile view.
Newsroom changes + Features in progress
The redesign has also led to new hires within the organization, specifically focusing on the website’s daily upkeep and maintenance of online editorial standards.
Some of the site’s other features are in development – e.g. the Recipe box, Business Directory, Event Listings, etc. – and will make the site very soon.
The changes are paying off, says [Elizabeth] Wolfe. “We are now able to sustain ourselves through advertising and subscription revenues and have money to invest in new projects.”
Circulation hasn’t grown significantly, she admits, but “readership is solid,” and online readership is up, with 200,000 hits a month, “which for us is very big.”
Headquartered in Toronto with an office in Montreal, the CJN today has 31,000 paid subscribers.
– Judy Maltz, “How Canada’s Last Jewish Newspaper Came Back from the Brink”
I’m so happy to have worked on the CJN’s redesign and see the transformative effects of design and digital first-hand. This success feels especially poignant when you consider how the CJN was at the brink of closure a few years ago, and how they needed to make some tough decisions to take the company where they are today.
The CJN breaking through its tough business challenge demonstrates how digital and design can be a unique strength when recruited to your camp. It has allowed the newspaper to stay in the game when most of its counterparts sadly fold. It’s a two-part triumph of what user-centricity and a bold editorial directions can do – a challenge that is worth solving over and over again.
Client: The Canadian Jewish News
Role: User Experience Specialist, Analytical Engine Interactive, Inc.