Why the Redesigned Roll Call Is a ‘Quantum leap environment’

Big, cross-platform changes for the site.

In Roll Call’s newsroom, along with the standard representations you would expect chronicling a legacy organization’s history, sits an artifact: a typewriter that belonged to Roll Call founder Sid Yudain.

If you were to turn that into an analogy, the typewriter would stand in contrast to the publication’s new digital future, but time in the digital age moves far too quickly for an analog device to represent the outdated. More apt is a digital platform that inhibits an organization from producing the kind of experience it needs to attract viewers and advertisers, and to support the kind of journalism it wants to produce.

Roll Call‘s redesigned, well, everything, launched over the weekend under a campaign billing the endeavor as “The New Roll Call.” “It’s not just the technology, but the mindset and the ambition,” says Roll Call EIC Melinda Henneberger of the changes. “Our ambitions are far greater now.”

“We’re really re-envisioning the whole thing—how to tell a story and what stories to tell, so we’re really moving into doing deeper reporting, more analysis, more reported opinion, investigations, enterprise,” she says.

When chief content officer David Ellis hired Henneberger, who joined Roll Call in November, he was looking not just for a new EIC, but someone who could come into her role ready to take the publication through some major changes.

“I thought it was a really good opportunity to marry the reinvention with a new editor and give that editor several months to review the landscape and roll out a plan,” says Ellis. Working with Ellis on the redesign was Matt Mansfield, the vp for product innovation, who already had the redesign of CQ magazine under his belt.

“They won’t say it but I will,” says Ellis about the pair’s efforts. “We’re delivering this project in kind of record time. When you talk about how long this has been in the works–it was an ambition with the new editor going in, but the actual execution took place after she got here and got her feet under the desk, so you’re really talking three months from beginning to end, two months probably pretty intensively.”

“It’s a generational shift, it’s a quantum leap environment, so we’re really excited and at the moment exhausted,” he adds.

The new platform allows Roll Call to expand its reach across all digital formats, and greatly improves its multimedia, especially video, endeavors. “We want to meet the audience anywhere it’s gathered,” says Mansfield, the de rigueur refrain for any modern newsroom looking to keep and grow an audience. But sometimes an audience is gathered in an inaccessible place, and the design takes that into account, giving its audience the ability to access cached content offline as well.

For the team, it’s not just about improving multimedia offerings within their compartmentalized sections. “In addition to a straight print story with a couple of photos that we might have been able to do in the past, now we’ll be able to do some documentaries, do some podcasts, do some really creative things that we’ve got in the works. It’s going to be storytelling that we haven’t had a chance to do in this way,” says Henneberger.

“We’ve got a few things that will pop on the first couple of weeks,” adds Ellis, “and we have a much better place to display it, a much better way of amplifying it, and a much easier way of sharing it.”

And Mansfield is confident that Roll Call will be able to deliver long-form content in a way that will sustain audience interest for longer than 30 seconds.

“I think that there’s a little thing in the industry where people think depth and longform isn’t compatible with mobile, and in fact it really is,” he says. “I have no problem immersing myself in a five minute documentary on my phone, or reading a long-form story if it’s presented well on a mobile site, so when I think about mobile first it doesn’t just mean short and pithy, it also means depth and experience.”

Expanding on the video front, says Mansfield, is “strategic move for us because we know more people consume more information by video.” The other piece of the video strategy is a play to attract more and different forms of advertising, including sponsored video content.

That holds true outside of video as well, where Roll Call will also expand native advertising and takeover opportunities. He likens it to the “NPR/PBS model where we want to do this journalism and we want someone aligned with our brand.”

The difference between the old Roll Call and the new is apparent, but not everything is in place yet. The publication will continue to roll out new features in the coming weeks.