A little over a month ago, Eater was completely redesigned and relaunched. Everything apart from content is different on the site, and it's been the biggest change that's happened to Eater in the eight years it's been around. In addition to Eater changing, it was Vox Media's first full Curbed Network website relaunch since the company was acquired last year and would serve as the first of the three verticals (Eater, Racked and Curbed) to transition to Chorus.
Months before the relaunch day, the process of designing and creating a new site for Eater began, and I was hired to help train and transition the senior editors, city editors, associate editors, freelancers and photographers onto Chorus, Vox Media's modern media stack and story editor.
Eater 2.0 took seven months to build, organize, migrate and coordinate. It was built with love by unbelievably talented designers (Kelsey Scherer and Georgia Cowley), front-end and full-stack engineers who migrated nine years of content over and built the new maps and countless custom tools (Jason Ormand, Ben Alt, David Zhou and Ben Lee), tested for functionality (Jon Douglas and Cory Williams), supported by an experienced feature creator and support manager (Chao Li) and managed by Senior Product Manager Eliot Shepard, who was the CTO of Curbed Network. It was nothing short of incredible to work with this team on this project. Towards the end, each one of these people directly supported our editors by taking time to provide answers based on their area of expertise better than I ever could.
Coming from Moveable Type, Curbed Network's longstanding content management system, the transition and editorial mindset was very different from other launches I've supported. Having been through Food Network's site relaunch earlier this year, I had a few experiences that I found worked really well and not so well that I carried to this launch. After going through Eater's relaunch, I learned which expectations to soundly discard and new lessons altogether that are specific to Eater.
Expectations are different on the editorial side than they are on product. My job is to be the conduit for both: represent and request editorial priorities, wishes and concerns to product, and translate product decisions and priorities to editorial. Opinions on both sides about what is most important don't always align, and it can be tricky to stay in constant communication with people on both sides to create solutions for tools and workflow processes that need to translate to a new site with all new tools. It helped enormously to work hand-in-hand with senior editorial leadership, not just stakeholder meetings, and in my case with Eater, I was constantly talking with Amanda Kludt, the editor-in-chief, and Sonia Chopra, the cities managing editor, about the editorial workflow in MT and how to translate Eater's content to Chorus.
In addition to working very closely with editors, my relationship with every developer and designer on the Eater product team grew tenfold in order to answer editors' questions as well as my own (keeping in mind that I was still learning about Chorus myself).
It is not reasonable to expect anyone to get completely trained on a new story editor and platform in a month. Based on what I had learned from the Food Network relaunch and other places, I suggested that editors start posting in a sandbox six weeks before our initial projected relaunch date, then double-posting on the site that would eventually become the new Eater.com about a month out. What I didn't anticipate was the difficulty of training a second staff: community site contributors and photographers and guest editors, all of whom our city editors manage, and not having the city editors up to speed on Chorus training by the time their freelancers began double-posting.
This second staff required not only Chorus training but registration, locating their new login information, and setting them up with permissions to post that were analogous to their posting workflow and permissions in MT, all while trying to learn their MT workflow and expectations and their various levels of responsibilities that would require one-off posting permissions. In the future, I know that my original assumption-train city editors to use Chorus, and they can help with the contributor Chorus onboarding a month later-is something that is laughable and needs to happen much, much earlier with the help of our editorial managers.
Bridging the gap is an ongoing process. I don't use Chorus every day, but the editors I work with do. They are the best representatives of our products and can tell me best how Chorus is and isn't working, since they know the tool better than I do. What I do best and where I can help most is learning from developers who built and maintain those tools about how it functions and what can be customized for a particular site. There have been a lot of customizations for editorial, including a duplicate post function that has worked for editorial in MT to update large recurring features such as heatmaps, and it's something that doesn't exist on other verticals.
The mindset of Moveable Type. I came to understand where the editors were coming from: while working in MT, there were no "bugs." There were also never any new tools. Editors used HTML or hacks passed down from one another to publish the content they wanted in a consistent way, and that didn't change for years. In Chorus, there are sometimes a lot of bugs and a lot of new tools consistently being built, tested and deployed.
Chorus does not have a perfect story editor, but is flexible to change and accommodate new tools that are custom-built to suit editorial needs. Many of the Eater-specific tools were in active development while editors were double-posting and training in the story editor before launch.
When the editors were familiarizing themselves with the many idiosyncrasies, widgets, tools, snippets and workarounds of a new story editor, it was sometimes tricky to try to tell someone who is overworked that this publishing platform is light years ahead of their previous one, when all they want is a tool that doesn't get in the way of their work.
While planning all of the initial Chorus trainings, we fully realized that we would need a system of ongoing training as new features are added to Chorus, and editors would have to continue learning new tools. Although editors had to adapt to a new publishing workflow, it also means that editors now get the benefit of a support and product team who can customize and build tools that help them aim higher and be more creative with the ambitious editorial apps, features, reviews and reports they want to create, not just work that their existing tools can make.
Unexpected things and sinking realizations will happen at the eleventh hour. One of the largest challenges the weekend before relaunch was that the tool that creates new venues would not be available to editors in time for launch. To provide some context, most Eater news posts are about local restaurants, and not having the ability to create new venues (restaurants) in the database to tag these posts together was a big deal.
I learned that when there are a million moving parts in a relaunch, at least a hundred things will inevitably fall through the cracks and that has to be okay. Both sides need to have patience, and for the next relaunch, I know to ask for it from the start, from everyone. It can be difficult from only one perspective to understand why something that seems important isn't there by the time you need to do your job on this new platform. Sonia, Eater's cities editor, helped vastly in this process of creating editorial workarounds for tools or processes that weren't yet in place and maintaining the morale of the community editors, some of whom work full-time and some who have other jobs and found it difficult to learn a new platform during their limited hours. My two fellow support managers, Cory Williams and Chao Li, assisted enormously with helping translate Eater's existing content to Chorus and what tools could produce content that was analogous to maps, galleries, images and every other kind of content on MT.
The people I work with made this relaunch happen. Eater has been around for nine years. The people who headed up this relaunch were people who built and founded Curbed Network, helped create the unmistakable Eater editorial voice, built and maintained Knife and all the custom tools for Curbed Network, worked hand-in-hand with the editorial staff for years and are so invested in seeing Eater, Racked and Curbed grow in this new stage as part of the Vox Media family.
Though it was challenging, I grew so much closer to the people on this team by staying up late nights and working weekends to make this relaunch happen. And of course, earning the trust of and building relationships with hugely talented writers and editors whose work I've been a fan of for years is one of the most rewarding parts of this job.
The Eater relaunch was my first large project since I joined Vox Media and it was a huge opportunity for me to learn how to coordinate and communicate between the two teams. My role is shifting all the time as I take on responsibilities of support for the other six verticals, lead brownbag trainings, record documentation for new products, start to learn Chorus on the product end and grow as a communicator, educator and better advocate for myself and the people I work with.
Now, I'm more excited than ever to work on the next one.