CNN.com is set to relaunch Monday, Oct. 26, with a new look, new organization and a mandate to add additional original (and contributed) content.
The new look has breaking news in the left hand column, features (often with video) in the center, and customizable local news and an advertising space in the right column. Below the fold are boxes organized around topics, such as politics and entertainment, getting more specialized as the user enters different subsections of the site.
As far as content goes, CNN.com general manager KC Estenson says the new site will feature more original series, in line with its first attempt, Freshman Year, which followed two freshman members of congress. That series was shot in the first person by the representatives and their staffers, with CNN.com editors turning the raw video into a series. The site has ordered two other first person series, Americans in Afghanistan, which follows non-military U.S. residents working for NGO's in the war torn country, and The Handsome Furs Tour Asia, which follows the indie rock group as they travel across the continent. Both series will be shot by the people themselves, with the post-production handled by CNN.com.
"We knew that it needed to be aligned with the way people are using the Internet today, which means not just social networking, but having video at the center, it means photos, interactive features," Estenson told B&C at a CNN.com launch event in New York Oct. 22. "We thought, what can the website do that other mediums can't?"
The site will also feature a more prominent opinion section, featuring contributions from across the political spectrum. Contributors will include David Frum, Pete Cashmore of Mashable.com and actor John Leguizamo.
"Diversity is important to us, diversity of opinion, diversity of thought, diversity of political background, we want to be left, right and center," Estenson said. "When we reached out to someone like David [Frum], we wanted that voice, because that is what provides the fodder for discussion online."
On the collaboration front, CNN.com is partnering with TED, a nonprofit that brings together tastemakers and thinkers, and presents talks on a variety of subjects. TED will get a dedicated section on the site, and every Tuesday a new presentation from one of the TED Conferences will be featured.
CNN.com is also expanding its agreement with Oprah.com, leveraging additional content for its health, living and entertainment sections and also planning a live event.
Following its collaboration with Facebook on the Presidential Inauguration and Michael Jackson Memorial events this year, the sites will add Oprah to the mix, with a 90 minute live webcast featuring Oprah and the latest addition to Oprah's Book Club, "Say You're One of Them," by Uwem Akpan. The event will stream on CNN.com and Oprah.com, with live commenting abilities through Facebook.
Other changes include incorporating iReport directly into CNN.com, a weekly video quiz game hosted by CNN personalities and an expanded entertainment section, include content deals with People magazine and Entertainment Weekly.