A press release from the site says:
'The adjustment allows for an uncluttered, user-friendly look and the ability to include more news and multimedia content.' Washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady says 'The new design gives us the flexibility to provide more information upfront in a cleaner, more streamlined interface.'At first look I wasn't convinced. But they have used rollovers well across the top nav, so there is still good penetration into back areas of the site, and the layout has certainly freed up some front page real estate for story display. That much is good.
One problem I found was that the page does not re-size. It's a fair bit wider than the old page and on some screens you have to scroll left and right to see the complete page. That's not good.
Jim Brady talks more about the site's redesign and other general web-related issues here.
Greg Edwards of Eyetools Research did a fascinating heatmap of a group of 19 new visitors viewing washingtonpost.com's new front page to see what can be learned from its design. He concluded that the main content area in the top half of the page has a good readable design. "It is heavily viewed and read (more so than some other news sites). Good use of line-spacing and white-space. People even scroll. Job well done!"
He also found that the bottom half of the page has ineffective line-height spacing and lack of white-space reduce reading. Most of the content is being missed and there is no consistent guidance of eyes to section headings. Opportunities to communicate value to visitors is greatly reduced in this area.
A lot of research has gone into looking at the way people read news web pages - Poynter's eyetrack study from last year is a good example - and that research tends to support the choices made by the washingtonpost.com's team.
Telling readers about re-designs and explaining where popular features can be found is an important part of easing the process for all. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did just this when it adopted day-parting with a comprehensive explanation of what it is and how it works.
Similarly, Newsday's Flash walkthrough of their new site is a nice feature for readers.