November 05, 2009
/ by Katrina M Mendolera
Redesigns are in the air, the latest being the San Francisco Chronicle, which announced it would introduce a shiny new format. Come Monday, the Chronicle is going glossy.
According to the Associated Press, the paper’s front page, section fronts and some inside pages will be printed on high-gloss paper throughout the week. Although, it won’t be the same glossy paper seen in magazines reports Editor & Publisher. Instead, it will be a “groundwood-grade sheet that is smoother than ordinary newsprint but only somewhat glossier.” The main news section and features will go semi-glossy on Sunday’s publication as well. “I think it’s a direct response to advertiser preference – they must have some advertiser lined up that will pay some premium price for that kind of placement,” said Ken Doctor, media analyst and blogger for Content Bridges. “On the reader’s angle, I don’t think it makes much difference.” The paper is also introducing a tabloid-format arts section called “Ovation,” that will contain stories and reviews on future events including concerts, dances and shows.
But does it make sense? “Bloomberg TV lays off 100 producers but builds a new $4 million set. Condé Nast lays off hundreds and closes Gourmet Magazine but launches a new Gourmet TV series. San Francisco Chronicle lays off reporters and editors but invests in a glossy format,” said media economist Jack Myers in an e-mail interview. “They are throwing spaghetti against the wall hoping something sticks, but they really don’t have any long-term vision for rebuilding their brands and developing new business models.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post debuted its new design late last month featuring a larger, but thinner font, which resulted in complaints from older readers who say the print is now much harder to read. “I am in my late 70s and still enjoy The Post the old-fashioned way – by reading the paper edition. I was very surprised to find that to read the paper comfortably while enjoying my coffee, I will have to use a magnifying glass. If reading the paper becomes more of a daily chore than a pleasure, I will have to read you online,” wrote a reader in a letter to the editor. The paper also replaced some of its sections and expanded others like the opinion section’s newest installment, Washington Forum which features issues happening in the nation’s capital.
Days after the redesign, The Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander wrote that the new system of page numbers would be changed back due to complaints from readers. He also explained that revisions for the weather layout on the back of the Metro section were being discussed since readers complained that the map had been made too small.
The Providence Journal also introduced a redesign last week, but without all the bells and whistles. It featured what executive editor Thomas Heslin claims is a more readable font, more consistent captions, labels and headlines and standardized color throughout the pages and sections of the paper. “Months of analysis, debate, review, testing and approvals by Publisher Howard G. Sutton culminated in the work you see here today. One of the most telling aspects of the new design is that we expect the average reader will only have the sense that something is different, and better.”
In a Washingtonian blog article titled “Newspaper redesign can be ok but great reporting is still what’s important,” reporter Harry Jaffe wrote that The Post’s problem had never been its design, but its lack of advertising.
While redesigns may irritate or mean nothing to readers, they’re for the advertisers anyway. “But you can keep publishing great investigative work, regardless of typeface,” wrote Jaffe. And that’s for the readers.
Visit the Newseum’s Web site to see the most recent front pages for the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and Providence Journal.
–Katrina M. Mendolera
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