Sunday, July 19, 2015

Newspaper design aims at wrong audience

It seems fitting that this one-thousandth post to this blog should be about newspapers. After all, this blog grew out of a newspapering career. I began writing a blog at the urging of one of the many consultants who worked their way through the newspaper I edited. After being laid off, blog and all, by the newspaper, I began blogging on my own.

The newspaper I read every day, the News & Observer of Raleigh, has redesigned itself, and my initial reaction was, "please don't." Although the N&O had famed newspaper designer Mario Garcia create the redesign, it includes most of the flaws I complained about each time in my 33-year newspaper career that we went through a redesign. My complaint with newspaper designers is that they are more concerned with creating a pretty design than with communicating information to readers. Although it's nice to impress readers with the beauty of your design, what readers want is information. If they want art, they can go to a museum. Great photos used well attract readers and can tell a story visually. Many of the great news events of our history are remembered in photos — Neil Armstrong standing on the moon; Jackie Kennedy reaching back to pull a Secret Service agent aboard as the presidential limousine rushed a fatally wounded president to a Dallas hospital; the World Trade Center collapsing into rubbish — but a newspaper is both visual and linguistic.

The bright colors on section fronts serve no useful purpose while wasting space. The full-column photos of columnists also waste space. For generations, newspapers have relied on half-column mugs to identify columnists (and newsmakers). The N&O redesign changes the standard "head and shoulders shot" to a "head and elbows shot."

The bigger pictures and bright colors, along with multiple subheads and pull-outs, are aimed at attracting the youngest audience, the millennials, who every survey shows are not readers and won't be readers of print. As one of the first newspapers to get aboard the digital bandwagon, the N&O has succeeded in building a digital audience, and I use the web edition of the N&O when I'm out of town or the paper is late. I like the digital edition. Trying to make the print edition more like the web I don't like.

An earlier redesign of the N&O also turned me off. Instead of a standard four sections per day — front (main news section), Triangle/State, Sports, and Feature — the N&O merged the local section with the main news section, with the result that some clearly second-tier news made the front page. For subscribers who don't live in the Triangle but depend on the N&O for state and national news, this is distressing. It also leaves just three sections to the paper, and the section size is widely skewed. The Features section is now barely large enough to carry the comics. What is at stake here is not some effort to better serve readers; it's a simple means of saving costs, regardless of the readers' preferences.

I expect to be a newspaper reader until I die, but it appears I'll have to settle for newspapers designed for generations other than my own, despite the fact that the 65+ demographic is the fasted growing segment of the population.

1 comment:

surfsalterpath said...

EXACTLY!! Just dropped my n&o subscription. They discontinued to offer VACATION STOPS and add on to the subscription length for papers not delivered during vacation. They THINK I'm going to pay for their lacking paper at the beach AND at home TWICE? Heck NO! The n&o has run off another lifetime subscriber. Bummed~

I have not seen a Wilmington Morning Star in a while but the last copy I read was quality! If it's still the same qulaity content and format EVERY newspaper publisher should follow suit. Have you read a WMS lately?

Thanks for your blog. Enjoy reading even if we do not agree on political persuasion. Thanks dude~