Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Orlando Redesign

Plenty has been written about Orlando's redesign, partly because it is the coming out of the Zellanistas at the Tribune and because Tribune provides one of the largest testing ground for this kind of design that is heavy on color, label heds, "news you can use" and "fear news," etc.

If you haven't you should go read some of it. Try Alan Mutter (and his follow-up) and Alan Jacobsen, the principal of Brass Tacks Design.

Why should you pay attention? Because the redesign serves as an icon for many of the conflicting currents cutting through the industry. Go read the comments on Mutter's post to get a good feel for them.

David Sullivan has a good post, too, one that puts a little leavening into Jacobsen's. (The Orlando redesign is a lot like what Jacobsen has done at some other papers.) As David notes, Jacobsen's main point -- that old news in a new design is still just old news -- is well-taken, though Jacobsen could have been a bit more transparent about his role in the other papers. (And as Charles Apple's blog notes, the prototypes were pulled together rather hastily and there is every promise to produce different content.)

Two things about Jacobsen's prompt me to write.

1) Quoting Jacobsen: The off-lead reports on excessive fees charged by lawyers. While this story is an excellent example of watchdog journalism, it's not the kind of story that makes people want to pick up the paper. Here's why: This story is important, but it doesn't provide information that most people can act upon. The average, time-starved newspaper reader is hard-pressed to right this wrong. To them, a story like this is important, but not relevant to their daily lives. These readers focus on what they can control and what affects them directly on a daily basis. Research has shown that relevant stories, rather than important ones, drive single-copy sales.

Which then prompts the question: OK, where would you put the "important" stories? I'd like to hear more from him on this because it gets to the essence of journalism -- balancing the important to the grand scheme of things with the important to you. Taken to its extreme, of course, one could set up the straw man argument that this would mean the stories of how the administration set up a secret program to listen in on phone conversations, etc., really wasn't lede or offlede material because, well, not much I can really do about that. So where do we find that balance? (Also, what's the emphasis on single-copy sales. From what I've seen, darn few papers have robust single-copy sales anymore, and I don't recall Orlando being among them. Someone correct me. Or is the subtext here that in this Internet age a projection is being made that single-copy sales are once again going to gain some traction?)

Having said all that, do pay close attention to what Jacobsen says about people's orientation toward what they can and cannot control; I fear too often we forget that basic aspect of our business.

2) Interestingly enough, there was a comment at the bottom of Jacobsen's post pointing out a quote by the chief executive of the Bakersfield Californian -- one of the papers Jacobsen has redesigned -- in the Wall Street Journal (for those of you with a subscription). But two hours later, it's no longer there. I don't know whether Jacobsen removed it, (perhaps because it was anonymous and did not include the full text for the quote), but if so, he still did himself a disservice by raising questions about his transparency. Here's what the CEO said:

Past experience shows newspaper makeovers don't necessarily translate into financial success. After the Bakersfield Californian underwent a drastic redesign two years ago, the 60,000-circulation paper in California's Central Valley saw a small initial jolt to circulation and revenue, sparked by the brighter look and expanded coverage of hot topics like immigration. But the gains have been erased as the area economy struggles. Bakersfield Californian Chief Executive Richard Beene says the steps were necessary to keep the paper relevant, but he has advice for others considering a similar redesign: "Don't expect it to turn around circulation or revenue overnight. It's not a magic bullet."
Certainly, there's more there than just a redesign. But it's also something to think about.

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At 6/25/08, 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well-said, Doug. And thanks for the link!

At 7/2/08, 11:37 AM, Blogger Papercuts Hurt said...

Orlando Sentinel's redesign is proof that Sam Zell and his minions are enemies of real journalism. First hand account:


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