Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

How Reporters React to Knights-Rider's 25-43 Project

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

How Reporters React to Knights-Rider's 25-43 Project

Article excerpt

Many people picture wealthy socialites and gorgeous beaches at the mention of Boca Raton. But for some journalists, a pink flamingo comes to mind. On October 11, 1990, Knight-Ridder's pink flamingo and the 25/43 Project landed in the Florida town. The impact of that journalistic experiment is still felt in newspapers large and small.

The Boca Raton News, a 25,000-circulation newspaper, became the centerpiece of a multi-million-dollar experiment by Knight-Ridder to attract baby boomers to newspapers. And the new colorful newspaper, emblazoned with a pink flamingo at the top and bursting with graphics, maps, charts, indexes and short stories, began in grand style. Big bucks were spent on rollout parties for the staff and the community. Human billboards wandered the humid streets, banner-pulling planes buzzed the crowded beaches. "Have you seen the latest News?" seemed to be shouted from every corner, every television.

For the journalists who put out the paper, it was an exciting time. The paper attracted the attention of not just trade journals like Columbia Journalism Review. In-depth stories appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post. Newspapers as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today did major features on the crazy paper in South Florida that never continued a story to the second page. Even nationally syndicated columnist Russell Baker was writing about the 25/43 Project, the name Knight-Ridder conjured up to reflect the ages of the targeted audience.

The journalists who worked in Boca Raton - including the Knight-Ridder strategists who ran the show, others hired specifically to help produce the new and improved paper, and those employees already working there - were the envy of their peers. Or the butt of their jokes. On the one hand, the Boca Raton journalists were on the front lines in the battle for readers. In the battle to save newspapers. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? But on the other hand, the Boca Raton journalists were accused by some in the national media of selling out. Of producing a lot of fluff, not substance. Of pandering.

The money, large staff size and excitement of the project are now nothing but a distant memory in the Boca Raton newsroom. Knight-Ridder announced in October 1997 that it was selling the newspaper to Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(1) But the journalists who were part of the 25/43 Project continue to reflect upon the work they did there, Do they think they helped save the newspaper industry? Or do they believe they hastened the demise of newspapers? And what are the attitudes of the project's directors? Do they believe they made an important and lasting impact? That is the subject of this study. The author was an assistant city editor of the News from October 1990 to November 1992.

Background, significance of study

The 25/43 Project was intended to appeal to readers too busy to read a newspaper. As implemented at the News, it offered short stories - major news stories were about one-third as long as before and none of them could jump to another page - extensive use of graphics, including locator maps on local, national and world news pages, a full-color weather map, and more positive news, including a daily Today's Hero. Knight-Ridder spent at least $3 million on the project, which developed prototypes in Columbia, South Carolina before moving to Florida.

To gear the newspaper specifically to the South Florida audience, the project held as many as 30 focus groups with readers and advertisers, got more than 300 responses from readers on what changes they would like in the paper, and hired a market research firm to survey Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Deerfield Beach residents about their reading habits and reaction to prototypes.(2) As Knight-Ridder President Tony Ridder described it, "What we decided was to make a new newspaper from the front page to the last. We tried to find out as much about the people of Boca Raton as possible, how they led their lives, what they were thinking, what they did, what interested them. …

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