Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Have We Gone Overboard with Newspaper Redesign?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Have We Gone Overboard with Newspaper Redesign?

Article excerpt

Mangan is a copy editor and features page designer at the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill.

Are we too fixated on graphic gimmickry at the expense of literary quality? Is cleverly placed color more important than good writing?

Sometimes I wonder where we got it into our heads that design is such a critical component of our pages. After all, people pick up the paper with the idea of reading it. As long as the words and pictures are legible, how much more design do they really need?

Well, some, of course, but not nearly as much as they've gotten.

Newspaper design has been elevated to a science in the past 20 years. The Society for News Design and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies have contrived a thriving cottage industry out of page design, studying how the eye peruses a page and pondering the great mysteries of kerning and ligatures.

It's been a bold, well-intentioned effort, even if the prospects for our industry haven't improved much since they brought us their design for better living through typography.

I've seen the troubled looks on their faces at the design conferences. They instinctively seem to know that design alone will not save us, but they really don't want to believe it.

I understand how they feel because I've had a foot in two camps for 10 years. On one side I've been a copy editor who cares primarily about words; on the other I've been a page designer wishing I had half the talent of those SND hotshots.

I've been happy to see a revolution in packaging, typography, color usage and photo play at newspapers large and small across the country.

What I haven't seen is a revolution in how we report stories, price our products and encourage people to buy them.

Take a look at everything unrelated to design and you see an industry trapped in a time warp:

Reporters and editors spend most of their time slopping at the trough of crime, government and politics. These stories made a lot more sense when newspaper readers lived in cities run by corrupt political machines. Today large numbers of our readers live in suburbs far removed from urban crime, politics or government, yet the bulk of our coverage hasn't changed.

* We're charging ever-increasing subscription rates in a time when people are accustomed to getting their news for free via television and the Internet.

* We staff our newsrooms with about 10 times more news reporters than features reporters, though readers keep telling us they want more of the lifestyle-related stories feature writers are most apt to write.

The usual explanation for sinking newspaper popularity is that people just don't read like they used to. …

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