A redesign for you

Three updates and a design note for readers

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Gadzukes, a lot is happening out there. Here, too.

The SaveMyDaily site has been reorganized. With the post count approaching 50, it was time to make the blog easier to read. Please check out the “Pick a Topic” list in the site margin. If your time or interest is limited, click on a subject to see just the pertinent posts. Your humble host hopes the feature will help focus our efforts toward a successful end.

As for doings elsewhere, here are updates to posts previously published.

Fish or Foul? (Newspaper publishers care about what they print — and pay a price for it.): In a Dec. 15, 2017, post on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company’s network is more than an elaborate maze of digital plumbing:

“Facebook is a new kind of platform different from anything before it. I think of Facebook as a technology company, but I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through. While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.

“With any changes we make, we must fight to give all people a voice and resist the path of becoming arbiters of truth ourselves. I believe we can build a more informed community and uphold these principles.”Mark Zuckerberg

For more on the steps Facebook is taking to do that, take a look at the company’s “News Feed FYI: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News.”

Making it clear (Better online news design might regain reader trust.): In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Discriminating distribution (Should the distribution method dictate the news content?): The Nieman Lab reports that The New Haven Independent, a nonprofit online-only news outlet, has tailored its cop shop policy in recognition of the reach and persistence of internet news. Paul Bass, the paper’s editor and founder is quoted as saying, “With the advent of the Internet, what’s online becomes people’s main or only source of news. People’s reputations are at stake, and often the arrest itself and not the outcome is what is known about them.” (“No mugshot exploitation here: The New Haven Independent aims to respect the reputations of those arrested in the community it covers” —Neiman Lab)

Making it clear

Better online news design might regain reader trust.

Hello. What do you want to read today?

postbuttons-01-31-17

What would happen if every online newspaper had a home page that looked like this?

What if, when you clicked the news button, the next page only displayed news stories?

What if, when you clicked on a news story, the “NEWS” label was repeated top and bottom, so that, even if the story was a 10,000-word epic, or even if you arrived through a side door (say, a Facebook link), you knew what you were reading?

What if every page had the same three buttons on the right margin, offering a constant option to switch from news to analysis to opinion?

What would that sort of a design do? Well, perhaps:

  • reporters and editors would have to identify each piece of content as they prepare it for publication (a useful exercise, to be sure);
  • each reader would have to make a conscious decision—facts, analysis or opinion;
  • ergo, opportunities for confusing the three, particularly facts and opinion, would be reduced;
  • ergo, our readers might learn to trust us again.

The design of print newspapers evolved over years and worked quite well. Only news appeared on the front page. Opinion only appeared on the editorial and op-ed pages. Columns and analytical pieces were labeled as such.

Today, the front page (i.e., the home page) contains every kind of content the paper has. It’s quite easy to begin reading an opinion piece without knowing that’s what you’ve done. And if you don’t realize it’s an opinion piece, you will assuredly detect a point of view. And if you detect the point of view that was deliberately inserted into the piece, and you don’t realize it was deliberately done because — HEY! IT’S AN OPINION PIECE! — you might quite naturally conclude that the publication is slanted.  All of it. News, too.

No matter what business models we come up with, if readers don’t trust us, they won’t read our products. A little more clarity could help.

UPDATE (02/16/2017)

In “So, is it news, opinion or advertising?,” Michelle Morgante, managing editor of The Merced Sun-Star, points out that readers often don’t know the difference between the three. If online news sites do label every piece with a descriptive design element (NEWS, OPINION, etc.), it might be wise to include a link that explains the difference between them — or a link to Morgante’s column.

Save a day for print

Newspapers inform and entertain by design.

It’s Sunday, and yours truly has taken a break to peruse a small stack of newspapers.

I pay for two online subscriptions, to dailies in Maine and Massachusetts. Yet, whenever I dart into the grocery store for a bag of carrots or a half-gallon of milk, I still find myself swerving to the dark hall just outside the restrooms where a rack of print editions stands against the wall. Depending on the change in my pocket and the weakness of my will, I’ll buy a Washington Post or The New York Times and one or two of the local weeklies, and then grab any of the free circulation publications that look interesting.

I read a story or two as soon as I get home, but invariably I’m called to other pursuits, and the newspapers stack up on top of the bookcase until I return to them, later.

Later came today.

In addition to a briefs box explaining how 403(b) plans work (ah, for financial clarity!) and recommendations about health insurance for overseas travelers (I wish!), the stories I read this morning included:

  • “A 9/11 Parable, Staged for Samaritans” (on reactions of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, to a new show about their generosity as unexpected hosts of the passengers and crews of 38 planes grounded in their town after 9/11), NYT, 11/1/2016;
  • “Absentee votes don’t change outcome” (election results for the local county, including absentee ballots counted on Nov. 10), Record Observer, 11/18/2016;
  • “Weathering the Storm” (the role abortion policy seems to be playing in fetal defects due to the Zika virus, Colombia versus Brazil), NYT, 11/1/2016;
  • “In Defense of the Donkey” (the history, role and fate of donkeys), NYT, 11/1/2016;
  • “For Standing Up, Scorn” (Chobani’s founder faces threats and online taunts for hiring refugees), NYT, 11/1/2016;
  • “Taking the Plunge Into the Podcast Pool” (a description and opinion piece about the Times’ foray into podcasting), NYT, 10/23/16;
  • “A Detailed Political Geography of the U.S.” (a two-page spread showing 2012 presidential election results by zip code), NYT, 11/1/2016;
  • “Go Midwest, Young Hipster” (on the increasing concentration of Democrats in blue states and Republicans in red, as like moves toward like), NYT, 10/23/2016;
  • “PA municipalities begin uphill paddle to reach runoff goals, one stroke at a time” (on steps taken by some of the state’s 700 communities that lie within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to meet stormwater runoff goals), Bay Journal, November 2016;
  • “Can He Have Your Attn:, Please?” (an online entrepreneur’s topical videos drive attention to issues), NYT, 10/23/2016;
  • “Under the Din of the Race Lies a Once and Future Threat: Cyberwarfare,” NYT, 11/7/2016;
  • “How States Moved Toward Stricter Voter ID Laws,” NYT, 11/6/2016;
  • “A Coup Against the Supreme Court” (editorial), 11/7/2016;
  • “Europeans View Obama’s Exit With Mix of Admiration and Regret,” NYT, 11/7/2016.

Fascinating stuff. And what a pleasure to read it in the flesh, as it were.

I’ve always regarded a good newspaper as a college education for a quarter (well now, it’s $1.25 for the local weekly and $2.50 for a weekday edition of the NYT). Sure, everything I read this morning was available online, and more. But it wasn’t half as much fun to read it there; nor, I wager, would I have retained as much from reading it on screen. I may not even have found the stories at all, for serendipity plays a role when one leafs through a printed newspaper. In a recent online piece, Jack Shafer of Politico explained some of the reasons why printed papers work so well:

“… Print—particularly the newspaper—is an amazingly sophisticated technology for showing you what’s important, and showing you a lot of it. The newspaper has refined its user interface for more than two centuries. Incorporated into your daily newspaper’s architecture are the findings from field research conducted in thousands of newspapers over hundreds of millions of editions. Newspaper designers have created a universal grammar of headline size, typeface, place, letter spacing, white space, sections, photography, and illustration that gives readers subtle clues on what and how to read to satisfy their news needs. …”Why Print News Still Rules

(Please consider reading all of  Shafer’s piece — it’s terrific.)

A post we published earlier this month (Time for a reboot) concluded that online distribution must be part of sustainable newspaper business models to come.

Yup, but God willing, online and mobile news will remain only a part of the model. For there are few pleasures as worthwhile and inexpensive as just spending the morning with a printed paper.

The right tool for the job

Should the news platform dictate the news content?

Faced with a new online market, newspapers have been compelled to establish their brands there, to fend off competitors and retain subscribers as they turn their attention from the printed page to the Web page.

Facing increased use of mobile phones, dailies feel forced to stretch their brand to that platform as well.

It might seem simplest to run all newspaper content on all digital platforms — desktop monitor, laptop, tablet, mobile phone.

But. I wonder what would happen if dailies followed a carpenter’s rule instead of the “we-must-meet-our-customers-where-they-are” mantra.

My husband, a carpenter in his spare time, used to say that every job is easier with the right tool. What if we delivered content using the medium that suits it best?

For example, the long story with multiple entry points — photos, graphics, sidebars, and nugget boxes — belongs in print. So does the display ad. No matter how big or colorful the ad is, readers will admire it in print and swear at it on the Web.

A mobile phone can best display lists of short items, all dynamically generated from a back-end database: briefs, sports scores, election results, calendar listings and classified ads.

Short stories with photos, as well as video stories, are best suited to a website that is viewed on computer screen or tablet.

Of course, house ads that are designed specifically for each platform can drive traffic to the others.

Get the idea? Okay. Now, imagine a newspaper that has gone through a redesign across all of its platforms and has adopted this differentiated approach.

Its subscribers have access to it in print, via the Web and on their mobile phones, and they know where to find what they’re looking for (because the paper did such a good job educating them).

The daily print edition is small, but it contains long, interesting stories (that subscribers actually take the time to read) and attractive display ads.

Subscribers use their phones to check briefs, scores and calendar listings. They use a tablet or computer to read short stories and view videos on the paper’s website.

The only ads are the display ads in the print edition. But every display advertiser is also included in the community advertiser database available via mobile phone.

Would it work?

As a subscriber, I would be getting the best of everything, using tools I already have at hand.

As a reporter, editor or designer, I would be able to polish each piece of content for the one platform on which it would appear.

And from the lowliest three-sentence brief to the major, three-part series, each bit of content would be the best it could be.

I think I’d like to work there. I’d like to get that paper.  What do you think?

The benefit of one platform

Newspaper design is an advanced art.

The traditional daily is designed for one medium — print.

Which isn’t as simple as one might think.

A well designed paper is easy to read. Certain elements are anchored — readers know where to find them. All elements are clearly delineated.

On every page, the design tells the reader which stories are most important, and the most important stories in the paper have multiple entry points (graphics, photos, nugget boxes).

The design is consistent throughout. Section fronts can be wildly creative, but every page in the paper looks to be part of the whole.

The design responds to the expectations of its readers, exploits the capabilities of the paper’s press and production process, and is enforced through use of an in-house stylebook.

When the Portland (Maine) Press Herald began its redesign process in 1989, it was already in the midst of a three-year news improvement program that would culminate in the activation of its new $43 million printing plant.

The redesign began with the formation of a news committee. It included the paper’s director of market research. Design consultant Alan Jacobson was hired to keep the process on track.

Warren Watson, managing editor/operations, later explained the process in an article in The Journal of the Society of Newspaper Design. “Research had to be the first key step in a redesign,” he wrote. The committee stayed in touch with the paper’s market “every step of the way.”

The  group followed a seven-step plan: organization, research (including community focus groups) and goal-setting, which led to prototype, format-writing, implementation and a design stylebook.

The process began in September 1989. The redesign was launched in August 1990.

(I was working in the promotion department, and it was a pleasure to help introduce the paper’s new look to our readers. As Watson said, the design featured “the 5Cs: clean, complete, clear, colorful and compelling.”)

So. Not easy nor cheap, creating a well designed paper. But much, much easier than trying to redesign news content so that it’s presented properly on mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop monitors, using static content, dynamically generated content, podcasts, video and soon, 3-D, each platform and medium with its own design requirements and, one might, argue, audience.

Exploiting viral inventory

When your paper’s moment occurs, will your digital ads be ready?

I’ve been noodling about ad-space inventory lately.

I know.  It sounds boring. Stick with me, though. You might find yourself fascinated.  We’re going to look at the topic from two perspectives.

At a traditional daily, the number of times a given ad is viewed is dictated by the press run. The press run (the count of papers printed) is typically the count of subscribers, plus a cushion for single-copy sales.

First perspective, the advertiser:  Presume you’ve placed a display ad in the Thursday edition of a traditional daily to advertise a weekend sale at your store. The Thursday press run is 40,000 copies, so, in effect, you’ve bought 40,000 ad views.

The paper is delivered to your 40,000 potential customers on Thursday morning; you’re all set for your sale.

Now, presume there is no print daily in your community, so you’ve placed your campaign with the local online newspaper. You’ve asked that your ad be delivered from midnight Wednesday through midnight Thursday to 40,000 unique viewers. You presume that most of the newspaper’s online viewers are local, because the website’s content is about local events and issues (and besides, the paper told you so).

Here’s the thing. An online paper doesn’t have a press run. Instead, the count of papers printed (as it were) is dynamically dictated by demand, and that can vary — wildly — from day to day.

If Thursday’s edition is a dog and traffic is down, your 40,000 ad views won’t be delivered.

If Thursday’s edition goes viral, your 40,000 ad views may go out in an hour. And then it gets interesting.

If your campaign has been properly set up, it will be stopped by the ad-serving software when it’s dished up your creative 40,000 times.  (Of course, since the edition has attracted attention from around the world, your ad has been seen by many who don’t live anywhere near your store.)

What if you put your store’s url in the ad? And what if the campaign wasn’t set up properly and your ad goes out millions of times? Ooh, I hope your online retail operation is ready for uber demand. You could be sold out before the weekend arrives.

Let’s not go there. Let’s presume your campaign was set up properly and ends as it should. In fact, let’s presume the paper’s ad-serving software has to max out every campaign in its queue that’s scheduled to go.  Then … what?

It’s time to switch perspectives, to that of the paper’s view. An online edition that’s gone viral is going out to new readers.  The ad server has to send something out. Won’t it be a shame if the only creatives it has to deliver are stale house ads? What could/should an online newspaper do to be sure that, in the event of a viral outbreak, all that excess ad-space inventory is exploited in the most advantageous way?  Hmmm.

The benefit of targeted ad buys

Newspapers have always helped advertisers connect with readers.

Businesses can buy ad space in a traditional daily near the news that is most likely to attract their potential customers (a content buy) and/or can send their ad where their customers are most likely to live (a zoned buy).

A sample of Boston Globe ad buys.
A small sample of ad buys offered by the The Boston Globe on 3/12/2016.

Content-buy options include newspaper sections that run on a regular schedule (such as world/nation, city, sports, entertainment) and special sections that run less frequently (back to school, weddings, summer vacation, etc.).

Zoned buys are offered by dailies that partition their circulation area into zones and change the content for each zone or send special sections only to certain zones.

A golf course can place its ad in the sports section. A restaurant might opt for the entertainment section. A politician running for local office would put her ad in the zone that is delivered to her district. A politician vying for national office might opt for the world/nation section — or sports — depending on the voters he’s trying to draw.

The various combinations of buys give advertisers opportunities for brand-building campaigns as well as campaigns designed to build excitement about a scheduled sales event.