Nine newsroom denizens gathered in the editorial boardroom for today’s
Front Page Challenge, a chance to look at how other papers are playing
with their front page and to discuss what we might do with ours.
Roger Gillespie had prepared a powerpoint presentation highlighting the designs of the Bakersfield Californian, the Janesville Gazette, the Rockford Register Star, and the Dayton Daily News.
(If you have Powerpoint you can try downloading the slides here: Download frontpc.ppt (12556.0K)
The papers, all of which have undergone front page redesigns in the past year or three, varied widely on story and element count and in design philosophy.
We began with a look at the Californian’s use of the inverted ‘L’, a design element borrowed from late 90’s web pages and pioneered (and still done best)
by Montreal’s La Presse. The inverted ‘L’ is a band of colour running up the left side of the paper and across the top, holding photo images and some short stories or “refers” (i.e. short story summaries pointing to a more fullsome story inside). It has the effect of creating two zones on the page: the ‘L’ a kind of sell space and an inner, usually text heavy, page that almost pops right off the surface of the paper. It can be very effective when done well, but we noticed that they often abused or misused the ‘L’ , slapping any old content inside it, especially on inner pages.
The Janesville paper crowds as many as 19 - 20 elements on their front page, and runs a “Gazette at a Glance” double column of briefs down the right hand side of the page. They also list the names of that days Obits and Death Notices on the front page!
The Rockford Register Star candidly admitted to Roger and Jim that they had stolen many good ideas from us (including creating a “GO” section they named ... the Go section). They take the somewhat radical approach of NOT TURNING off the front page. What happens on A1 stays on A1. That doesn’t prevent them from refering the reader to an inside page with more stories on a related news item. There was some discussion about the benefits of that approach, but no clear consensus that anyone wanted to commit to that approach.
The Dayton Daily News attracted the most excitement and comments (ask Roger to show you some copies) because of some clear and simple design and a ferocious committment to the recom- mendations of the Northwestern Readership study. Roger explained that the paper re-examined, re-worked and re-posted all their beats, developed detailed beat descriptions that include a portrait of what readers they believe are interested in that beat’s work, and then devoted 2 hours of small group training for each staffer to indoctrinate, er, expose them to the paper’s guiding philosophy. (“We don’t even have a news philosophy,” one person mumbled.) The paper’s committment to that reader-first philosophy is made manifest on the front page where, every day, they run a “box” containing pointers to “Talking Points” “Looking Out for You,” and “Did You Know” stories inside the paper. (All were identified in Readership Institute research as key reasons readers cite for opening their local papers.)
Inside, the Dayton crew (148 staff running a 130,000 circ paper), offered daily fine examples of non-traditional story telling, using maps or graphics or point form scatter shots of data instead of inch after inch of grey type. (Look for them later this week on our daily posts on Dana’s Glass wall).
There followed a rather intense discussion of how we can, as one person put it, follow Rule 10 of Elmore Leonards’ Ten Rules of Writing and “Leave out all the stuff readers tend to skip.”
Someone suggested running context or update boxes and pulling those boring obligitory background paragraphs from the story, but Mike Bennett warned that on some ongoing stories that just makes the problem more obvious, giving the example of the Bernardo trial where we used up 182 column inches by running the same info box on the Bernardo trial over and over and over and over and ... well, you get the idea.
We discussed the need, again, to resource any efforts to increse our daily output of non traditional story style and I climbed up on one of my favourite hobby horses and advocated for the creation of a Reporter/Graphics position, where a willing reporter is trained in basic graphic creation software and as a GA reporter asked to tell stories daily using graphs and table and maps etc. The discussion was far more lively and engaging than this poor report and we’ll hold another session - if time and interest permits - early next week, slotting it for the late afternoon so the evening shift can jump in with their boots on.