Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This Baby's Only Got One Gear

Charles Apple notes the redesign of the Eugene Register-Guard as part of a swath of redesigns brought on by chopping paper-web size. Well enough; we know that smaller page sizes -- narrower or not as deep -- are not a turnoff to readers as long as we continue to have sectionalization, so that Pop can read sports while Mom reads the comics. (Not a sexist aside; taken from recent comments on page-size reductions at Sarasota.)

But among the goals of the Register-Guard -- and this is not to dump on that paper, which has had a fine reputation over the years -- is:

“All the comics, all the puzzles — they’re going to be in one place. Readers won’t have to wake up and ask ‘Where’s the TV page today?’"

I mean, you know where the TV page is on your digital cable or DirectTV.

And no, that's not a "how can people be so dumb as to use a newspaper TV page" riff. But if in 2009 we're still dealing with putting the comics and the TV pages in the same place every day -- as we always are -- even though since the 1970s we have known that readers want the things they use every day to be in the same place every day, so that they don't have to waste their time trying to find them --

Yes, I know we solve this problem, and then something happens (in good times, we decide to do a tabloid features section two days a week because the new features editor wants to make a mark; in bad times, we no longer have a classified section and so the place where we anchored TV disappears).

But readers really don't understand why we can't solve these sorts of problems, although we can always manage to write about what we want to write about at whatever length we want to write about it.

Also among the goals:

"Tighter editing of wire stories."

Also possibly a goal of every editor of every newspaper since, oh, 1975. Well, good luck, Register-Guard.

Charles also talks about the redesign of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, which has among its goals:

"As we move forward and adapt to the narrower measure, we anticipate a larger focus on short-form storytelling..."

Obviously the Nieman Foundation's decision to suspend its narrative journalism workshop is simply coincidental to this, but the conferences, Nieman notes, "were part of our strategy to establish the Nieman Foundation as a leader in supporting the value of long-form storytelling." The values of newspapers and of high-church 1980s-style Journalism seem to keep moving further apart. Well, good luck as well, Spokesman-Review, unless they've hired a reporting staff that is eager to do short-form storytelling (and yes, some will say that a story really cannot be told in short form).

Our county newspaper, which is now edited from the office of its sister, across-the-river newspaper, has taken the philosophy of "tighter editing of wire stories" to heart. Each issue now has 20 or more national or foreign stories cut down to briefs size, instead of the previous approach, which was based on the "I've got a 20-inch hole around the ads. Where do I have a 20-inch story so I can close this page and move on?" technique.

And you know what? I like it. It gives more room for local stories and for really significant wire stories, while making sure that I don't miss anything. Maybe it is simply Google News in print. Maybe that's why it works. Maybe the Register-Guard will need to staff its desk so that people have time to, and are rewarded for, cutting wire stories down instead of seeing how quickly they can get the wire pages moved through.

1 comment:

rknil said...

Not every wire article can be cut to a brief, though. Try explaining health-care reform in 6 inches or less.

Today's newsrooms have too many people who lack the attention span and the intelligence to analyze articles properly. All they know how to do is slash. Encouraging this trend is not a good plan.