Monday, April 30, 2007

Redesigning News

Well the big Startlegram redesign came out, and in all fairness, I must say it looks nice. But that wasn't the only point now, was it?

The goal was re-imagining the newspaper. The result: As George W would say, mission accomplished.

The paper I read wasn't really transformed. For one thing, how do they respond to the needs of time-challenged readers who don't have time to read the paper -- they ADD MORE CONTENT! Really?! For all of the talk of radical transformation, the newspaper looked pretty much the same. With the exception of the reader's guide, I pretty much read the same old stuff I always read.

What Did I Read?

  • A section: Apart from Jan Jarvis' story on the nurse who adopted the two abandoned girls -- there wasn't anything in the A-section worth reading. Does anyone still get national and international news in the newspaper anymore? I get all this online. TIME SPENT: 20 seconds.

  • Fort Worth: I read this section pretty thoroughly, but didn't get much out of it this Sunday. We had a little bit of Pastor sleaze, but not much else other than the obits. Oh, yeah, Bud Kennedy's mugshot has me concerned for his health. TIME SPENT: Three minutes, tops.

  • Business: Selling stories on home values to yuppies is like selling nihlism to teenagers -- it's like shooting fish in a barrel. You had me at "Price Per Square Foot." Nice graphic with the story. Why no flash version on the Web site or a database of home values. ANY kind of a tool. And Mitch Schnurman, let's just say Mitch owns this town, bitch! He's always money. TIME SPENT: 10 minutes

  • Sports: Sports kinda sucked. NFL draft coverage failed to meet expectations. Jennifer Floyd looks like she got a makeover for her mugshot and the haircolor looks kinda creepy. TIME SPENT: 120 seconds in and out.

  • A&E: Got my hopes up on the Denton Rock City story, but I thought it was kind of a fizzle. TIME SPENT:Five minutes.

  • Opinions: I read it. I retained nothing. Didn't seem there was anything important there. TIME SPENT:20 seconds.

  • Life: Really wanted to read the Oakhurst neighborhood story because I think this is a great little part of FW, but that story was like watching paint dry. TIME SPENT: 90 seconds.

  • Other sections: I always hit the Classified for estate sales and Sunday homes. I read the Circuit City and Best Buy inserts. And the inside cover of Parade Magazine. TIME SPENT: Five minutes.

  • So What?
    So, where does that leave us? Nothing really changed. Everyone in the newspaper industry knows that change is inevitable. This redesign was supposed to put the Startlegram ahead of the game. When I look at the Sunday paper, I just see more of the same. Is there no real willingness to change on the part of the editors and reporters who put out the paper? Or do they just not know how? I suspect a little of both. And the worst part is -- the Web site still sucks.

    Ideas, anyone?
    If you have any thoughts on how the paper should be fixed, drop a comment below. Here are my ideas. They aren't comprehensive, just a little scattershooting:

  • Local news first: This is the real value of the paper. It is what the paper does well. Make the most of it. National and International news? Keep it minimal.

  • Alternative storytelling This is a S-T term, not mine. They have been trying to find new ways to tell stories, but I didn't see any of it in the Sunday paper. A missed opportunity: The Oakhurst story. How do you tell stories about a neighborhood? What we got was feature writing 101. How about getting the people who live there to write about it, then put together a Rashomon like narrative with audio, video and photos? An epic poem? What about asking everyone in the neighborhood to tell their life story in 50 words or less. ANYTHING different. Take some chances. Don't be afraid to fail.

  • Make the paper smaller: Be respectful of readers time. You aren't just competing against other news sources, you are competing against the Mavericks game, YouTube, IM, 30 Rock, dinner, sleep ... just about everything. You are the filter. Make it more efficient to go through you than gathering news on your own.

  • Fix the damn Web site: The Web site and the paper work together. They needed to be redesigned together.

  • Be interactive: Encourage dialogue between your readers and reporters. Your reporters' time is better spent exchanging ideas with readers rather that running down a bullshit story no one is going to read.

  • MORE MEDIA GEEKERY: The circulation numbers are in and they do indeed suck: The Startlegram is down on weekdays 3.6% to 210,990, Sunday decreased 5.7% to 304,200. At the D(a)MN ... well, does the word Gotterdammerung mean anything to you? Lessee, they lost 14.2% of daily circ to 411,919. Sunday fell 13.3% to 563,079. The Houston Chronicle lost some daily and Sunday circ down 2% to 503,114 and 2.1% to 677,425, respectively.

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