The American newspaper group, Tribune Co, owned by real estate billionaire Sam Zell, has been redesigning many of its local newspapers. In a Portfolio (Condé Nast) article, Norbert Ortiz, the Orlando Sentinel’s vice president for circulation and consumer marketing, says: "We can’t find any impact from the redesign”.
While I think that is necessary to rethink newspapers -- editorial strategy AND visual strategy -- on a regular basis, I have been saying that redesigns are now a days, and at minimum, a waste of money.
The main illusion is to believe that shorter articles, bigger photos, colors all over, informational graphics, format change and new fonts are going to attract new readers, especially young readers. The vast majority of readers in their 30s are gone. They will not come or come back to the print product. Believing the opposite is living in a fantasy world.
Not only do the vast majority of those new designs not attract young readers but they also alienate some of the most loyal customers, the 55+.
The core and loyal audience of most of the local newspapers in America -- and in Europe too -- is not looking FIRST for a more visual newspaper. They are looking for a more local, useful, watch dog and community voice-oriented newspaper. They don't want short articles. They don't care about 5-column images. They care about being in the know. They want value(s). They don't want decoration.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that newspapers should not be well designed and visual. That's one of my jobs after all too. I am just saying that the design should be adapted to the audiences and the mission of the newspaper. And the audience is not mass-market anymore. The audience is the 55+ and the advertisers. That the design should be the result of new editorial and marketing strategy.
The mission of local newspaper companies is changing. They need first to think about their mission. What is going to be their role for the next years in the local communities they are serving? Once the mission (or missions) is clear, they can start thinking about business objectives and line of products and services.
What are the needs of my different audiences -- readers and advertisers ? What are the products and services that make business sense and serve them? What is the unique value proposition of each of them?
Newspaper companies need to re-invent themselves. Redesign is a distraction that many of them can't afford. The issues that are facing newspapers will not be solved by new fonts, big photos and more colors.