Continuing the discussion begun last week, an elaboration on a luncheon talk I gave at the Nassau Club: The subject was print media and how — despite all the news of its demise — it continues to survive. Given that unexpected longevity, I told the Nassau Club group, maybe we in the print world should consider Mickey Mantle’s old line (probably borrowed from Mark Twain): “If I had known I was gonna live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
Last week I considered how we in the print business should pay more attention to its content, where it still enjoys an advantage over its online competitors. This week I consider presentation — the way in which we present that content to our readers — and offer a few prescriptions for our doddering (but still standing) patient, the print media:
1.) Take advantage of the medium. It’s big, but make it seem bigger, and make it bolder.
Once again, print enjoys a built-in advantage. Your friendly neighborhood newspaper arrives in your hand not much bigger than a tablet computer. But to access the paper’s contents, the reader can open it up to a size damn near as big as one of those 48-inch flat-screen televisions.
Newspapers, however, keep downsizing, literally, to save a few dollars on printing and mailing costs. At the Nassau Club I held up a copy of a traditional broad sheet daily from the 1960s and compared it to today’s Times of Trenton. The Times was only about an inch shorter, and two and a half inches narrower. But it seemed much smaller than that, chiefly — I suspect — because the editors have a smaller news “hole” overall and therefore try to squeeze as much as they can into every available space, including the front page.
The newly rebranded MidJersey Chamber (formerly the Mercer Regional Chamber) also recently updated the look of its magazine, changing Mercer Business to MidJersey Business, and making the new publication about a quarter inch wider. That little change jumped out at me.
Princeton Magazine, the glossy, almost monthly “city magazine,” published by the folks who bring you the weekly Town Topics in Princeton proper, recently expanded its size, now measuring 10 by 12, an inch higher and an inch and a quarter wider than the MidJersey publication. For what it’s worth I now hear more people talking about Princeton Magazine than I did before.
A decade ago or so, the Daily Princetonian was a tabloid paper exactly the same size as U.S. 1. The undergraduates proposed enlarging it to a broadsheet. I was one of several trustees who thought the move was a mistake. The students went ahead with the change — to rave reviews. I now wish I had done the same with U.S. 1.
2.) Respect the reader’s time. Make it easy for them to do what you want them to do.
The online world is a roiling sea of images and words. The next time you try to read an article online, see how often you have to maneuver around ads, which may or may not disappear on their own, or click through to a new page view. If you are working in an office setting you may discover that your view of a website is different from your colleague’s view of the same site — simply because you are using different Internet browsers.
One copy of any print publication is likely to be identical to any other, but print editors still manage to complicate the process of reading. Create a distinctive look for the beginning of an article. Keep that look similar (though not necessarily identical) throughout the publication.
If you can make a story fit on one page, do it. Two facing pages is a nice combination. If you have to break it to another page or another section do so with clear and bold continue lines that direct the reader to that page. And when you get to the “jump” page run a another mini headline there to let readers know they have arrived. (At that point you might even capture a few new readers who flipped past the beginning of the story, or who read the paper from back to front.)
A few paragraphs above we complimented Princeton Magazine for its enlarged format. Unfortunately it falls prey to the same typographical excesses that plague many other print publications. Flip the page and you wonder if you are encountering a new story, the end of an old story, or an advertisement.
3. Separate ads from editorial. Don’t let stories and their illustrations look like ads.
In this area, print should be a big winner over the online world, where ads sneak up on you at the most inopportune times, and where the hunt to find the “x” button to skip an ad leads to heart-pounding moments.
But, as we mentioned above, the layouts of many magazines these days look like they were designed by the same people who designed the ads — different typefaces abound, treatment of type, photographs, and graphic images vary from story to story, sometimes page to page, within the same story. It’s a visual playground with the reader on the outside looking in.
Here at U.S. 1 we fight the fight on behalf of the readers. In the recent years, as the price of color reproduction has come down, print ads are alive with color. In response we in the editorial department have rediscovered the simple elegance of black and white (and, we remind you, many shades of gray) photography. Pieces of art created in color or fanciful costumes in theatrical productions still get the color treatment whenever possible. But head shots and grip-and-grin pictures of check presentations and the like work perfectly well in black and white.
4.) Be consistent.
As much as we in the news media like to talk about, and celebrate, change and the people who promote change, most of us don’t like change. That includes people who click their way through the online world as well as those who read our print publications.
Years ago U.S. 1 had a website that was an online replica of the paper’s front page. All the experts told us that it was a terrible site. We agreed, and finally changed it. The feature that was most used on the site, the link to the day-by-day event listings, was buried near the bottom of the page. We brought that link to top of the page and installed more links to the events listings in the middle of the page. When the new site went live the phone began ringing: What happened to the event listings? The new site is terrible! Etc.
Readers of print are the same way. A devoted reader of a well designed publication hardly needs a table of contents to find each department. If the crotchety old columnist is always stuck on a page in the back of the paper, keep him there. Yet editors of some publications routinely fiddle with the editorial format, sometimes from issue to issue, leaving readers confused and ultimately disinterested in what has become for them another piece of media clutter.
5.) Present a distinctive, personal tone.
An editor of any publication, in print or online, should view himself as the Information Age equivalent of a wilderness guide. Give the readers what they need to know when they need to know it. Intrigue them with new information, but don’t overwhelm them. Eventually the readers will realize they are not alone in these wilds, but rather they are part of a community of explorers.
Coming next week: Engaging your community — print’s last great hope.