Et Tu, Gray Lady?

Monday, January 28, 2013
This weekly section marked a small, but noticeable, change for The New York Times print edition last week

If you have read any of my other posts on this blog, you might be aware that I am someone who is not a fan of change for change sake, especially when it comes to printed newspapers.  Last spring, I called out my local paper, The Dayton Daily News, for making cosmetic changes to their publication that, in my opinion, were unwarranted and simply a ploy to placate their readership's current whims.  In a follow-up piece, I expressed my displeasure with the folks at The New York Times Magazine for toying around with different fonts for its masthead in, what I hoped would be, a one-time experiment.  I haven't seen any subsequent violations of that "sacrosanct" journalism symbol since, but you can imagine my surprise when I took yesterday's copy of The New York Times out of its protective plastic sleeve and saw the wholesale changes they made to the entire paper (minus the news section, the magazine and the Book Review).

Hidden in plain view this past Tuesday was the notice of changing the appearance of our nation's "newspaper of record"

During my current hiatus from blogging and classes, I haven't been keeping very current on what is happening in the wide world of news and the media.  Last Tuesday, The New York Times Company issued a press release announcing that it was redesigning its printed feature sections (that day's Science Times would be the first to reflect those changes).  I must admit that I bought a copy of that edition (it was for their inauguration coverage of the previous day) but I never bothered to look beyond the top of the folded-over front page before depositing it into a giant resealable plastic bag for safekeeping.  If I did, I would have seen this (located down along the bottom edge):

And Page D1 only provided the following notification (way down in the lower right-hand corner):

But, alas, I didn't look then and instead came face-to-face yesterday morning with a paper that I had a hard time recognizing.  Gone were the clean headers sitting atop their respective sections, replaced with graphic and text "teasers" for stories inside each specific grouping (such items were previously placed in other areas of those front pages).  Here's what I saw:

And here's a close-up at the tops of those pages:

While the redesign supposedly "introduces new tools to strengthen sections’ individual identities and to differentiate content types within sections" (emphasis mine), I'm not seeing much distinction between them.  Unfortunately, I don't have last Sunday's edition for a direct comparison but I did buy one from January 21st (bought it for coverage of the private presidential swearing-in ceremony) to highlight what I am trying to discern in the overall appearance and page formatting.  Here is their Arts section (Monday's is on the left, yesterday's is on the right):

And here is their Sports section:

While they might seem innocuous at a quick glance (placement, lettering size/color), the changes are very noticeable for a reader who is aware of that paper's overall style and world renowned brand.  Although not as egregious as those shown above, the Arts & Leisure section's page "The Week Ahead" has been remodeled, Automobiles has been moved to the back page of the Sports section (it had previously occupied the inside of the back page for as long as I can remember), and a new "Vows" area in the Sunday Styles section hosts wedding announcements of mixed sizes and includes more ceremony photographs (a clear change from the former "head shots" of the featured couples).  It does appear that the Sunday Business or the Sunday Review sections have been left editorially unscathed (the Travel section is missing the reader-supplied photo normally seen on the inside of the back page but that might be due to them running a full-page ad this week in that space).  In addition to those specific examples, I also noticed an increase in the number of thin solid lines placed between articles and columns that, unfortunately, violates the white space that was previously employed to reduce the sensation of clutter on the printed page.

USA Today's special inauguration edition, featuring its transforming circle logo in the masthead

In closing, I must add that I am not against all changes to existing newspapers.  Last October, I applauded USA Today's novel use of a plain (but modifiable) circle to modernize its "middle-aged" look and enhance their reader's overall experience.  Their special inauguration edition featured a plain blue dot, perhaps representing our planet's attention to the peaceful display of power in the world's only superpower nation (or, perhaps, a playful jab of it being a "blue" day if using America's current political color scheme).  I do understand the plight of print journalism in our current 24/7 connected society; however, tinkering with a recognized icon of American newspapers must have a better rationale than simply making The Times more "dynamic."  I have no plans of cancelling my subscription in protest, but this post serves as my formal notice to their communications coordinator about future "tweaks" to that venerable publication.

It also looks like The Columbus Dispatch is having its own "makeover" (screen capture courtesy of WBNS-TV)

P.S.  I was supposed to post this yesterday but got sidetracked by events late in the day.  Fortunately, that delay allows me to highlight yet another change to a paper that I read on a semi-regular basis, The Columbus Dispatch.   Today's edition debuts their "redesigned" paper which is supposed to be first in the world to to be using a new compact size (pictured above).  They announced that this easy-to-navigate format will have new sections and more photos for their readers so I guess that I will have to make a stop on my way into work this afternoon to pick up a copy for my own evaluation.  A video about innovations made to their printing plant is provided below:

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