Newspaper chains have their publications share quite a bit these days, including stories, photos and copy desks. Many also share the same overall design concepts, and The McClatchy Company is no exception.
When The News & Observer debuted new digital and print looks Wednesday, the editors in Raleigh decided how many stories to put on each front page and designers picked which elements to use and how to package the stories. But the decisions on look and feel came from the corporate folks at McClatchy, which owns 30 newspapers across the country.
The model for the redesign debuted in mid-May at its California newspapers — The Sacramento Bee, The Modesto Bee, The Merced Sun-Star and The Fresno Bee — with a plan to roll it out gradually to all of the McClatchy newspapers in the following few months. All three newspapers that the McClatchy Publishing Center in Charlotte produces — The N&O, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C. — were part of the wave of papers that introduced the new look to readers Wednesday.
“Our design will be similar to the [Sacramento] Bee’s, but the sectioning is different,” said N&O executive editor John Drescher, who told readers about the changes in this column. “We’ve kept our basic sections and added the Focus page to the back of the A section. Weather moves to the back of Sports during the week. The newshole is the same, just used a bit differently.”
The Focus page is designed to be a deep dive into one subject each day. Wednesday’s debut page focused on the lives of sharks and Thursday’s focus was on attacks against hospital workers.
The N&O added a daily social-media column, Trending Now, and will launch weekly sports pages devoted to Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State when football season starts. It also is launching a website devoted to reviews of Triangle restaurants.
The Charlotte Observer wrote about the redesign in this story. Like Drescher’s column and The N&O house ad featuring a letter from publisher Orage Quarles III, there is no mention that this was McClatchy’s chain-wide change and not a local decision. Just because it’s a corporate decision doesn’t make it necessarily bad. It’s just interesting that this aspect isn’t mentioned.
You may not be familiar with Mario García, the architect of the McClatchy redesign. But if you are a longtime N&O reader, you’re familiar with his work. García, who has worked with hundreds of publications over the years, was the brains behind The N&O’s previous major print-edition redesign.
“García is widely recognized as one of the best media designers in the world. He redesigned The N&O in the early 1990s. We’ve had that basic look until now,” Drescher said.
The new McClatchy font families are a mix of Serif, Sans and Slab for print and Serif and Slab as the primary digital fonts, as outlined in this story.
Three print-edition redesign changes jump out the most. There are more access points on 1A for teasers to tell readers about stories throughout the paper. The other big changes are the liberal use of white space and the significantly contrasting treatment of headlines.
All copy, with the exception of obituaries, is now ragged right.
The column sigs are very different. Columnists in many cases get much larger cutout photos on the left part of the design with a healthy amount of white space and a sidesaddle headline.
In the above side-by-side comparison of Triangle & N.C. pages, note the huge contrast between the look of Rob Christensen’s column last week to how it looked Wednesday.
The bottom-of-the-page column treatment isn’t always used, though. Drescher’s column Wednesday, and Thursday columns by Barry Saunders and Luke DeCock got the more traditional down-the-left-column treatment.
Stories from Triangle college beat writers now get a large cutout photo of the writer for blog pieces published on the front, but a smaller version for inside stories. All of the smaller photos seem to be floating on the page. Selected writers throughout the newspaper get this latter treatment.
I don’t like two aspects of the headline treatments I’ve seen from the new designs: There is too much white space between the headlines and stories, and headlines often don’t stretch across the width of stories.
In some cases, the headlines are placed halfway down a story package and under a photo, not even covering the first column of copy.
Years ago, laying out two stories next to each other with headlines butting — tombstoning — was frowned upon, but you routinely see it done in many newspapers on a daily basis.
Dutch wraps — when the headline covers only the first few columns of a story — used to be considered a lazy layout method. Now, with The N&O’s new design, it appears to be standard practice. There are two examples on the Wednesday’s Triangle & N.C. page, and both 1A stories are like that. The main Thursday 1A story was like that, as well as two Triangle & N.C. stories.
Dutch wraps used to be a lazy way to avoid butting headlines. Now that tombstoning no longer seems to matter at most newspapers, I don’t understand the appeal of this design technique.
Newspaper design evolution, I suppose?
Some stories have three bullet points at the top that are a bit like subheads. McClatchy calls them toplines. They give you story highlights, which is a nice feature.
Maybe the headline doesn’t grab your interest but a nugget in one of those toplines shows you that you may find that story interesting. It’s also possible that the headline and toplines are all some readers in a hurry will absorb.
These toplines also are included on the main website pages for the featured story, and within each story on the desktop and mobile websites.
The toplines online are labeled “HIGHLIGHTS.” Mark Schultz, the editor of two of The N&O’s twice-weekly publications, the Chapel Hill News and The Durham News, explained in this CHN column Wednesday that you’ll eventually be able to click on a topline and go right to that section of a story.
While there always are three toplines with a story online, only two toplines appeared with the two Thursday 1A stories.
The N&O promises changes in the digital product to provide bigger photos, more videos and a design that will allow pages to load faster.
It wasn’t until three days later that changes, including toplines, were made to The N&O’s app for Android.
With limited front-page story counts, The N&O could really produce some nice layouts with this redesign.
The challenge, made more difficult by a newshole that isn’t as big as in past years, will be to resist the temptation to put too many stories on the front page. Fewer stories could mean more splashy designs made possible by this redesign.
With teasers across the top of the front page and down the side — and an ad at the bottom — the available real estate on 1A already is limited. Running more than the two stories that appeared on 1A Wednesday and Thursday will take away the creative possibilities and look cluttered.
The front page of Wednesday’s Charlotte Observer only had one story (but only two toplines instead of three.)
Space on the sports fronts won’t be as limited, but similar challenges apply. Although there were only three stories on Wednesday’s sports front, the potential for a splashy layout was limited since there was a huge picture of Pete Rose at the bottom. (And it was really odd to have the largest picture on the page not associated with the main story, and at the bottom of the page.)
Thursday’s sports front wasn’t as crowded. There were three stories, but no extra element taking up space as the Rose picture did Wednesday.
I’ve always thought that it looked odd to have the lottery numbers graphic at the bottom of the sports front. It’s also odd to see half of the sports section’s back page devoted to weather.
More challenges might come for the twice-a-week publications. Making the new designs look good and conform to the style may be more difficult since local editors in the Triangle who aren’t professional designers are laying them out. They lay out the pages using templates.
I’m sure that most readers, like me, will see plenty that they like and dislike about the new design. That’s the way it always is with redesigns.
When I was at an eastern North Carolina newspaper in the late 1980s, a consultant whose first name was Francis was hired to redesign the paper. In response to a story explaining who he was and his ideas about the redesign, a letter to the editor suggested that we “send her back where she came from.”
That redesign didn’t go away and neither will The N&O’s redesign.
Change isn’t popular many times, and I suspect that there are older print-edition readers who aren’t happy with the new look.
Every McClatchy newspaper will apply the redesign in a different way. It will be interesting to follow how The N&O applies that redesign and how it evolves in the next few months.