Category Archives: Newspapers

Print that.

indy-cover-charlie-hebdoThe murder of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial team is just beyond belief.

How to respond to such an appalling tragedy is now something every editor, journalist and blogger has had to deal with. This is The Independent‘s front page, which rather than focus on the violence, demonstrates the power of a single cartoon to carry the story. But more than that, given how news constantly evolves on digital platforms, it reminds us that print is timeless.

Editor Amol Rajan talks really well in the Guardian about using Tom Brown’s illustration as the splash, but also the decision not to reproduce the Charlie Hebdo cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad, describing it as “too much of a risk”.

The New York Times made the same decision, but Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast did publish, suggesting that although digital reach is infinite, the endurance of print gives controversy real weight. And that makes the decision to publish in print so much harder.

There’s no right or wrong here, either way has its merits. But some news organisations have chosen to blur out the cartoons. That’s a rotten decision, as all it does is visualise the censorship. Here’s excellent reporting on that from Buzzfeed.

The best thing about The Daily Mirror’s new website ampp3d? It took just eight weeks to launch

The Daily Mirror have jumped onto the Buzzfeed bandwagon, with this new data journalism called ampp3d, here’s a story at gigaom that explains the approach:

‘The idea behind Ampp3d is to use social-sharing methods — snappy headlines, emotional content etc. — in the service of data journalism’

The speed of the development is impressive, just 8 weeks from decision to launch date. Also, the fact that Trinity Mirror are willing to experiment in this space, having already had a go with something called Which whilst looks fun, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

The Ampp3d site is pretty good. There are lots of smart stories, all well told with compelling visuals. The idea of simple data visualisation isn’t new, people from Business Insider to Furthr, have been doing this for ages. The thing that will determine Ampp3d‘s success, is whether users will want to share.

The visual cues are big, with social buttons front and centre at the bottom of the posts. So it’s now all down to whether the headline is engaging enough. There’s been a lot of debate about the new style of headline writing exploited by upworthy and in particular, viralnova. In short, this technique relies on doubling down on the emotion in the story, but stripping out the content. Here’s how Business Insider describes the method:

‘The headline model for the site is laughably smart. First, take a news story, add the phrase “you won’t believe” or “this ____ made me cry, but” and then the kicker sentence: “what happens next will blow your mind” or “then this happened.” There’s your recipe for viral success.’

The Ampp3d headlines are good, but if they can develop a real point of view that maintains a high level of emotion, they could do really well.

But what looks wrong here is the name. Ampp3d is hard to remember, impossible to type, and with a content and context that seems to talk more to the business model than any kind of user experience. The ‘3’ is totally confusing. Is this about the phone company, page three, or perhaps it’s just some hangover from the 3am girls. It may well be that in the digital space names mean diddly-squit, if the stuff is being shared, who cares what the site is called?

But I doubt it.

Update: Since I wrote this post, Martin Bellam, who launched the site has written a fine piece explaining how and why the name was chosen, along with many other insights into the challenges of getting a new launch out the door so fast. Recommended.

The future of news design. In a BOOK!

The challenge with a book about news, is that as soon as it’s printed, it goes out of date. Which makes this book from Francesco Franchi, the award winning art director of Italy’s Il, all the more impressive.

The post on his own site has plenty of images and details about what he was trying to achieve. In particular, this line stood out:

‘Designing News explores how today’s media outlets can become credible, cross-platform news brands. Franchi advocates redefining reporting as telling a continuous narrative across a broad range of traditional and digital media. To this end, he proposes a new, integrated role for editorial designers in advancing the evolution of media for the future.’

The book quotes many people on this point, not least Khoi Vinh, who back in October 2011 argued the case for a new kind of ‘Editorial Experience Designer’; according to Franchi, a figure ‘who can build a great digital product out of great editorial content’.

On top of all this theory, the book is an excellent work of reference, with examples of The Guardian, Bloomberg, Il, The New York Times, Zeit online, New York, USA Today, Katachi and many more. The index is excellent, likewise the bibliography and all the references.

There are fine essays from Mark Porter and Richard Turley and a quite amazing story about the development of the Guardian font families from Paul Barnes and Christian Schwarz.

If I have a complaint, its that it all feels very dense. There are a LOT of words, and many of the pictures are similar sizes. But that doesn’t alter the fact that every designer, and every journalist should own this book.

You can buy one at Gestalten or on amazon.

Newspapers are still taking our attention for granted. Here’s how they can change that…

Following on from my story on The Independent redesign earlier this week, twitter led me to this excellent post on Media Shift, entitled “What Newspapers Can Learn From Brands”

Their central thesis is that brands have successfully learned how to craft a voice in order to get digital content right. But that traditional newspapers have yet to learn how to do this properly.

This isn’t entirely true of course, The Sun newspaper is an amazing example of successful tone in print, likewise the Mail online and The Guardian across both, or at least to a degree. But many of the rest constantly overestimate the attention of their audience.

The Media Shift post is prompted by the Financial Times announcing it was taking the next steps in its “digital first” strategy, but then goes on to really lay out some home truths about news today. Here’s an extract:

‘The race to be first in reporting a story is leading to irrelevant news that doesn’t make the audience any smarter, well informed or engaged. People are emotional and pay close attention to things with context and connection….if a story lacks a voice and contextualizing information, it’s more likely to be overlooked and unshared.

What people need now is an interpretation of the news. This doesn’t mean adding in bias, but creating thoughtful and engaging content that starts conversation. The Internet has leveled the playing field and enabled audiences to set the stage, telling publishers in real-time the type of content they want to see and read… If viewers aren’t spending time on a website, it’s time to shake things up.’

But if you really want to shake things up, have a look at this. Switzerland’s oldest newspaper, The New Zurich Times, has turned itself into a coffee shop! Well, not exactly, but what they have done is partnered with a food and beverage concession to open a coffee shop at Zurich airport.

The report says the “sleek, light and contemporary” café serves fresh sandwiches including rustic Venticina salami served in Laugenstange german-style wheat roll, Pastrami with tartar sauce in a swiss bread called Bürli, or a Swiss traditional favourite of dried beef, smoked ham, salami, gruyere cheese in a Campaillette baguette.

Every customer at the café is also offered an instant download of the day’s editon of NZZ and a free four-week subscription to the publication.

Newspapers are in trouble, and no mistake. But rather than just beat themselves up, their opportunity is to seek profit outside themselves by partnering with like minded brands more aggressively.

This example of super smart thinking has been kindly supplied by Andy Pemberton from Furthr, who has also just shared the amazing graph below, showing the massive decline in newspaper advertising and Google’s corresponding rise. Magazine advertising has gone down, but all things considered, is actually holding up pretty well.

Why The Independent redesign does not go far enough

This is the fifth redesign in as many years, which suggests Last Chance Saloon is not too far away. But here at coverthink we live in The Now, so let’s not worry about that, and just look at the work. The website has been redesigned alongside the paper, and there are interesting plans to introduce a new tablet app, but overall there appears to be no big change to the marketing of the brand. So I’m guessing the four redesign KPI’s are as follows:

1. Differentiate the paper against ‘i’, the Independent’s cheaper tabloid cousin.

This picture shows the previous confusion between the two, with both carrying red in the masthead. The new design has undoubtably separated the two products, primarily through making the logo a black serif and putting it on its side. Magazine logos have been seen like this (The Face circa 1990) and I’m sure there will be European papers pulling this stroke too, but it’s not been seen on a British paper before.

Under normal circumstances, I hate type on it’s side. But in this instance I have real sympathy to the approach. Independent is a very long word, so this way the logo remains BIG and the remaining space is cut into a different sort of shape.

But with no logo at the top, the key is to put stuff in its place that genuinely expresses the brand essence. It can be content or marketing, but it has to really rock.

The top of the paper starts with a band of white space (including barcode and red eagle), signalling its ‘magaziney’ intentions. But this illumination means nothing if the content beneath doesn’t repay the investment.

On this cover the opportunity has been missed. The words are underwhelming, the type is small and there is no hierarchy within this critical part of the page. Which is frustrating, as some of the content is strong and highly ‘ownable’.

The second difficulty the new logo creates is how to divide the page. On a normal width, this can be done vertically, like the Daily Mail and Express; splash on the left, picture story on the right.

But with the new Indy, the narrow page means the picture story is presented over the splash. This profoundly diminishes the headlines’ importance, as well as suggesting the picture story is somehow part of it. All in all, it makes the paper feel more like a monthy review rather than a crusading, urgent and compulsive daily purchase.

2. Sell more ads.

This might work, as the paper looks more sophisticated. There’s a nice use of white space, elegant typography, and a sense of restraint all round. Regular advertising is going to stand out better. But as far as I can see, the increasing shift of clients money into content marketing has not been addressed.

3. Improve reader satisfaction

I loved the Independent when it launched in 1986, and so did many others. As the current editor Amol Rajan said this week, “It was radically different, politically neutral, with huge pictures and real gusto.” This is the top of the first issue, taken from the Indy’s own cover gallery. But in recent years it has struggled to maintain a clear editorial direction compared to the clarity of the Guardian, Telegraph and Times. Whether due to failure of editorial or creative direction is neither here nor there, a redesign is always an opportunity to have a fresh start.

The new look has been led by Matt Wiley, a well respected magazine designer, responsible for the upmarket men’s magazine Port, along with plenty of other good work.

A full set of original fonts have been cut especially for the paper. They’re really good new typefaces, and give a great opportunity for the Indy to deliver content in its own voice. There’s an excellent overview in Creative Review, taking us through the design in fine detail, along with many images of the type in action.

But for all the beauty of the type, some of it is just too small to be easily legible. Readers have complained, obliging Amol Rajan to say that he has taken these comments on board and ‘asked the designers to address them urgently’.

Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian, applauds the team for the redesign, appreciating the “commitment to essay-writing as distinct from news busy-ness”. But he also points to the weakness of placing the editorial on page two, as well as other flatplan adjustments. Overall, he suggests readers will more baffled more than anything else.

For me, I have mixed feelings. I’ve bought the paper three times in three days, having not picked up a copy for years. I’ve read it, and I’ve enjoyed it.

But for all the boldness of the new logo, they just haven’t gone far enough. If the Independent’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, can describe his paper as having “a proud record of innovation”, he should have put his money where his mouth is and done this:

a) Make the splash headline really tell the story. A few more words would deliver real newsstand cut-through, as well as allowing the line to be replicated and owned across all the digital platforms.

b) Properly visualise the splash. Use an infographic, a powerful picture or a typographic solution. Make the whole cover an image that people will want to share, to establish the idea of the front page as an event, as opposed to a template.

c) Put less copy in the paper, make the type bigger, and let stories run longer online. That way, browsing the paper will be a more pleasurable experience, as well as letting the print serve to market the digital platform.

d) Move the horizontal ad position off page three onto page two. As it stands, the paper comes to a grinding halt before it’s even begun.

4. Stabilise newsstand circulation

As always, this is the only KPI editors and owners really care about. Here’s the petrol station in Hackney where I bought my issue last Thursday. Given the current landscape, you’d be a brave man to think that a redesign alone will shift more copies. The fact of the matter, is that paid-for media brands now have to work incredibly hard to stimulate demand. This requires great content, a powerful brand filter and a sophisticated marketing operation. Daily newspapers must set the agenda, and get talked about across every platform.

There’s an interview with Editor Amol Rajan in Media Week, where he talks a good talk about his hopes for the redesign. Media week says: “By recalling the spirit of its founders, Rajan hopes to reinforce the paper’s Enlightenment values and strike a chord in what he considers to be an increasingly ‘sceptical but engaged’ age”

But the line that caught my eye was: “There are maybe a dozen areas we can do absolutely better than everybody else”.

Like all the other serious broadsheets, The Independent covers just about everything. so communicating this brand’s point of difference is absolutely essential in letting the reader know why they are buying it. The primary task of a redesign like this is to focus the readers attention on the things that really matter, but for me this is where it falls down. The design is too polite, and the editorial direction not ruthless enough.

Add that to the lack of newsstand cut through, and I can’t see this redesign making any significant difference to copy sales any time soon. I really hope I’m wrong.

Why the picture’s not the problem

As an ex Art Director of Rolling Stone, I’ve been reading a lot about this week’s cover, which has created a shit-storm of accusations that they are glamourising an alleged killer.

The Guardian report that certain retailers will not stock it. Jezebel has a good round-up with lots of supporting visuals. The Huffington Post says they were right. Boston magazine says they were wrong. Bloggers far and wide are all busily casting theories, culminating with The New Yorker’s well made opinion:

‘This is an example of two of the ugly public outcomes of terrorism: hostility toward free expression, and to the collection and examination of factual evidence; and a kind of culture-wide self-censorship encouraged by tragedy, in which certain responses are deemed correct and anything else is dismissed as tasteless or out of bounds.’

My view is that Rolling Stone are quite within their brand and their remit to write this story, and perfectly entitled to put this picture on the cover, just as many newspapers have done. Here’s the New York Times, by way of example.

Where this has gone wrong is how the picture is perceived. When Rolling stone put serial killer Charles Manson on the cover back in the 70’s the magazine still had a newspaper format. Crucially, the logo did not go over the image, itself virtually an illustration. This meant critical distance was maintained, there was no endorsement, and no outrage (not that I can remember!).

But put the logo over a glossy image and everything changes. To hell with what an editor might think, the public see this as invitation to admire the subject, to buy into the fantasy, to identify with the brand’s cover choice.

This is an extraordinary image for Rolling Stone to use, not because he looks like a Rock Star, but because it’s a selfie. Rolling Stone is legendary and rightly so for creating powerful identities on their cover. Here, they are doing nothing more than reflecting back to us the vanity of a young man’s narcissism, complete with his Armani Exchange T-shirt.

Regardless of the quality of the reporting inside, the use of such an image was always going to be the story. Particularly for a title with such a history of putting long-haired hippies on the cover and asking us to love them.

Already, thousands of people are firmly of the belief that Dzhokhar could never have committed the crimes he is accused of, purely because of the way he looks in this image. We are such a visual society that we are willing to ignore any amount of hard evidence in favour of a good haircut.

My complaint lies with the words ‘The Bomber’. Notwithstanding that he is innocent until proven guilty, and that any editor in the UK would never get such a headline through their lawyer (read Roy Greenslade on the matter here), it’s this unthinking label that causes the problem. Unlike the New York Times headline (The dark side, carefully masked), ‘The Bomber’ does not comment on the image.

Without the words, we don’t really know what to think. The picture asks a good question, but it’s up to the editors to let us understand what this picture really means. Are we: ‘Looking at the face of American youth’ Or is it: ‘What this picture says about America today’. Who knows, and of course, very easy to say with hindsight.

Another route to making this cover work would be a layout that detaches the image from the logo. At this point there is no explicit editorial endorsement of the image. It’s the technique that has allowed Time magazine to put any number of mass murderers on its covers over the years.

Or of course, they could go the Manson route and abstract the image, so that it no longer becomes a depiction of reality. Rolling Stone would still have a controversial cover, they might still be accused of glamourising terrorism, but perhaps they could have avoided the Boycott Rolling Stone facebook page, currently at 142k likes and rising at the rate of 2000 an hour.

Update: since this post was made, Rolling Stone reports that this issue doubled it’s newsstand sale.

Five Must-See, Must-Read Links

Amazon ditches Powerpoint, on the grounds that it’s ‘easy for the presenter, but harder for the audience’. Here’s what they are doing instead.

Mary Meeker’s latest masterful presentation on the state of the web. (Note: it’s on powerpoint).

A great post from Buzzfeed’s Jeff Jarvis on the future: ‘News organizations that they should stop thinking of themselves as content businesses and start understanding that they are in a relationship business’.

15 key facts about content curation. If you’re short on time, go straight to point eleven. Thanks to Anthony Thornton.

Too much connectivity is hurting our productivity. Great post here on Fortune.

Shhhh! We’re still playing…

With the publication of their arthritis splash yesterday, The Daily Express is well on course to pick up either a cuddly toy or a box of chocolates. Many thanks to The Media Blog for tweeting this to my attention.

But aside from illustrating the mind-numbing cover process the poor Express Journalists have to go through, The Media Blog has loads of other stories detailing the misdeeds of Richard Desmond and his empire.

Fill your boots herehere, here and here!

The Daily Mail couldn’t make it up. So they got someone else to do it.

offensive coverToday, the Daily Mail ask if this is the most offensive magazine cover of all time. And just to make sure we know what to judge it against, they published several more Globe covers, each detailing the everyday lives of the Windsors. Diana’s love child! Kate and the murder scene! That sort of thing. Given that these stories are so fantastical, what do they say about journalism, and more particularly, what do they say about the American taste for this sort of stuff?

Celebrity journalism is a tricky business at the best of times. Gossip and speculation are an important part of the mix, and the readers both understand and actively desire that kind of work, otherwise they’d be dealing with nothing more than a press release.

Globe magazineGlobe covers stretch the boundaries of believability to such extremes, it’s really hard to know what to think. There may be a shed of truth somewhere, but as far as any sane person is concerned, this stuff is clearly all made up. Although I must say, that Diana story does look kinda interesting…

moon to explode in 6 monthsBut this is America. And this is Weekly World News, which Americans were quite happy to buy as a printed magazine until 2007. The ‘World’s Most Reliable Newspaper’ is now an online only proposition, but it does serve to illustrate that Americans like satire. I mean, they can’t really believe this, can they?

Can they?


America’s only national newspaper redesigns. What does this mean, and why the hell should we care?

New USA Today logoHere is USA Today‘s new logo. Designed by Wolff Olins, it’s modern, clean, and I can completely see how they came to this solution. We’ll come back to the design in a minute, but for now, what does it actually mean? My first reaction was that the uncompromising minimalism says this is a brand that is still defined by what it is not.

Since it’s launch in 1982, USA Today has been lying around hotels and motels across America. It’s never caused much offence and I suspect never been read very often. But its mild mannered ubiquity has seen it become Americas second largest print newspaper along with a website boasting over 38 million visitors. So this redesign is a BIG deal.

Particularly, as instead of analysing the print, everyone is now interested in what all the web, tablet and mobile platforms are going to look like. I haven’t seen the paper yet, but I’ve zipped through the digital stuff and for the most part, it looks good.

usa today website redesign

The site is very much improved. This is the new home page, which aside from the cool look and feel, has binned off the MPU ads, and replaced them with some massive full width display ads deeper in the site. Adage has good reporting on the new ad strategy. Which may, or may not work out…

usa today tablet version

However, this is the tablet version, which is poor by comparison. Given how slick the browser experience is on a tablet, you really wonder why anyone will bother with the app.

usa today mobile screensI suspect the mobile version has the potential to be the best of three. I really like the way it has been organised, here are a couple of screens to give an idea.

usa today newspaper

The paper looks good, although the central graphic flatters to deceive somewhat, as it doesn’t actually mean anything.  And of course, the headlines seem tiny to these European eyes. Other commentators on twitter have been less kind. @weareyourfek says: ‘The redesign looks like BuzzFeed printed out and turned into a car wash flyer’. Ouch!

The onion usa today spoof

And as you might expect, The Onion has been particularly cruel, with this fantastic infographic, above.

Elsewhere, there has been plenty of comment on the business plan. The New York Times says that Gannett, who own USA Today along with 82 other papers and 23 broadcast stations, is attempting to consolidate all its news operations into one big hub. And that this redesign is a way of leveraging that benefit. It might also explain why ‘Gannett’ is part of the new logo.

But they also quote Alan D. Mutter, a respected industry expert, who says: “The real problem is what is the real mission of USA Today. It used to tell me the weather. Now I have the app for that. The once revolutionary and original mission of the paper has been usurped.”

Which brings us to the nub of the problem. USA today was launched in 1982 with the mission of ‘providing news and information that was clear, concise and presented largely without opinion’ (my italics).

To not have a point of view today just doesn’t work, if it ever did. With content everywhere, we need brands to guide us through, to make sense of all the noise, and to give us their valued opinion. Without that, plain content means very little.

Adage has good reporting here on the paper’s plans to improve this. They have hired the excellent Michael Wolff as their new media comentator, (read his great story on Tina Brown here) and there are plans to get the journalists allow their own voice come through more strongly. But can they really do it?

This is the slick promo video that explains the new mission. It starts well, with a big pitch about using ideas and visual storytelling to create a sense of unity in the nation. But then comes the bit where it declares that their product is all about ‘understanding and utility’.

NO WAY is that going to cut it. To quote Lady Macbeth, they need to ‘screw their courage to the sticking place’. They’ve made a big fuss about their new logo having some balls, here is a chance to use them.

They should get some hierarchy to the stories. It’s currently so flat that I cannot tell what’s important. They don’t seem to know either, as online the splash wanders around between either the Chicago teachers union going on strike, a random boxing match or a spat over Civil ware re-enactment authenticity.

USA Today logo redesignThis lack of editorial direction is transmitted through the new logo design like a tuning fork. The old logo was literal, the map device tells us that here is a newspaper for folks who, er, travel around America a lot. Not brilliant, but at least specific.

By comparison, the new logo seems reluctant to say anything at all. The structure is fine, as is the colour. The neutral typography might be OK if it was paired with a symbol that had something about it. Equally, the blue circle might just work if there was some engagement with the type. There is nothing that distinguishes the type from the headlines, and the symbol has no intrigue other than its emptiness.

And yet, I like it.

Sam Ward, the designer behind the logo, has made a lengthy defence of the work, stating: ‘I believe our balls are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness’. If this is true, the logo will only really come to life if the editorial content does too.

1861 aside, America has never been more divided that it is today. For evidence on that, go no further than Romney’s recent 47% comment. Surely, here is a real opportunity for USA Today to grab the nettle, and lay down some clear markers as to their editorial direction. To tell us what they believe in, and to give us genuine reasons to listen to them.

A good model for this is Business Insider. It’s got great tone, a wide range of content and an excellent range of length. There are super fast tweets, excellent infographics and longer, indepth pieces. This fine analysis on Romney and the USA economy, gives a good idea of their expertise.

USA Today have given op-ed space to Romney, but that’s not the same as saying what they think. They don’t need to come out for either Romney or Obama, but they should tell us which parts of each candidates platform they agree with. Then, middle America might begin to take some thought leadership from the brand, rather than turning to other, totally polarised media outlets.

USA Today can maintain a balance, but they also need to accept Tibor Kalman’s best ever piece of advice: ‘If you make something no one hates, no one loves it’

Update: Under Consideration have published an excellent in-depth review of the redesign, showing how the logo circle acts as a content vehicle for all the separate sections of the paper.