Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Redesign Redux

I'm no fan of the Orlando Sentinel redesign, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me about it. Slowly, but surely, Lee Abrams, Tell Zell and Howard Kurtz pointed the way.

Kurtz of the Washington Post critiqued the redesign earlier, saying the Sentinel made USA Today look like the Financial Times.

Later, Lee Abrams, Tribune's innovation guru, stated in one of his memos that, hey, that's Orlando. It's a tourist town.

Then this week Tell Zell described the redesign as Cirque de Soleil.

The problem with the redesign is that it's aimed at the wrong people. It's great if the millions of tourists who come to Orlando each year pick up the local paper to read, but that's not going to keep the Sentinel afloat. Tourists have no stake in the community. To a visitor, local news is nothing more than a passing curiosity.

The Sentinel underscored that fact by scaling back its hotel distribution a few years ago. If I am not mistaken, the Audit Bureau of Circulation doesn't consider hotel distribution to be the same as home delivery.

More important, the Sentinel was never written for tourists. It was aimed at the people who get up every day and go to work, commute on the I-4, pay local taxes and send their children to local schools. Chasing tourists isn't going to lift circulation or do much for revenue. I can't imagine that advertisers want to pay top dollar to reach a non-resident population.

The Cirque de Soleil colors (I think it looks more like the face of the Joker in the new Batman flick) surely are attention grabbing. But younger readers are not going to give the printed paper a second look. Younger readers don't care about the printed product. They long ago migrated to the Web, if they read newspapers at all. So the redesign may be alienating the paper's loyal readers who are, shall we say, past the half-century mark. Which is pretty much par for the course for a redesign.

I don't know that a redesign does much to boost circulation. In fact, a redesign is usually about ego. It's the first thing a new editor orders up to put his or her stamp on a paper (whether you need it or not). This is more of the same, only worse.

It's the equivalent of folks standing on the deck of the Titanic saying, "Don't just stand there. Do something!"


brad said...

amen sistah! as someone who had the rare opportunity to work in both the newsroom and circulation I've got the stats to prove that tourists have very little interest in the paper (even when you wrap it with four pages of tourist-specific colorful news and call it "The Visitor Guide." I think it's a shame that Lee Abrams has fallen victim to that stereotype so many people have of Orlando, that we're a Disney town, instead of the reality, which is that there are two Orlandos -- one for residents and one for tourists. Lee and others, who fall into the tourist category, may not yet be aware -- but soon will be -- how we locals(even the locals who work at Disney) tend to avoid the garish (Walk our streets, visit our neighborhoods ... there are no lawn flamingos ... and fewer gazing balls and bend-over garden grannies per capita than Chicago). Give us news. Give us normalcy. Give us substance. Enrich and inform our lives. That's what a newspaper does. Don't give us a disco at breakfast. If I want color, I'll pour myself an orange juice, admire my green lawn and count the bluejays in my fuschia crepe myrtle.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad someone pointed out the fact that the people who live and work in Orlando are vastly different than the theme-park tourists.

Perhaps someone should have pointed that out to Lee.

rknil said...

No redesign has ever delivered more than a short-term circulation boost for any newspaper.

It won't work. Never has, never will.