The Commercial Appeal released the new design this past week and instead of immediately leaping on it, I decided to take a few days to let it sink in. This new template that Scripps Howard has delivered from on high is for its papers to use allowing for a more uniform appearance. It is a friendly and easy to follow look, and I am not one to insist that journalism has to be packaged in obtuse or formal design. There is a problem though, and it’s a big one.
USAToday is a the top selling newspaper in the country. Most analysts far smarter than I, suggest that it’s because of its color pictures, easy to read format and big friendly design. They may be right. In media circles, however, USAToday is not thought of as a dream job. It’s a great job and I doubt any journalist on the way up would turn down work from USAToday.
The reason though for the paper’s lack of esteem, I think, is its lack of gravitas. It isn’t wonky, elitist or overly complex. How many times have you heard the USAToday being held up as either hero or villain in the media passion plays about bias or slanted coverage? It seems to walk between the raindrops. There is excellent reporting going on there, it just isn’t raking in Pulitzers.
‘Big Friendly Design’ is good. Just ask Google. I wonder though if it makes the news feel cheaper. Less valued news is indeed worth much less. The physical paper literally feels cheaper than it used to as printers have cut costs. Reporters stretch to cover the multiple beats forcing shallow and less cohesive reporting. Though the redesign isn’t about cost saving, it does feel like a continuation of the cheapening of news gathering.
News needs gravitas, it has to continue to find ways to tell consumers that it is the definitive and competent source of information on a given topic. Without that feeling of weight, it’s harder to deliver the messages.