promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

Newspapers in desperate need of makeover

In media on January 27, 2010 at 12:30 am

In the long run, I think there is no practical reason for newspapers to survive, — Jacek Utko, Polish newspaper designer

Are newspapers doomed for a fate similar to that of the automobile industry? John Kerry proposed a government bailout to save the sinking ship of print media in April. But throwing money at a product that consumers no longer have an interest in would only prolong the pain. Perhaps the only real solution is to make papers, well, prettier.

Consumers today are accustomed to looking at web pages. Internet news is more appealing than print because it is cheaper, more accessible and more aesthetically pleasing. So, the more print news can mimic online news the longer it can prolong its not-so-certain demise.

However, cost and accessibility are really out of the hands of the newspapers. (Although a smaller, more mobile paper format such as a tabloid would lend itself to better accessibility). So what is left for the newspapers to control? Design.

Design is one of those tools that is too often overlooked by the jaded journalists of old. After all, it is content that matters. But if a product doesn’t say “pick me up” at first glance then readers will never get to the content. The truth is, content, or text, is ugly. The challenge is to make it prettier.

Luckily for designers, readers today have shorter attention spans and require much more visual stimulation to be engaged. As a result, many newspapers are trading in their old, traditional six-column design for a look that more closely resembles a web page. Some are opting for a more poster-like design with one large, dominant art element. And still others are moving toward a more magazine inspired design dominated by reefers and jumps and complete with an index.

But regardless of what new format a newspaper follows, one thing is for certain — change is needed. Unfortunately, adherence to tradition is a favorite of the newspaper industry. In the end, it may be stubbornness, not decreasing readership, that leads to its demise.


  1. Jessica,

    Making a “pretty” package does not make the contents useful.

    As you said “readers today have shorter attention spans and require much more visual stimulation”. And you are talking about YOUR generation in that remark.

    People, particularly young people today do not want to read extensively and study (think hard) about what they read. Instead they demand “stimulation” usually visually and arually. TV, the Web and music is their medium. Short, sweet and hard to beat but certainly not very informative on tough problems.

    How do we govern a democracy when many, many voters, albeit “stimulated” voters, are in fact shallow thinkers and lack the intensity to really “dig” into big issues?

  2. The written word is not the only means of communication. Both visual and aural communication are equally, if not more, powerful. I am not arguing newspapers sacrifice content. I am arguing they make their content more powerful, thought provoking and informative by engaging their readers’ senses. Remember, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

  3. Jessica,

    And in your last phrase we disagree, profoundly in some cases.

    Take a picture of a bombed out village in Afghanistan with dead women and children all around. Bloody, desintegrated, dismember bodies lying all around. THAT picture will horrify that war and cause immediate and repugnant public impact. That was the story in Vietnam, the first TV war in our history.

    Yet that picture does not describe the totality of war. It does not show the “politics” prompting the war or valid political and humanitarian reasons for engaging in such. That takes extensive reading, study, careful and balanced thinking to reveal the true “depth” of the conflict.

    I was called a “baby killer” during the Vietnam War because of such pictures. I assure you I was and am not such.


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