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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: ‘Small Street Journal’ Redesign of Venerable Wall Street Journal Works for Me, Other Critics

Posted by kinchendavid on January 5, 2007

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV – When The Wall Street Journal announced its redesign last year – including a reduction in the web size to match that of most other broadsheet newspapers – it acquired the instant moniker “The Small Street Journal.”

Other smart-aleck phrases describing the remake included: “Now, the complete skinny,” “We reduced. You deride,” and “All the news that’s fi to print,” according to Jonah Bloom, writing in the Jan. 3, 2007 Advertising Age.

Bloom points out that these slogans “… were Slate readers’ slogan suggestions for the new-look Wall Street Journal; you can find them at the end of Jack Shafer’s piece on the topic [here’s a link: http://www.slate.com/id/2154880%5D. “Referring to the Journal’s 3-inch downsizing, Shafer opens by noting that, ‘It’s the rare amputee who describes himself as better off without his two big toes than with them.’ He goes on to decide that the Journal’s redesign is part of a greater Dow Jones ‘retreat.’ In other words, in Shafer’s view, the redesign is about cost cutting.”

Katherine Q. Seelye, writing in The New York Times, said the changes were “primarily driven by economics,” including $18 million worth of savings in newsprint and distribution costs.

All in all, Bloom likes the new look WSJ, which debuted Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007: “… overall, it’s a more comfortable, better-illustrated read, with jumps that are easier to follow. It’s a read that accepts that not all of us have two hours to thumb through the pages. And, most importantly for advertisers, it’s still the Journal, which translates roughly as ‘a-must-read-for-anyone-in-business,’ delivering a couple of million walking wallets every day. Surely that fact, along with this smart redesign, will make the Journal a properly profitable business in ’07. If it doesn’t, then I don’t hold out much hope for any of us in the business of business news.”

Bloom goes on to cite other critics who like the redesign, including Jon Fine, a former colleague at Ad Age, now writing for BusinessWeek; Jonathan Berr at Blogging Stocks and Keith Ferrell at the TechWebblog.

This month marks the 41st anniversary of my entry into the wonderful world of journalism; Since that momentous day in January 1966 when I walked into the lobby of the Hammond (Ind.) Times, I’ve worked for five daily newspapers in four states, including more than 14 years at one of the biggest – the Los Angeles Times – so I have some perspective about the changing face of newspaper design.

I like the policy of fewer jumps – newsroom lingo for continuing a story to another page. Jumps now follow a pattern that makes more sense than in the old design, asserts managing editor Paul E. Steiger, whose tenure at the Los Angeles Times overlapped mine.

The Jan. 2, 2007 issue included a reader’s guide to the new paper – something I hope the paper will include in each issue for a week or so. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to put aside a copy of this reader’s guide for future reference. I’m doing that…just have to remember which of 10,000 drawers it’s in!

When USA Today appeared in 1982, I thought Gannett made the right decision. It was a smart move, emulating TV in all its vivid color in a national newspaper. Along with The Wall Street Journal, USA Today is one of the few major newspapers either holding onto its circulation or gaining. The Wall Street Journal has more than 2 million circulation, while USA Today leads the nation with more than 2.3 million, according to the World Almanac. Both papers must be doing something right at a time when prestigious papers are losing circulation, including but not limited to the Los Angeles Times and the flagship of its owner, the Chicago Tribune.

Design has certainly played a role in the success of what was once derided as “McPaper,” but giving the public outstanding sports coverage, a weather page that’s unexcelled and short takes on the news have played an even more important role, in my opinion. Don’t give the people what they want, “give them more,” stated legendary showman Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882-1936). It’s great advice.

Getting back to The Wall Street Journal: The paper is 6 inches narrower – 24 inches compared to 30 inches — when opened to full double-truck position than the last issue of 2006. The approximate 23-inch length is the same as the old design. If you’re reading the paper on public transportation, on a train or plane, you’re less likely to cause severe eye damage to your seatmates. It’s only a foot wide in the single page position, about an inch wider than a tabloid. I call this format a “broadsheet tabloid” because it combines features of traditional broadsheets with the ease of handling common to tabloids.

Where the previous paper had six columns on a typical page, the new one has five narrower ones on some pages, with six narrower ones on others. As an editor who has designed pages for both broadsheet newspapers and tabloid special sections, I believe the variation in the number of columns shouldn’t confuse most readers. If it does, they’ll get used to it! For more on the changes – which I believe improve an already outstanding newspaper, the paper I turn to for news and comment because I trust it –

click on:
http://www.dowjones.com/Pressroom/PressReleases/Other/US/2006/1204_US_TheWallStreetJournal_1565.htm.

As a long-time fan of The Wall Street Journal, I applaud the changes. Of course the narrower web will save Dow Jones & Co. money on newsprint, but the big step forward is user convenience. It’s a far more usable newspaper than the wide-web version. That’s what counts in a world where the print edition competes with online news sites. And yes, the period is still there in the nameplate, just as it was in the first issue of the paper in 1889. Some things should never change!

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