February 11, 2005

Shrinking Papers

We’ve all heard about how newspapers are shrinking. Not only are the sheets physically getting smaller, but there’s more room devoted to ads, leaving less room for stories. Well, both of the major papers in Northern Nevada, the Reno Gazette Journal and Carson’s Nevada Appeal, just unveiled new designs this month. And, sure enough, there’s less room for stories. But, surprisingly, the worst place is on the front page! Let’s take a look.

The Reno Gazette-Journal is Northern Nevada’s largest paper, in terms of circulation and number of pages. Under its new redesign, stories got pushed aside on the front page to make room for other things. But, surprisingly, the biggest culprit wasn’t ads, it was the masthead that grew the most! Let’s see (click to enlarge):



The RGJ’s masthead, which has always included promo material, used to take up 15% of the page, with the first headline starting about 3.5 inches down. But now they’ve added so much whitespace that the masthead takes up 19%, and the headlines have been pushed down another inch. They tried to make up for it at the bottom of the page by dumping things like the weather and air quality reports, and just printing a thin index. But if you’re just looking above the fold, you’re getting less room for stories. And if they put a huge picture like this every day, that’s even less room.

But the RGJ is tame compared to what the Nevada Appeal has done to their front page. Take a look:



Here we have the masthead problem again. Not only did they add white space, but they moved promotional material into a space where there was none before. All of this makes the masthead jump from 12% to 20%, nearly doubling in size and pushing the headline down almost two full inches. And if that’s not enough, they added a sidebar on the left for more promotional space. A sidebar! That takes up over two more inches of the space on the page. Again, they tried to compensate at the bottom, but that can’t hide the fact that only 54% of their front page is reserved for stories. Half the page is promo stuff and ads. That’s compared to 73% in the old design and 67% for the new Gazette-Journal.

Newspapers are indeed shrinking. Of course this is easy to blame on websites, but this has been happening to papers for a good long time now. Go count the number of words on the front page of any paper from the year 1900, and compare it to now. Maybe it’s our short attention spans or something.

And at least the Appeal seems to have stopped their nasty habit of running full-page photos above the fold. I mean, for some things it’s understandable. But they would have a picture of the snowstorm, or of a kid with a dog, and it would take up most or all of the available space above the fold, with nothing but a headline to read. And then beneath it they’d have maybe two stories. And if you were lucky one of them would be related to the photo.

So I guess we’re making progress?

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

Comments (4)

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  1. Mama Schrantz says:

    It kind of looks like a web page with all the different frames.

    Posted February 11, 2005 @ 7:01 pm
  2. Kalrac says:

    Just wait until Sunday when they start springloading the ads so they’ll pop-up at you when you try to read the paper.

    Posted February 11, 2005 @ 7:11 pm
  3. A reader says:

    I was hoping that the Appeal would downsize the photos on its food page with the new design. It gives me indigestion to see “larger than life” food photos.

    Posted February 14, 2005 @ 12:23 pm
  4. Barry Smith says:

    Thanks for taking an interest in the Appeal’s new look. I was interested in your analysis of the “shrinking newspaper” and thought I might be able to provide some insight into why we do things the way we do.
    First, I couldn’t resist a challenge, so I did go check a newspaper from 1900. Actually, it was a Carson City Daily Appeal from 1908 because it was easiest to reach. I didn’t count all the words, but I did count one column and extrapolate. I came up with about 3,000. (By the way, there was an 8-inch ad on the front page, slightly larger than what appears on the Appeal now.)
    The word count on the front page you posted above is 2,799 words, so indeed there are fewer words on the front page. Of course, the front page isn’t everything. The Appeal in those days was four pages total — and one of those was nothing but ads. The edition referenced above was 30 pages. The Appeal generally ranges from 20 to 48 pages.
    The most dramatic comparison would be to newspapers in their heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, when they were huge compared to today’s editions. The reason? Advertising. Before the boom in chain stories, all ads went into the newspaper and there was considerably more space for news. Over the last couple of decades, much of that advertising has shifted to preprinted flyers inserted into the newspaper. We don’t do much more than deliver them.
    The Appeal’s front page does indeed resemble a Web page, with lots of promos to point people deeper into the paper. We need to attract younger readers, who have developed different habits. The design is intended to provide quicker reads — not less information, but information presented in more accessible ways.
    Finally, newspapers have in many respects developed into guides for people to find more information for themselves on the Web. There will always be limits to how many words we can provide on a printed page, but we now have the opportunity to provide much more on the Internet.

    Posted March 2, 2005 @ 9:49 am

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