Sporting News Today

Designers have been fighting about this for years — does the print design reading experience translate to the web at all?

The Sporting News thinks so enough to hire a staff of visual journalists from newspapers (Virginian-Pilot, Charlotte Observer) to put out a new, daily PDF sports section called Sporting News Today, available on their website.

It’s an interesting hybrid. It’s a PDF file with clickable links, so if you’re interested in something in the promos on the front page, one touch takes you there. Wouldn’t you kill to be able to do that in your paper? And unlike soul-sucking CMYK on dull recycled paper, SN Today is vibrant RGB on pure white.

But the design is pure print, with a type and story structure straight out of Publication Design 101. And that’s where some of the problems come in:

  • Freed from some of the space and production limitations present in newspapers, I would have expected a more aggressive design. The talent is there to pull off something like Excelsior’s Adrenalina section, but instead, the vanilla palate reminds me more of Colorado Springs from the early 90s. This is a big missed opportunity. Look at the top of the line sports sections or magazines in the market today … this doesn’t compete on a visual level.

  • Navigational color is not a bad idea, but some of the color choices are not distinct enough from each other. Is moving from teal to dark gold to coffee enough of a difference to identify new sections?

  • The type just doesn’t work. The compressed sans that’s being used hard to read and in certain applications, like datelines, completely overpowers the serif type around it. The headline face has much more of a features look than news, ironic since there’s so much news in the section. And speaking of the type …

  • The body copy is nearly unreadable, a BIG problem for a publication that has the feel of a writer’s paper. At best, it’s blurry. If I had to hazard a guess, it’s probably a compromise in the settings they’re using to make it a quick-loading PDF. At this point, it’s a step back from HTML as a web publication and it didn’t improve when printed out.

Not in love with the on-screen version, I decided to take advantage of its portability and printed out sections to take with me on my commute. It fared about as well as ink on paper as it did on my monitor.

And it left me with a dilemma — if I was printing this out at home, I’d do it in black and white because there’s no way I’m wasting 30 pages worth of color inkjet cartridges on something I’m throwing away later. That seems to negate all of the color tchochkes and navigation.

All in all, I was disappointed. The content is good and there is a lot of potential, visually. I’m just not sure SN Today represents an improvement in the reading experience over the web or a printed newspaper.

Steve Cavendish is the graphics director at the Chicago Tribune and a contributor to SND’s Design magazine.