Should news and views be separated?

Some ideas look so great on the drawing board.

For instance, doesn’t it seem like pure genius to pick one of the most popular journalistic buzzwords of our time – ”viewspaper” – and use it to name an entire section? As the paper’s own newly appointed editor was the original inventor of the term, you can imagine the temptation has been irresistible.

Dividing a publication into ”news” and ”views” to send a clear signal to the reader is definitely an appealing idea. Unfortunately, the reality of the scheme has proven difficult for The Independent and editor-in-chief Simon Kelner.

It is far from the first time ”Indy” makes a stunt of the kind that appears totally surprising and at the same time seems so obvious you find it hard to understand why nobody did it before. Think of the introduction of the ”compact” format in 2003 when readers were offered to choose in which size they wanted their paper.

Immediately copied by The Times, this move sent shivers through the entire British newspaper market, and for a while, it stopped the circulation decline which has haunted The Independent for most of the 25 years this upmarket London paper has existed.

The latest relaunch – Indy’s third since 2005 – looks like one more emergency operation but will turn out, I am afraid, less successful. A rigid distinction between ”news” and ”views” hardly applies to the media situation of 2010 – the two types of journalism are clearly melting into each other, with the audience showing no disapproval – and it does not reflect the actual contents of The Independent which I guess the editorial department has had neither the ability nor the intention to revolutionize within the thirty days or so that must have been the time frame for this project.

For years, one of Indy’s main qualities has been its boldness, daring to take a stand and express an opinion from Page 1 and on, and as for that, little seems to have changed.

The first section still contains plenty of ”views” – analysis, comments, columns, as well as the Lifestyle pages with restaurant reviews, etc. Whereas part 2, the ”Viewspaper,” changes after the initial op-ed pages, turning into a more traditional feature section – with a design that could be inspired by The Guardian’s G2 – and finishes off with TV and radio lists. In other words, the way this newspaper is divided into two parts seems far from natural.

The quality of both words and visuals continues to be on a high level and the basic layout is a pleasant combination of classical British elegance and creative communicative ideas, but new graphical elements have been added with little sense of the visual totality.

The decorative ”hand-written” vignettes, which I suppose are there to provide the ”Viewspaper” with kind of a personal look, appear both contrived and rather amateurishly executed. The design of entry points such as pullout quotes, refers, etc, of which both sections have a rich variety, is obviously not fully thought through, and the ”World Briefing” pages appear unintentionally comical, half the spread being devoted to a simple locator map.

Luckily enough, as we all know, a daily paper is a living organism and many of these weaknesses can be improved along the way. The bad news: This does not apply to the very hub of this relaunch … the ”Viewspaper” idea which looks like a darling someone ought to have killed, or rather, an embryo which should never have made it all the way to the delivery room.

OLE MUNK is a graphic designer, design and communication consultant, and illustrator, based in Espergaerde, Denmark. He holds an architectural degree from the Institute of Visual Communication at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. He has been managing director of Ribergaard & Munk Communication Design (www.ribmunk.dk) since July 1995. He was president of the Society for News Design/Scandinavia 1997-99.