An open letter on the value of Design

Like many of our colleagues, we read with concern this week’s announcement of Gannett’s plans for regional hubs to build pages for many of their newspapers. This plan is similar to others that have sought to template publications and centralize parts of the creative and production process, or, in some extreme cases, eliminate design and graphics departments.

We all are looking for ways to eliminate inefficiencies to ensure a future for newspapers. However, as leaders of the Society for News Design, we would like to challenge some assumptions at the core of this (and similar) plans, as well as offer some ideas to consider at this critical time — a time when there is a need for relevancy, re-invention and creative solutions.

Beyond layout: Design thinking

This is not merely an aesthetic consideration — but also one of product value and usefulness. If one considers the sole value of design to be making pieces fit on pages, an “assembly line” solution may seem attractive. However, architecting publications to meet reader needs is something more complicated, nuanced and essential.

We see design as identifying and understanding user needs and business requirements, conceptualizing solutions and crafting products that directly address those needs.

Good designers are really visual editors who have a mastery of information graphics, storytelling and story layering forms, illustration, photo editing, typography, use of color as a navigational tool, which are used to achieve these goals. If designers are used solely as decorators or mechanical paginators, their publications are not leveraging their full value.

This is an industry that has been change-resistant and fiercely protective of the status quo. We are at a critical moment. Now is the time to embrace innovators in all roles – not abandon them in favor of homogenization. We would caution our colleagues against promoting a creative “brain drain” in our industry at a time when innovation is so critical to our survival.

Effective designers make the complex easier to understand. We organize and prioritize information and make it accessible. We are early adopters of technology and therefore valuable teachers, developers and inventors. We have been at the forefront of newspapers’ major innovations in printing and new platform development. It is our responsibility to be relevant – and valuable – in our newsrooms, but we need to retain a place at the table.

We are vital in story design. The danger of excessive templating is that it eliminates the conversation about what is the most appropriate form for the story to take, in terms of serving the reader with as much information as possible in the clearest, most memorable way. This is what alternative storytelling achieves, and media companies that have embraced this approach have seen proven gains with readers in terms of how they are received. There is enormous potential here, but it requires intelligent design.

Therefore, creativity should be a driver – not a casualty – of the publication evolution. News designers are uniquely qualified to fulfill the promise of collaboration and innovation needed in this environment. Tim Brown, the CEO and president of IDEO, often talks about the relationship between business strategy and design: In order to do a better job of developing, communicating and pursuing a strategy, you need to learn to think like a designer.

The value of proximity and local-ness

Certainly, there is a place for templating and streamlining. In that context, for pure production, Gannett’s moves may make some sense. Yes, newspapers could centralize or semi-automate some routine functions to drive down those costs. If done correctly, this could free resources to concentrate on content creation and more challenging design issues. While some parts of the paper should be done more quickly, others need to be architected more carefully to maximize impact and understanding.

This is where we see a potential gap.

First, the capacity for front-end design thinking appears to be absent in this equation. At our best, reporters, photographers, graphics reporters, editors and designers collaborate to create effective, cohesive stories. We know from industry research that readers are drawn to stories with visual components and spend more time with them. If we separate the collaborative parties, the planning and reporting at the core of visual journalism will be hampered. Front-end collaboration and shaping becomes much more difficult with this remote communication paradigm.

Second, there’s a high danger of detachment from the needs of readers, who look to us to prioritize and curate information for them. Without a firm understanding of the communities we serve, it seems inevitable that these publications will be compromised. If our information is not seen as authoritative and unique, we lose our diminishing competitive advantage in the crowded information marketplace, where many things are free.

And, we fear for the survival of the “magic” – the surprises that delight readers. When it’s working correctly, design takes our best offerings and tunes them into a final outcome worth more than the sum of the parts. Imagine for a moment how different last week’s much-celebrated Cleveland Plain Dealer front page about LeBron James’ departure might have been were it produced hundreds or thousands of miles away, by a staff tasked with deadlining dozens of other publications — simultaneously.

Multi-platform publishing

While we agree that simplifying the assembly of the newspaper can be part of a smart strategy, if we want to work in many media, we need smart ways to direct content to many platforms. We look at it this way: The media is the message; the design is the messenger.

Newspapers at last have begun to learn: A print report posted online does not make for a very successful website. And yet, don’t newspapers’ multimedia strategies ultimately depend on scaling content from one set of reporters across platforms?

In a Web-first world, reporters need to be focused on efficient, economical information delivery. As their partners, they need print designers who can shape, augment, elevate and craft their material to create rich, vibrant newspapers. That’s a collaborative process, not simple assembly. It frees reporting resources to focus on time-sensitive, template-driven formats like the phone and the Web, while allowing their newspapers to deliver analysis and design in print.

Achieving the efficiencies of a single content center probably requires more, not fewer, designers. As we continue to compete for our readers’ attention with multiple channels, it is easy to make the case that our essential roles as information architects and shepherds of user experiences have never been more important.

And, while we are concerned about corporate decision making, we also know the onus is on designers to broaden their skill sets, to embrace digital and to prove their own worth as journalists. Coupled with the centralization trend have been drastic cuts in training. We urge Gannett and all media companies to restore training as a vital component of newsroom culture, so that forward-thinking organizations such as SND can help create a robust future of journalistic innovation.

Sincerely,

Kris Viesselman

President, Society for News Design
Managing Editor and Creative Director, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Stephen Komives

Executive Director, Society for News Design


UPDATE (July 16): Gannett responds:

Kate Marymont, vice president/news in the community publishing division of the Gannett Co. Inc. responded directly to me regarding the open letter I penned with Stephen Komives, SND’s executive director, following Gannett’s announcement of the formation of centralized design centers. Ms. Marymont is charged with guiding the plan.

She provided some insight on Gannett’s strategy and also extended an invitation to SND.

“I think that your goals and our goals are not so far apart” and “I hope that SND will work with us,” she wrote.

Ms. Marymont and I had a brief telephone call and agreed to propel the conversation. Next week, we will begin that dialogue.

Additionally, you’ll find a Q and A between Jonathon Berlin and Ms. Marymont on SND.org in the next few days.

We are encouraged that Gannett is seeking input from SND leadership – as advocates for quality visual journalism – as they shape their company’s future. Obviously, their actions will have a significant impact on our industry and newspaper readers.

We will provide updates on our progress. — Kris Viesselman

59 comments

Thank you for a timely, well-reasoned, and persuasive reminder of how central good design is to good journalism. The most valuable thing we offer our readers is the ability to tell stories about their world in smart, nuanced ways. Our success is built on successful collaboration with reporters, editors, and photographers, on knowing our communities, and understanding our readers.

“At our best, reporters, photographers, graphics reporters, editors and designers collaborate to create effective, cohesive stories.”

Glad we didn’t leave anyone out.

You lost me at “templating” and “architecting.” A worthwhile, if quixotic and quaint message, buried in incomprehensible writing. You probably should have asked a copy editor for help before clicking the “publish” button. But then, you’d first have to acknowledge that we exist.

To: A Copy Editor,
We used the general term “editor” to represent all forms of editors: assignment editors, line editors, copy editors, graphics editors, photo editors, etc.

Understandable, but to many of your (U.S.) members who are likely copy editors as well, the distinction is noteworthy.

Copy editors are not managers — they don’t direct reporters and coverage, and they don’t attend meetings. They read those stories, act as a readers advocate and write headlines in specs that designers create.

While I agree with your letter wholeheartedly, as a designer and former member of SND, I think there’s a nagging and embarrassing perception that the leaders of this group don’t understand this. You *can* have designers without copy editors (the same goes for the opposite), but the quality you’re demanding in your letter can’t have one without the other.

Thanks for responding, Kris. I know there wasn’t an intended slight in your letter, because we’re all in the sinking ship together.

Way to go, SND. Awesome, timely leadership. Thank you for articulating so well what many are thinking.

The interest in streamlining isn’t going to go away, but we’ve got to also find a way to make room for visual journalism.

Just cos it’s centralized don’t mean it’s bad. In fact it might be that a central talent pool would produce beter product than decentralised units.

“…template-driven formats like the phone and the Web, while allowing their newspapers to deliver analysis and design in print…”

Who said the web had to be a templated medium?

I agree with you 100 percent. I appreciate the time and effort you both took to craft this thoughtful letter. But … I think these are words directed to the choir. Visual journalists will know exactly what you’re talking about, for sure. Those who know very little, if anything, about newspaper design (i.e., the “suits” making decisions about regional hubs and whatnot) won’t have a clue of what it means to be “architecting publications,” etc. I think what’s key is to try and get across your (valid) points to people outside the visual circle.

Thanks for a thoughtful and compelling article. Though I no longer work in the industry I still follow it closely and read my local paper daily. My spouse works at the local paper considering this form of a centralized “desk”, so the issue hits close to home.

Due to recent announcements, I spent the better half of Tuesday writing a letter of my own trying to explain the discouragement I felt as a recently-graduated visual journalist to, well, anyone who might listen. After reading the 60+ responses (or, more accurately, complaints) on the Gannett blog’s post concerning the design hubs, any positivity and excitement I’ve had towards news design was difficult to keep. In my letter I mainly wanted to express that I feel a general lack of faith in my generation’s journalistic skill set and an overall negativity towards the future of my chosen profession–from the experienced visual journalists I look to for encouragement and inspiration. However, when my letter was completed, I felt that maybe my complaints were unfounded, as I have not spent decades in an industry that seems to be giving very little back (and that perhaps my positive thinking was naive). Unlike Dan Gilbert, I decided to keep my letter to myself.

Then I saw this open letter. I’ve been looking everywhere for some sort of explanation, for some statement reaffirming the reasons design is important. For some recognition that designers are not just decorators but also collaborative journalists with ideas. These are, of course, all things that I already know, and I have been fortunate enough to have professors and colleagues who strongly believe in the value of design and preach such principles. But I think I needed this letter. I needed to know that we weren’t just going to point out how terrible the future might be for designers. I needed to know that we could, and wanted to, suggest change. To figure out a solution. So, thank you for the looking up. Thank you for reminding me why I’ve chosen to join in.

This letter represents SND’s rightful role as activist. Not just a booster team, a networking group, a training ground. We are angry, pissed-off activists. And like activists, we bicker among ourselves. But hey, it’s good to see a string of comments on the board.

Amy — Quick solution to that problem. Don’t read Gannett Blog, which misdiagnoses every problem in the company and has outright hostility toward journalists under age 45. If Gannett Blog were trying to assess why the Washington Capitals lost in the NHL playoffs, he’d assume that the problem was that the Capitals were playing on ice.

The question I have about the design hubs is this: How many of the papers whose designs will be going through these hubs had specialist designers? At my first paper (55,000 circ., not Gannett), design was simply another function of the copy desk. If you were doing 1A, you were photo editor, wire editor, designer and perhaps slot. Gannett has a lot of papers this size or smaller, and I’d be surprised if they had people with the visual editing background described here.

That leads to a question of whether you’d rather outsource specialties such as design to someone distant or have people doing multiple jobs locally. I’d probably opt for the latter except in a few cases in which an outside expert might be useful.

I wonder what would happen if a handful of deep-pocketed benefactors would green-light online publications in a few of Gannett’s markets? By that, I mean have enough staff to create unique local content and advertising.

Gannett basks in the comfort of knowing that high barriers to entry (a printing press, tons of paper rolls, a circulation dept., etc) prevent competition for the print medium.

An online-only endeavor removes many of those barriers, but still would not be cheap.
Lord knows, there’s lots of unemployed ex-newspaper types out there.

And many would be salivating at the opportunity to challenge the company that kicked them to the curb.

I totally agree with you about the value of proximity.

But I totally disagree with your conclusions. In my experience, it is more important for a central team of designers and developers to be closer to reporters than local readers. Like Darwin’s experiences in the Galapagos, having developers in once place prevents islands of innovation. Having been both a developer and a business wonk, you get more creativity, not less.

If you don’t believe me, look at what technically astute companies like Microsoft and Google do when they acquire a company. If the technology is important, they will move the tech talent to Mountain View or Redmond to ensure the flow of the best ideas. If the technology is not important, they let the engineers stay where they are.

Jim Thomsen: You so succinctly remind us why everyone in the newsroom hates copy editors. And, just for the record, the July 15 stories in the Kitsap Sun are so riddled with cliche phrases and grammatical mistakes that the news is lost. Maybe you should do something about that?

European papers, especially frenchspeaking ones, have a long experience of “mechanical lay-out”. Maybe you will be glad to know that we are considering going the opposite way by giving back some design skills and tools to our newsrooms. We also think that automatic newspapers have a doomed future.

I sure would have loved to hear this attitude from SND when I got in the biz — way back in the early ’90s. The best work always seemed to come out of genuine collaborations in the newsroom, rather than from efforts mainly generated in one “silo” or another. The sniping above over copy editing gives an idea of just how hard it can be for us journalists to take each other seriously, though. We can’t even have a funeral without a fistfight.

It seems to me that Gannett’s actions are based on cost, not creativity. Unless you can design better AND cheaper, then all the intelligent thoughts of everyone in the process — including forgotten and maligned copy editors — will be ignored at corporate headquarters.

My suggestion: Build a new platform based on design thinking and local focus described in the post. Toss in a legacy distribution system such as newspaper and TV if you like. Spend your energy creating a future, not repairing the past.

I never thought I would say this, but Jim Thomsen smacked that one out of the park.

RBobs, you might say that’s a great reason for people to hate copy editors. But then, we also should hate designers, as they obsess about things even less important.

The designer groupthink will likely keep this from staying. So I’ll keep it short, with the same conclusion as in the ACES post. If designers are really this frustrated with newsrooms, why not leave? You will have weeks to create your masterpieces without editorial interference. The difference is you will have to get the worth as determined by the market.

Good luck with that! You designers be careful out among those English!

I was going to wait and do this tomorrow, but I guess I just can’t help myself…

There are many good points here. But overall, after I read this, I found myself feeling more frustrated than ever.

Design is going to have to learn how to operate within the machination on streamlined operations. And thing I find frustrating is that while so many designers find this notion completely reprehensible, other designers have embraced this mentality and found a way to thrive anyway. They had to.

It’s not admitting defeat. It’s not a lost battle; it’s just new fronts. It’s acknowledging where we’re at and realizing that the path we’re on is never going to be the path we wish we were on, no matter how loud or how often you scream and yell about it.

I’ve been waiting for weeks for SND to say something on this topic. But I’ve been waiting longer for the organization to figure out how to help those of us who are already in the situation Gannett is on the precipice of implementing. It’s a tough, tough transition; don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a sign of end times for designers, either. True, you make some tough sacrifices, but there are ways to retain control of some key aspects. It’s a shift in focus from hands-on instruction to gradual and continual improvement. Maybe I don’t have the option to make sure the bulk of the newspapers’ innards exactly live up to the expectations of yesterday, but I have much control over the pieces I offer up for our designers/paginators to use today, and so I set the course for tomorrow…

I really do appreciate SND speaking up on the importance of training. It’s crucial. Yes. More please, all around. And I sincerely hope that SND will continue leading that charge and providing opportunities for some really important and — the key here — USEFUL training.

Help the design managers who are left figure out how to prioritize and simplify — without sacrificing good design — because the designers they’re working with will often boil down to the lowest common denomator.

Help them figure out how to effectively communicate with off-site management.

Help them be better at critiques, better at multi-tasking, better at process and streamlining.

Arm them with simple tools to train their own designers/paginators, who might be sitting in a cubicle in another office entirely.

Realize that there’s still good design possible without ever touching a Mac, and that templates don’t squash creativity.

It’s not ideal. Of course it’s not. But it’s a reality, and a challenge. And it’s only a cloud of doom if you let it be…

That’s all for now.

There will be a lot more on this conversation, but I’d like to make one point here: we are all copy editors. We could have made that more clear in the original post and I’m sorry we didn’t. SND’s mission is to work with and for everyone engaged in the production of the news report, in any and all mediums, which encompasses every discipline of the newsroom. Copy editors, designers, graphic artists, editors, journalists, we are all of the above and more. It’s up to us to set a respectful tone. Let’s do that, let’s focus on diversifying our skills, on improving ourselves, on embracing change and looking for the opportunities this change will create, on crafting a vital future for all journalists.

Funny how you call for a respectful tone when your group is under fire and when your poorly written letter is getting some deserved criticism. If someone had presented something to me with this many self-created words, including a subhed referring to “local-ness,” then I would have marked it up and kept a copy for the archives. It would have shown up on an editing test.

You are not all copy editors. I once critiqued your paper, and it was packed with mistakes that real journalists do not make. Good copy editors don’t continually allow glaring errors of that sort to reach print while they obsess about the SND design manual. Also, someone at your paper admitted to using Photoshop to create at least two group photos of people. No serious action seems to have been taken.

Your group has capitalized on the “divide and conquer” strategy for far too long. Now that you are the ones getting pushed out, you want to change the rules.

Spare us the “we’re all in this together” stuff. Newsrooms have been working with limited resources for some time, and as long as the hairline rule crowd was allowed to yelp about its tiny taboos while other departments were cut, you were OK with that. Now you see your precious page design tasks getting shipped out, so you cry.

If you want to “craft a vital future for all journalists,” then you should start with yourself. The last thing we need is poorly written, hypocritical letters signed by people whose newspapers are in the process of cutting veteran writers and replacing them with “junior staffers.”

Good design does add value. But highest quality, regardless of cost, is not necessarily what we need right now. The shift underway in the journalism profession may be akin to the move from hand-tailored clothes to mass-produced garments: something was lost, yes, but suddenly we had a lot more clothing for everyone.

See, e.g. Clay Shirky on this train of thought: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/04/the-collapse-of-complex-business-models/

– Jonathan

Content + Design = Information. How you present it and how it’s consumed it is the goal. Remember we serve the public not ourselves.

Collaboration is the key to successful presentation now matter what the delivery method, but clustering design and reporting is very dangerous due to the loss of the institutional knowledge of the local staffers not being able to represent the communities affected by this idea of hubs.

Media News Group tried consolidating content with their sister papers – all except the Denver Post – and it failed miserably, and yes they eliminated the design and graphics departments too. Even the copy editors at the L.A. Times don’t know the city’s own regional geography and landmarks.

Once top newspaper brass and uncreative managing editors are educated that design and graphic visuals are not a service but actually an asset, then maybe things will change for the better. But if the bean counters and corporate gluttons continue this constricting trend, the results will not be pleasant.

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Well said.
Just be careful when you meet with Gannett, Tribune or any of the major newspaper companies. I’d hate to see Steven walk off the plane in the dead of night telling the design world “we have peace in our time.”

“Content + Design = Information. How you present it and how it’s consumed it is the goal. Remember we serve the public not ourselves.”

Here, here.

If I may correct a couple of your MNG points, at least in regards to properties I’m familiar with:

1. They didn’t TRY to consolidate; they DID consolidate.
2. The graphics/design departments were not eliminated; they were absorbed into the copy desk operations.
3. They retained Visuals Editor-equivalent positions.

Did quality in certain aspects fall? Yes, but you can always work to improve on that.

Meanwhile, keeping the needs of readers in mind, you have an opportunity to rethink the production process and reset priorities… reassign tasks based on individual talent… and even cultivate new skills from current talent.

I don’t see how giving people new skills is a bad thing. And once they have it, you can develop it. It’s hard work, but it can be done.

“2. The graphics/design departments were not eliminated; they were absorbed into the copy desk operations. …

Did quality in certain aspects fall? Yes, but you can always work to improve on that. …

I don’t see how giving people new skills is a bad thing. And once they have it, you can develop it. It’s hard work, but it can be done.”

Those are some thoughts. Not good ones, but they are thoughts.

Regarding “you can always work to improve that” — that’s assuming there will be a desire to improve. I rarely saw page designers working to be any better at handling content. I guess in that aspect, you might be correct, as someone would always have to work to try to get the person to improve.

On the flip side, I didn’t see much development of the oh-so-critical design skills, either. At one paper, someone was shipped to the metro desk because his design was shunned by the powers. It wasn’t me, but I wish it would have been, as he then was allowed to focus on editing, which was his primary skill. Newsrooms can’t even punish people without actually rewarding them in the silly environment they have created.

You can insist all you want that you can just keep dumping tasks onto a copy desk and that nothing will change. But you will never be right, at least not until efficiencies are built into the system. And those don’t develop by having more work heaped onto people. Why on God’s green earth would anyone ever do more efficient work if the reward is only more work?

That’s yet another reason this plan is good. Not only will it throw potentially hundreds of page designers out of work, but it also will force some separation of tasks that should not have been consolidated to begin with.

Get over it. As much as I agree with the core value of this dialogue. The fact of the matter is that people need jobs in this dying industry and if this will provide them with a paycheck, so be it.

I am glad that SND.org wrote this letter and had concerns for Gannett employees and the future of newspaper design.

However, since I have entered this industry in 2008. There has been a continuous battle for resources, training, and most importantly TIME. The design you (SND) and other people from larger newspapers dream of is only happening at places where management understands that collaboration takes the TIME to make it a part of your daily process. At every place I have worked, I have tried to cross train and use my skills in other areas, but to no luck. Even though I have learned web tools and others on my own.

I know that larger papers are facing problems too, but I wish that designers from top places would stop looking down at people who are not able to have that backing. In the trenches, we are still fighting for the small things that the larger papers have already accepted about the design process. And that you may be taking for granted.

My experience at Gannett has shown me that time/collaboration is not their (the company’s) pursuit. Designers, reporters want it. But editors are slow to it because of corporate demands. Every day is a race against the clock to finish with fewer designers, copy editors, photos, and stories.

Plus, what if these creative, ambitious designers at Gannett wanted to be a part of those papers focused on design? They would not be able to because the largest newspapers are barely hiring! To be frank, I am tired of this industry and its continued resistance to finding a solution to the real problem. All of these cuts and streamlining processes are temporary. Besides, I think that this one project is only the beginning. Why do you need 5 hub centers when 1 may do just fine…

Now my two-cents’ worth…
Kris and Stephen, thanks for trying to get some answers from Gannett.
Like many of you in this thread, I also believe design is a key part of the operation to help attract our readers into our content. But we have to be honest with ourselves – our desks along with many others in our newsrooms have felt the recession crunch.
The new visual journalism world includes designers that can work in multiple print and online software or at least provide content. Gone are the days of having an entire shift devoted just to design a cover. Design managers are asked to do more hands-on work with the products while coaching and doing paperwork. Designers are asked to work quickly and be creative on the fly.
Our parent companies’ goal is primarily to make money. That is the truth. Some of us that are still in this business need to suck it up and deal with it. Will it get better? I hope. Will it get worse? Maybe.
All I know is that I’ll stick with my profession for better or worse. I will continue to work countless (unpaid) hours to perfect my craft, rely on my experience to help be battle through and learn everything I can to remain relevant.

Oddly enough, in my past capacities as copy editor/designer/lead designer/assistant presentation editor/acting presentation editor at newspapers throughout the country, I’ve never experienced the sniping that I see here. Of course, most copy editors I’ve worked with also have some pagination duties. I’ve seen how problematic presentation people with no journalism background can be, and I’ve witnessed the complete lack of people skills in those who only edit copy.

Here are a few things to consider:
First, while it might be typical of a copy editor to believe that pointing out grammatical errors (like I’m sure my posting possesses) made by people posting here gives you an air of superiority, it more likely reflects why you do not get along well with others. The irony is that while some of you want to point out that this or that person’s newspaper is full of errors, NONE of you has ever put out a perfect edition.

Second, open letters rife with the sort of flowery language that we discourage in our writers advances nothing. There are likely some good points there, but I’m not about to excavate Roget’s rubble for it.

Third, where some of this is concerned, I’ve found it best to join the machine. If the paper wants to move toward a more highly formatted way of doing this or that, I try to become part of that solution, rather than stand by and snipe. Many of you seem to want to just argue about what is coming, rather than carve out a place in it. I used to be the same way when I was younger and dumber. How many people are still raving about how illogical it is to put your product online for free and still maintain advertising revenue? Pretty happy people, aren’t they? And what did it get them? Many got fired. Many stormed out, thinking it would be different at the next paper. Continue to bristle against what you know you will have to accept. You can be the next buggy-whip salesmen of this industry.

Adaptability is the key to survival and success. Move forward and don’t look back.

“It frees reporting resources to focus on time-sensitive, template-driven formats like the phone and the Web…”

As an online news designer since 1994, I would just like to point out that well designed, useful Web/mobile reports are are not template-driven either!

Creativity, service and quality is what the public wants.
It doesn’t matter what industry we are talking about. Look at the auto industry as a model of this statement.
The bottom line is this; Is the move toward CCI a quality driven choice? No. In the long run it will allow fewer people to do more work faster. Not better, just faster.
A few shareholders will be rewarded for this profit driven decision.
Creativity, service, quality will suffer and the readers will reflect their dismay.

And we will suffer a continued brain drain in an industry that doesn’t know how to use the quality individuals it has now.

OK, T-Bone… except that you’re probably going to have to be a lot more creative about how to achieve that quality and offer that service. Quality is attainable under any format, and if you think there’s no creativity involved in that, then you’ve conceded before the battle’s even begun.

It really all depends on what you’re thinking of when you define “better” — “worse.” Less white space, but more information more concisely/compactly/neatly delivered to readers who will, in turn, get more out of what they’re looking at? I’d call that a win.

It’s a different way of thinking in a different world, and there’s a lot of brains and creativity still involved in getting information across to readers. To think otherwise is folly, and really dismisses the crux of our industry as a whole: to inform the reader.

It’s a philosophy shift from “How do we GET readers?” to “How do we maintain our value to readers?” We need to start thinking less about catching new eyes and more about what we’re offering up to the brains we’ve already got. The second we take any readers for granted by thinking their attention spans are so low they need design gimmicks to maintain interest… we’ve lost them.

Now is the time for designers to take stock, rethink their priorities (so they better align with readers), and reinvent themselves accordingly. Design isn’t going away, it’s just changing — and change it must.

Thanks, Kris & Stephen, for a well-reasoned and thoughtful examination of Gannett’s move and its possible ramifications. You gave me a lot to think about…

“The second we take any readers for granted by thinking their attention spans are so low they need design gimmicks to maintain interest… we’ve lost them.”

That eliminates most of the designers. They know only gimmicks. They design for the sake of the design.

The reader is a distant second for most designers, who sit at their desks and scan the SND manual (the modern museum of journalistic decay).

Having experienced and survived one corporate consolidation in this company, I don’t trust anything corporate talking heads say. They talk one way (I think after your Q&A they changed the names of these places to Design Studios), but their actions never back that up. This is just another effort to meet the bottom line and give shareholders a dividend. While I appreciate the concern (and follow-up interview) of SND, sadly, I doubt the nation’s largest newspaper publishing company truly does.
Every move is about money.
And the biggest hit from this round of consolidation will be to the experienced designers. In my instance, we lost nearly a century of experience as older designers/copy editors could not (or would not) move with the job. How did this help the company? You trade a salary of $45,000 for one of $30,000 or less. You trade covering a family’s medical expenses to covering those of just one person. Do that enough and it adds up to millions. That’s what this is all about. And I guarantee that most of these hubs’ front-line positions will be filled with fresh talent (most of them right out of college) who don’t have a clue what this business is about.
Whether they call them hubs or Design Studios the results will be the same and most local newsrooms in this company will be void of visual thinking journalists. Some try to fill the void, but it’ll never be the same. Creative visual collaboration won’t work from a thousand miles away.

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