Years ago, the editor of a newspaper I was redesigning asked: “What is the single most important thing my staff can do to make our redesign a success?”
Without hesitation, I replied: “Change the way you think.”
His reaction: “Yeah. Right.”
Well, yes…it was right. Then…and now.
If you want to redesign your paper, you must redesign yourself.
If you want to see the single greatest challenge to a successful redesign—look in the mirror.
If you want to see the single clearest channel to a successful redesign—look in the mirror.
In the 1900s, Diarist Anais Nin wrote: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
To create a successful redesign, you must begin to see things as they can be—by first beginning to see things as they are. You begin to understand things as they are by beginning to understand you as you are. And you begin to publish a newspaper for your readers when you begin to understand your readers and their interests, wants and needs.
Editors and their newsrooms must begin to see that some of the habits they’ve developed over years won’t work if they really want a new newspaper—one that works for their readers.
Some of the changes you’ll have to make:
1. Stop writing long stories. Learn to edit. Learn to segment. Learn to focus only on those facts that are important. I spent years at a newspaper where a story would go to the city desk at 18 inches—and come out at 24 inches. Material had been “edited in” to “provide proper context.” Right.
2. Stop confusing what you think the reader “needs to know” with what you want your readers to have to read. Know your readers and understand that there may be behind-the-scenes politicking involved in a school levy effort that you may find fascinating but that they, frankly, just do not care about.
3. Stop thinking stories. Think packages. Think photos. Think briefs. Think graphics. Think infoboxes. Think color. Think of ways to give readers the information they need in the format that is easiest for them to understand.
4. Stop thinking of reporters as writers. They are also data-gatherers. If the information they gather is better presented as a graphic or a photo, let them gather the graphic information or set up the photo.
5. Stop thinking of photographers, graphic artists or designers as people who can’t write. Some of the brightest writers I’ve had the pleasure to work with are folks who spend most of their time with Nikon, Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark or InDesign. One of the best planners was a staff artist who made an art form of homing in on the heart of a story—every time.
6. Stop reacting—start planning. Stay ahead of what’s going on. Don’t wait until your city’s long-planned new YMCA opens—begin work now on the graphics and the photos and the interviews and the stories for that special section.
7. Stop thinking of advertising as the enemy. If you want that special section—and you want it set up so you’ve got the space you need in the configurations that work best for readers—get your ad director involved in the planning. Talk about modular spaces. Discuss specific ad sizes. Talk ad and copy deadlines for specific pages within the section.
8. Stop operating in a vacuum. Include other newsroom departments (yes, even other departments throughout the entire company) in your thinking and your planning. Want to do a package on taxes? How about getting help from the folks in your accounting department? Looking for some indicators on how the local economy is going? Don’t you think some of your ad sales folks could give you some help on that?
9. Stop cheating. Set realistic deadlines for photographers, reporters and graphic artists—and demand that they meet them. Your page designer can’t do the proper job unless she has the finished material in hand.
10. Stop. Just stop. Be still for a few moments. Take a look at what you’ve done. Evaluate your work. We newspaper folk tend to become much like the news we cover: what was important yesterday isn’t even a memory today. We’re so caught up in the present that we fail to learn from the past. Examine what you did yesterday, last week. How could you have done it better? Who did you leave out? What did you forget? Who’s taking notes? You will take notes, won’t you?
Earlier, I threw out a quote that you have to “Change the way you think.”
Here’s another quote that applies: “If you keep doin’ what you’ve always done, you’ll keep gettin’ what you always got.”