Prototyping a startup newspaper?
Here are 5 free tips to do it right

composite

[Sample pages from a 28-page prototype of the Rocky shared publicly today. To peruse the entire thing and offer your own opinions, click here.]

[Dec. 9, 2014] Just across the Twitter has come news that “Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz is exploring the possibility of reviving the Rocky Mountain News.” Hurrah, one might think! Someone believes in the power of print to draw readers and advertisers, and in making a dynamic local news market competitive once again. (A late update to the Business Journal story suggests the notion of a Rocky revival may actually be a ploy to negotiate a purchase of the competing Denver Post.)

In an unusual move, those behind the idea have shared a 28-page prototype online, to solicit comments from … well, who is not exactly clear. Online readers of the Denver Business Journal, where the story broke? Certainly in-person focus groups would also be conducted, with live people holding and using the actual product? Let us hope. If the design exists in PDF only, the idea will never advance.

I’ve produced newspaper and magazine prototypes for a couple of decades, including for the San Francisco Examinerwhich Anschutz bought a year after its reinvention as a tabloid, and later sold. (We’ve never met.) And I’ve critiqued others’ prototypes for years, privately, in seminar settings or often, after a client contacts me, not quite satisfied by what an in-house team has produced. But I’ve declined to comment much on my blog about others’ projects in the planning stage, and I do realize this prototype is what I call “wet clay,” and not a product of perfection. But since they’ve put the prototype online, and are seeking feedback, I figured, why not? ‘Tis the season for giving. I really do want all smart newspaper endeavors to succeed.

Here are five free tips for anyone considering creating a newspaper prototype – startup, relaunch or redesign – for private or public consumption:

1. ADVERTISING MATTERS – IN FACT, START THERE

First and foremost, one would imagine that a newspaper startup would live or die on its appeal to advertisers. Read the full post »

One-year redesign checkup: healthy covers for a healthcare magazine

Occasionally I like to check in on my redesign clients to see how design elements and strategies for change have been adopted. Modern Healthcare magazine, which I redesigned in November 2013, just passed its one-year anniversary. One of the chief directives from Publisher Fawn Lopez: “Ron, we have got to do something about these covers.” She demanded more clarity, distinction and impact, and I like to think she got it!

Covering healthcare topics visually can be a challenge, if you want to avoid cliches of stethoscopes and dollar bills, or mug shots of doctors; covering the administration, policies and politics of healthcare is even more difficult. While design and editing were made sharper throughout the book, I’ve been struck by how Art Director Pat Fanelli has brought her covers up to the next level. Here’s a look at some of her work I admired, and why it succeeds:

1EboloCovers2

Ebola: covers that stand out 

How do you cover the big story of the moment (year?) when everyone else is on it, too? These covers on Ebola succeed in presenting visual ideas that are likely not to have been seen elsewhere. On the left, what I call a “type attack” (a type-only design solution) tackles an incredibly hard cover concept (“mistakes were made”) and presents it with simplicity and drama. On the right, Read the full post »

Montana J-students: Get ready
for “Design and Disruption”

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 2.15.11 PM

University of Montana J-school students: Why consider taking my course, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption: The Spring 2015 Pollner Seminar?”

Here’s the pitch.

Your first or next job or internship in the news industry will be with an employer engaged in serious conversations about change.  (If they aren’t, you don’t want to be there.) Reinvention, redesign, innovation. Product expansion or contraction. Newsroom reorganization. Revenue generation or fundraising. Audience retention and expansion. Marketing, partnerships, alliances and events. This conversation may be organic and ongoing … or it may be urgent.

A solid journalism education empowers you to CREATE journalism, but not necessarily to RECREATE it. It’s a different skill set, more management and leadership than anything, and it’s a tricky conversation for newcomers. You have to know how to take something apart before you can put it back together and improve it. That’s where this course comes in. “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption” will empower you to step up on Day 1 of your next gig, volunteer for (or even lead) that task force or committee exploring change, help brainstorm meaningful ideas about growth or survival, and do so with clarity and confidence.

I can’t advise strongly enough: Whether you intend to be a reporter, editor, photographer, designer, or digital producer, it will be to your advantage to be prepared for this kind of thought, conversation, and work.

Students will get a real-world, global view of change, innovation, and tumult, critically dissecting case studies of news publication reinvention and expansion in which the instructor has actively participated, recently or currently. (For example: these.) We will also discuss examples of change elsewhere in the media landscape Read the full post »

Redesigning your magazine
or newspaper? Start here.

Magazine and newspaper redesign resources. Start here.

By Ron Reason

Welcome to Design With Reason, the blog of Ron Reason Consulting. I’m passionate about excellence in editorial design, branding and strategy, and have collaborated with clients worldwide for more than 25 years. (Bio. LinkedIn. Client list.) I’m based in Chicago and often work virtually but travel to clients as needed.

What’s kept me in business, even through turbulent times for editorial publishing? A creative yet grounded approach that puts great storytelling and functionality ahead of good looks and technology. My clients usually express this best:

“Ron showed a real understanding of the day-to-day editorial process and limitations – something I’ve found to be the biggest weakness of most other editorial designers. His designs are not only aesthetically pleasing, but actually help build a better publication that gives more (and more useful) information to the audience – in other words, he can actually help you improve your journalism, not just the look and navigability of your product.” [Jonah Bloom, editor during my work over several years with client Advertising Age in New York City. For additional references, link here.]

Here you will find more than 300 blog entries with tips, cases studies, and tons of advice for approaching an editorial redesign – with the help of a consultant or even by yourself – or just improving your daily design, graphics, writing or editing. Magazine redesign? Got that covered. Newspaper redesign? All over it. Business and trade publications? Kinda specializing in that. Tabloids? Here you go.

LET’S TALK! After poking around here a bit, if you are interested in learning more about how we can work together, here’s what happens next: Read the full post »

Format busters! 3 clients tell stories
in graphic, novel ways

Going bold with ‘comics journalism': The Reader, Creative Loafing, and U of Chicago research magazine Capital Ideas

[July 13, 2014] The work of three current and former clients reinforces the potential for visual journalism to tell complex stories in eye-grabbing ways – the Chicago Reader and Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, both of which I redesigned several years ago, and Capital Ideas magazine, which I work with currently and which covers economics research at the U of Chicago.

Two of them this weekend snagged top national honors for this work. More than just eye candy or award bait, these approaches work for these publications for very specific reasons, which I put forth below. They reinforce my career-long mantra that dynamic publications need to present news in ways that transcend “just text.”

* * *

Excerpted panels from "How to Survive a Shooting." Click to enlarge.

Excerpted panels from “How to Survive a Shooting.” Link here to view online.

Chicago Reader cover by Illustrated PressFirst, congrats to the Chicago Reader, which won a number of awards this weekend from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Among the awards for design or related work: The paper took first in the unusual category “Outside-the-Box: Innovation / Format Buster,” for “How to Survive a Shooting,” by Chicago reporter Darryl Holliday and illustrator Erik Rodriguez (aka The Illustrated Press).

Told in brief vignettes via graphic novel form, the report sheds light on the death of Marissa Stingley, 19, through the struggle of her mother Nortasha to accept the tragedy and keep living. Published in November 2013, the story is more timely than ever eight months later, as Chicago’s gang warfare epidemic grows, sadly, in the media spotlight.

Why the graphic approach works here: The Reader, and the Chicago media in general, write a lot about gang killings in the city (and have for years). By taking the graphic approach, and telling the story from the angle of the mother’s struggle to accept and survive, the paper offers an opportunity to “wake up” and engage readers who otherwise might gloss over yet another account of a South Side killing. Read the full post »

Through photography, conquering fear and inspiring your passions

One of my earlier images from what has become a five year (and counting) exploration of abstract imagery in the U.S. National Parks. [Photo (c) Ron Reason]

An early image from what has become a five year (and counting) exploration of abstract imagery in the U.S. National Parks. [Photo by Ron Reason]

Things I learned today: That Moby (one of my fave musicians/DJs/artists) had an uncle who was a photographer at The New York Times. And that he (Moby) first picked up a camera at age 10, set it aside in college set to pursue his music passions, and just picked up the habit again in earnest four years ago.

a mobyIn an essay this month at GOOD magazine online, Moby shares thoughts on his photography, exposing your work to others, and fears about the same – all of which mirror my own. I thought I’d take a detour today from topics of newspapers and magazines and redesigns, and pass along some of my own experiences developing my photographic interests in recent years. In the essay, Moby shares his uncle’s ethos, “document the things you see that others don’t.” However, with his renewed passion came anxiety: 

Even after four years of collecting a significant body of work, I had doubts about showing my images to anyone. With digital photography being so prolific, everyone I knew was a photographer. I felt like a dilettante.”

He goes on to share his belief, inspired by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, that

to truly live a creative life means that you will need to experiment in as many different fields as possible.”

This I strongly believe is something journalists or communicators of any stripe must adhere to. Most one-trick ponies, especially in this day and age, don’t have much to offer anyone in the long run.  However, with this experimentation, Moby continues:

there’s always that risk that … you will leave yourself open to being seen as a dilettante. But I decided that I’d rather try even though it runs the risk of failure.”

My own photographic adventures have followed a similar path. Six (-ish) years ago, thanks to the recession and a dip in consulting work, I was relieved of the burden, so to speak, of working 60 hours and sometimes 6 or 7 days a week. What to do? Read the full post »

Kansas symposium: Prepare
to “Do More with Design”

Publishers, editors, students, and other registered attendees of the 2014 Montgomery Family Symposium at the University of Kansas School of Journalism are invited to submit pages (print and online) for free critique and possible remake.

I’m this year’s invited speaker for the Symposium, titled “Do More With Design,” and the session looking at attendees’ work is always one of the most popular of such engagements.

Read the full post »

Hispanic business press pioneer: Three cheers for growth, diversification

Friday's gala brought out the "Who's Who" of Chicago Hispanic business community. (Photo courtesy Negocios Now.)

Friday’s gala brought out the “Who’s Who” of Chicago Hispanic business community. (Photo courtesy Negocios Now.)

It’s always terrific to see one of my clients moving forward, making new connections, and creating new revenue streams. Even better to hear gushing praise for these efforts directly from readers, advertisers, and partners. Such was the case Friday, June 20, 2014, when the publishers of the Hispanic business newspaper Negocios Now invited me to witness their  new venture, the black-tie gala “Who’s Who in Chicago Hispanic Business,” attended by an excited crowd of 300 movers and shakers at the city’s glittering Cultural Center.

Congratulations are in order for Clemente Nicado and Kelly Yelmene, the publishers, editors and pioneers behind Negocios Now. In just a few years, what they introduced as a small startup newspaper (entering the market in rough economic waters) has persevered to become a growing cross-platform brand, also branching into the national marketplace. Judging from comments of many on and off the podium Friday night, it has quickly become a respected news source and an important part of the Chicago business community.

Aside from hard work and dedication, what are the keys to their success and growth? Diversifying and making connections among a variety of platforms and affiliations: Read the full post »

Redesign matters: Brand awareness, revenue, and growth

Recently I’ve been in discussions with several publishers in stable markets who are considering redesign. They contacted me to inquire about how a relationship with a consultant might work, and I gave them a number of options. One interesting facet of their plans: targeting a launch date of 18 months or more away.

I asked, why wait so long? Unless you are installing new presses, or awaiting a big loan to clear from the bank, I say, dive in! Here’s why.

Read the full post »

Redesigning to sell, not extra copies,
but the publication itself

Shortly after adopting a spiffy new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

Shortly after adopting a smarter new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

“Is it worth committing to a redesign if we’re thinking about putting our newspaper or magazine up for sale?” I’ve fielded this inquiry a few times in recent months and thought it would make a good blog post.

Particularly if your publication hasn’t been refreshed in a long while, redesign is something to seriously consider. I’ve come to view the proposition as staging a house for sale – replacing out-of-date carpet, balky kitchen appliances, dirty bathroom grout. Just about everybody concerned will tell you it’s a good investment. Especially if there’s proof that readers and advertisers have reconnected with the publication, as was the case with the Chicago Reader, redesign pays off.   Read the full post »