Dean Baquet on longform’s future, the Apple Watch, sending reporters into war

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet spent Thursday, April 16, 2015 speaking with the School of Journalism at the University of Montana and the Missoula community. Following are  statements from his appearances before classes, including “J494: Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” and videos from a lecture to the public on creating quality journalism in a digital world. Please note that responses to questions from classes are paraphrased except where quotation marks are specifically used.

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4 big ways the NYTimes is helping us teach ‘design and disruption’

Manhattan meets Montana: With great help from Times staff, we have a front row seat to study news media innovation, leadership, risk and hope

By Ron Reason

Several months of discussing innovation and change at The New York Times culminates this Thursday for our class, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” when Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet comes to campus as part of Dean Stone Week. He’ll spend an hour in our classroom, and others at the University of Montana School of Journalism, and later present a lecture to the public, “Quality Journalism in the Digital Age: Challenges and Opportunities.”

baquetBaquet’s visit comes in the wake of months of intense change at the Times, and a huge media spotlight on the evolving yet challenged brand, its people and their work – a lucky break for students getting an up-close-and personal look at issues shaping the industry, and their future, partly thanks to a variety of Times staffers helping us out. Here are ways we’ve been taking a deep dive into the Times, in preparation for Baquet’s time here this week:

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He wears pink socks: A Dean Baquet/ NYTimes reading list for UMJSchool

Baquet is seemingly everywhere, including the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Link here to learn why...

Baquet is seemingly everywhere, including the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Link here to learn why…

Hebdo, Abramson, innovation, diversity, mobile, Magazine, multimedia: Studying up on an esteemed visitor, his company

In advance of this Thursday’s visit to the University of Montana School of Journalism by Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of The New York Times, students in a variety of classes including J494: The Pollner Seminar, Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption have been studying up on the institution, its innovations, and the man, who will spend an hour with our class and give a public lecture later that night. Following is a curated list of articles and links, including many assigned to J494, for anyone wanting to learn more in advance of his visit to campus. (Related, from this blog: “4 big ways the NYTimes is helping us teach design and disruption.”)


Dean Baquet bio with links to his Times columns and articles (NYTimes) 
Baquet assumes editorship after departure of Jill Abramson
(NYTimes, David Carr)
On Abramson, race, surviving cancer, and ‘TMZ envy’ (Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove)
Meet Dean Baquet, the Times’ first black boss (New York magazine, Joe Coscarelli)
“One of the most famous quotes in political journalism came from his reporting”: 10 facts about Baquet
(Politico, Lucy McCalmont)
Baquet: Media failed after 9/11, hopes next Snowden comes to them (Huffington Post, Michael Calderone)
Dean Baquet calls critic of Times’ Hebdo decision an ‘asshole’ (Politico, Dylan Byers)
‘We were arrogant,’ Baquet says of Hebdo decision (Spiegel, Isabell Hülsen and Holger Stark)
Turbulence at the Times (Politico longform from 2013)
Baquet gives tour of private office, says he checks Facebook 15 times a day (Hollywood Reporter)

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U of Montana High School Journalism Day: Visual Journalism Resources


By Ron Reason
T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor, U of Montana School of Journalism, Spring 2015

Following are some quick links to explore, particularly for students attending my presentation “Creating Visual Journalism” at High School Journalism Day at the University of Montana School of Journalism, Thursday, April 9, 2015.


The campus newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, is being totally reinvented in Fall 2015 as a color newsweekly magazine! (Staff has been actively working on plans and designs behind the scenes since early this year.) They will also accelerate publishing daily on the web, including interactive storytelling, and are active on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Check them out to see the kinds of cool stories they publish across all media. UM may have as many opportunities if not more than any other school in the country for students to get published, in print, online and on the air, including some you can find nowhere else such as Native News and Montana Journalism Review magazine. Check those out here.

Wondering where Grizzly grads are getting jobs, and how they are adapting to this crazy disruptive world of journalism and change you have been hearing a lot about? Read the full post »

Launching today: A new Crain’s Detroit Business for a new Detroit

a compo

[This week’s launch issue cover, and a Special Report opener inside.]

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NYT Magazine redesign: for students, textbook “Design and Disruption”


Early word last week on the redesign/reinvention of The New York Times Magazine gave a good indication this wouldn’t be just a cosmetic exercise, a shuffling around of fonts with a few new editorial features. Instantly I suspected this would offer great lessons for the coming week for my class, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” at the University of Montana School of Journalism. (With NYT Editor Dean Baquet coming to speak to us April 16, and channels like The Upshot garnering great buzz for innovation and audience development, the Times is big on our radar this semester in Big Sky country.)

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NCAA Champion magazine redesigns, rethinks, and scores!

Highly appealing new type, color and navigation systems. But wait, there’s more! Smarter segmenting of stories, vastly improved conversational headlines, a tone of inspiring and mentoring readers, and stories that look forward rather than back. 

cover shot

One of the best things about taking a break from consulting to teach this semester at the University of Montana is that a number of recent clients are launching redesigns I can share immediately with my class, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption.” This week, we’re taking a deep dive into Champion, the quarterly glossy magazine of the NCAA, who brought me to their HQ in Indianapolis last year to help guide them through the strategy and mission of redesign and change management. Their fine work goes public just this month.

I occasionally do this sort of “limited” consulting where I’m tasked with bringing an internal group together, analyzing strengths and shortcomings of current approaches, and targeting specific values worth rethinking to push the magazine, organization, and/or brand forward. We look at editing strategies and voice, design tools, planning, internal communications, staff structure, and lots more “behind the scenes” stuff that can make or break a redesign. (The tough work of the actual redesign would later fall to the able hands of Creative Director Arnel Reynon, whose work I had admired for a few years.)

Champion had many strengths, including excellent design and photography on its covers and cover story  spreads inside, so it wasn’t something that needed to be blown up by any stretch. But when the project leader, Editor Amy Wimmer Schwarb, said they were pondering expanding the appeal of the magazine a bit beyond the NCAA membership, reaching out to more student athletes and fans of sports journalism in general, I agreed to help them think it through. I tasked them to consider how their story packaging, navigation and labeling, graphics, headlines, and even writing might be updated to appeal to both traditional and new readers alike.

What better way to teach “design and disruption” to my students than by showing and dissecting the physical evidence of change, happening right now in the industry?

Last Thursday, everyone in class got an older issue of Champion, pre-redesign, and I assigned them to analyze what worked and what might have fallen short in the old format. (And I ask the same of my class as I do of my clients: It’s not enough to respond with “I don’t know why, I just like it,” or “this doesn’t work for me” – articulate for me why the reader, the story, or the brand wins or suffers by what they see in the design or editing.) Then, this Tuesday, I gave them copies of the revamped Winter 2015 issue of Champion, hot off the press. Instantly, they said they were struck by the many improvements, as am I. Let’s walk through some of them.

1) Headlines with a stronger, more conversational voice.

It’s an almost universal criticism I offer up to publications I’m working with lately: your headlines are too often flat, they seem like a press release, they could be more compelling. Champion’s headlines weren’t terrible, or inaccurate, but sometimes they didn’t exactly inspire the reader to come on in. When I worked with the staff, we dove into the content and talked through specific ways to make the magazine seem less like it was talking at the reader and more like it was talking with them.

I love their solution: let’s not only write the headlines in a more compelling way, but display them as such. Shown here are two examples, at the bottom of each page reversed in blue:




Editors or publishers who bring me in for a design critique, or strategic tune-up, are surprised at how much of an emphasis I put on the writing of headlines. I tell them, reading weak headlines is like walking into a party and having the most dull person there greet you and start talking. I can’t wait to move on to something else. It’s one of the most important things we can work on in redesigning and rethinking a magazine.  Read the full post »

Advice for young (and seasoned) journalists? Ask some very recent grads


Grizzly grads tell us loud and clear: Get ready for digital-first publishing, heavy on social media, rocked by (and enjoying) constant change.

[February 10, 2015, Missoula, Mont.] What an eye-opener it was for the journalism class I’m teaching this semester, “Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” to see #AdviceForYoungJournalists top the Twitter trends over the last 24 hours. Research they’d produced just the week before, which we’ve edited into an eBook (downloadable PDF, via the link above and here) for release today, contains plenty of just that.

The initial assignment: contact a recent alum from the University of Montana School of Journalism, and report back on how each has navigated, or caused, the disruption rocking the news media today. Each report contains tips for, yes, survival, but also adaptation, perseverance, learning, growing, and thriving.

Their findings, and our class discussions continuing this week, have turned out to be the perfect kickoff for my course, which is the cornerstone of an endowed professorship here at the UM J-school (learn more).

In applying for the post, and considering topics I’d wanted to teach, I settled on the biggest issue reshaping the news media daily: disruption. Disruption covers, of course, the contractions that have rattled the mainstream media, but also the massive (and exciting) experimentation, platform expansion, product launching and risk taking we are seeing in all areas of news creation and delivery, from traditional publishers to entrepreneurs. I also wanted to cover design in a broad sense, going beyond graphic identity into the design of companies, cultures, workflow, editorial and revenue strategies, marketing plans, audience development.

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


[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:


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:


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 »