NYTimes 2020 report: What it means for visual journalism, there and elsewhere

By Ron Reason

The New York Times today released its 2020 report, identifying various targets for newsroom innovation and improvement, and there’s lots of good news for visual and multimedia journalists, at the Times and elsewhere. I’ve been following the Times closely since examining its evolution, and spending time with Executive Editor Dean Baquet, in my 2015 master class at the University of Montana, on visual and digital innovation and disruption in the news media. (Here are four big ways we examined the Times, with the help of its staff; here’s our course syllabus.)

Many of the 2020 imperatives stem logically from Times products, innovations and other advancements we studied closely that year. Poynter reports today on some of the broader issues of the new report, but I thought I’d outline some of the key items of interest to visual and digital journalists:

“The report needs to become more visual.”
Notably, this is the first recommendation of the report. “Too much of our daily report remains dominated by long strings of text.” (As a longtime Times subscriber who recently took a hiatus from the print edition, partly due to this concern, I say, “hallelujah.” I’m wowed, but daunted, but multipage investigative reports, and in particular would like a much better job of summarizing key findings for time-starved readers.) Reporters and editors are eager to help make progress in this area. Related, the report urges later on: Read the full post »

Redesigning your magazine, newspaper, website or other publication? 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 worldwide for more than 25 years with news publishers, as well as corporate, academic and nonprofit news providers. (Bio. LinkedIn. Client list.) After taking a detour for a semester in 2015 for a Distinguished Professorship in Journalism at the University of Montana, I’m now based in Portland, Ore., and work virtually or travel to clients as needed.

In addition to traditional redesign services, I also offer remote creative direction, as well as ongoing design and production, for smaller publications that may not have access to a creative supervisor or full-time designer. (Read more on these services.)

What’s kept me in business, even through challenging times for some areas of editorial publishing? A creative yet grounded approach that puts great storytelling – as well as user experience and yes, revenue implications – above mere good looks. My clients usually express this best:
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Need a short-term creative director or design editor? Here’s how that works

[Looking for traditional redesign help? Start here.]

Expanding on recent client interest, in addition to traditional redesign consulting I’m now offering two new services: guest creative direction, and remote design editing and production. These may be of particular benefit to smaller publications, who may need these services but have limited need or budget for full-time staff to take them on.



[Questions I asked in reviewing each edition of Athletic Business, before publication: Was the cover as impactful as possible? Did infographics hit the mark? Were photos displayed for impact as well as clarity? Did headlines sing? We also discussed ad flow and the impact of marketing messages.]

Following my 2015 redesign of Athletic Business, CEO Gretchen Brown was interested in some ongoing creative oversight for the magazine’s new look and spirit. She was interested in using me as a mentor for her new art director, as well as staff I had collaborated with during the redesign phase. In effect, she wanted a sort of “guest creative director” to work with the staff for a year, reviewing their work in advance of  publication and making it the best it could be.

We came up with the idea of providing monthly “pre-mortems,” whereby I would take a look at page designs, photo layouts, headlines and infographics submitted to me by the staff just before deadline, so that I may coach them to produce their most creative work as well as help ensure adherence to the new styles.   Read the full post »

7 Things to Love About The Stranger: An Illustrated Guide.

Covers from The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper

[Update: Since this blog post was first published in 2010, some design elements of The Stranger may have changed, but the spirited visual mission has not. Find lots of fun new links celebrating the paper’s 25th anniversary at the bottom of this post. To be clear, this was not one of my redesign projects; rather, it’s among publications I have admired for a while, and have discussed with my students and clients. Happy birthday, Stranger! – RR]

My client newspapers do not always find it helpful for me to just show up and offer my No. 1 piece of consultatory advice: “Stop being so boring,” bop them over the head (Dogbert-style) with a rolled-up newspaper, and leave. They say: Ron, we want specifics. We want role models to aspire to.

I share crazy ideas from other clients, like when I got the San Francisco Examiner (which was on death’s door at the time, surprisingly, still in business) to turn its back page Sports section upside down. You know, flip the paper over, so you can read the pages logically, sequentially, instead of backward, like other daily tabs, and so it can be displayed near stadiums or sports bars with the appearance of a free-standing magazine. (Sneer if you like, but people talked about it, and a year later the paper was sold for a fortune, to that Denver billionaire! Somewhere, a Chinese publishing dynasty is rolling around laughing in big piles of cash! The idea was also adopted, and adapted, by clients in New York City, Nairobi and Dubai.) Work I have done for the mafia seems to be especially popular, as well.

I also share ideas picked up in my travels. In today’s column, I present a curated potpourri of cool things observed in the print edition of The Stranger, Seattle’s venerable alt-weekly, in hopes that other papers who read this might become less boring, draw new readers and advertisers, and better serve their communities. Editor Christopher Frizzelle and his staff obviously know how to do it, care about the details, and look like they’re having great fun. (“It’s true that it’s a marvelous place to work – best job on the West Coast, I always say,” he emailed to say.)

Culled from three issues picked up while speaking at an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Toronto, please enjoy these 7 Random Things I Love About The Stranger. Click to enlarge any image for more detail. MSDs (mainstream dailies) in particular, please note: This column is NSFBN* Read the full post »

Smaller papers need love, too: Brunswick (Ga.) News slims down, shapes up

In a competitive marketplace for news, one or more of the players are constantly on the move, working hard to increase appeal to advertisers and readers, and maintain or even increase market share. Smaller market newspapers are no exception. Read the full post »

Newspaper redesign tips: Converting broadsheets to narrow web widths

Converting broadsheet newspapers to narrower web widths isn’t simply a matter of putting your existing design mix into a smaller shape. I’ve worked with newspaper clients since 1996 to design for narrower web widths, from The Dallas Morning News and Orlando Sentinel, to most recently, the Brunswick (Ga.) News. In every case, we’ve realized that the old mix of headline fonts, page headers, and other ingredients just doesn’t translate to the new proportions. Here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Akron Beacon Journal newspaper redesign.

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Client update: NCAA Magazine honored for excellence


In its Summer 2016 annual awards competition, the Trade Association Business Publications International gave my former client Champion magazine its Gold Award for Best Single Issue for its Fall 2015 issue. The magazine also was awarded five other Tabbie Awards for editorial, design and photography. Learn more about the awards here: http://www.tabpi.org/awards.htm To learn more about the redesign process at Champion, visit this earlier blog post, Champion magazine redesigns, rethinks and scores! To view numerous other resources for magazine design and redesign, visit this link.

U of Montana Journalism course syllabus, “J494: Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption”

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

WELCOME TO THE LANDING PAGE for “J494: Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” The Spring 2015 Pollner Seminar I taught at the University of Montana School of Journalism. In a nut shell, this course covers innovation, experimentation, transformation and upheaval rocking the news media today, across all platforms.

Here I have posted summaries of the focus of each week of class, with links to relevant blog entries, assignments, required reading, outcomes and more. (RelatedHow I developed this course, and its intentions. Basically, it’s a leadership and management course, disguised as a design course, which I proposed to prepare grads to navigate and lead in the disruptive workforce they are entering. Here’s some background on the generous Pollner family endowment that funds two journalism professorships at UM each year.)

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to assignments and readings I required or suggested, the syllabus below has been amended to include numerous articles suggested by students. Look for entries in bold and blue, below, with credit to the student who posted the item to our private class Facebook page.


Week One, Jan. 27-29, 2015: What’s Design? What’s disruption?
Let’s discuss in detail what we mean by design (it’s not just visual – we design products, organizations, leadership techniques, marketing campaigns, and more) and disruption (it’s not just contraction or death – think startups, reinventions, redesigns, partnerships, innovation and experimentation). Read the full post »

For Akron Beacon Journal, the debut of a ‘facelift’ redesign

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[Samples of the redesigned pages.]

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NYT Editor 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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