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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.) After taking a break for a semester in 2015 to teach a master class in journalism at the University of Montana, I’m based in Portland, Ore., and work virtually or travel to clients as needed.

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

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: 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.

Need to transition? Move those feet!

Recently I was asked by DESIGN, the magazine of the Society for News Design, to contribute to its summer issue focused on theme of “transition.” SND President Sara Quinn suggested I frame my ideas around a series of photos that intrigued her in recent years, taken while looking down at my feet as I have traveled the world. Read the full post »

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 3.43.02 PM

[Samples of the redesigned pages.]

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My U of Montana 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 »

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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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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