The new Trib tab: How’d they do that?

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[Chicago] It’s a big week of change and not just in D.C. Here in Chicago, newspaper readers like me woke up today to another innovation from the Tribune – a new compact format of the daily newspaper. (The company’s tabloid sibling, Red Eye, has been around for a while, but it’s a different creature: a freebie with very condensed news items, tons of gossip, daily listings of music, dining and drink specials, and so on.)

The new “to go” format of the Trib doesn’t break any new design ground, nor was it intended to. The goal, in a big commuting city, is to give single-copy readers a handier format of the paper on the bus or train. (I spent some time looking it over at breakfast and look forward to reading it more closely on an plane later today – without elbowing the person next to me!)  Obviously, they hope to make a dent in Sun-Times readership along the way.

Especially for a debut edition, the overall package seems solid, substantial, very clean and easy to read. Many pages or spreads are completely filled with one story or package, at times with large photos. The overall feel, swept along by the Trib’s new elegant serif font, recalls classic tabs like Newsday, Christian Science Monitor (RIP), and yes, occasionally the competing Sun-Times, which in recent years has had several iterations of nice clean formats.

I suspect a lot of news junkies, like me, will have questions along the lines of “how’d they do that?” Times are tight at TribCo, it’s one of the craziest news weeks ever, and last night was Sunday to boot. So I emailed Joyce Winnecke, Associate Editor, to get the inside scoop. (Disclaimer: I worked briefly with Joyce 10 years ago at the Sun-Times, but I have had no involvement with any of the Trib’s design or format changes.) Here are my questions and her answers:

Q. Does the copy editing and headline writing for the broadsheet edition come first? In other words, is the tab edition produced after the broadsheet? Seems like it would be very challenging to coordinate what goes where if they were produced simultaneously.

A. “We are working on both editions simultaneously, but each individual story is first designed and edited for a broadsheet page. After the story has been copy-edited and slotted for the broadsheet, the designer creates its corresponding tabloid page and attaches the story. (A full page of content in the broadsheet edition translates into two pages in the tabloid edition.)
“In some cases, the designer makes no changes to content,  and so the tabloid page does not return to the copy desk before being typeset.  In other cases, the designer makes slight adjustments (such as altering a headline, minor trims, or perhaps adding an element such as a pull-quote or picture), and so the page is viewed by the slot before being typeset. In still other cases, if more significant adjustment is necessary, the tabloid page goes through both a copy editor and slot before being typeset.
“We close the broadsheet at 10:30 and the tabloid editon at 11:15. The broadsheet has a replate at 11:30 and the tabloid replates at 12:30. (Broadsheet pages can also be replated at 12:30 if necessary.)”

Q: Can you estimate how many extra people (or man-hours if that makes more sense), are required for design and production?
A: “It’s hard to say at this early stage.  We’ve hired a few people for the design staff to help us.”

Q: Is the tab edition REALLY the entire broadsheet Trib put into a different shape? Both editorial and advertising? (I don’t have the broadsheet edition today for comparison – it’s delivered now only to home subscribers, and I have a weekend-only subscription.)
A: “Yes, really. All of the stories are there today, and they will be each day. There may be minor differences in size of pictures, graphics and headlines, but it is the complete Tribune in a new, more convenient format.”

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I’m not a regular commuter while at home in Chicago; if I were, I think I’d prefer getting this edition at home and taking it with me on the train or bus. The question remains, will such readers fork over 75 cents a day (versus picking up the Red Eye for free)? I’d never dare speculate on what might come next for Chicago papers, but it is cool to see someone trying something different.

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FOOTNOTE: The broadsheet Tribune a few weeks ago made some design “adjustments,” based on reader feedback to its dramatic September revamp. I have been traveling a bit in recent weeks, so until catching up on a batch of older papers over the weekend, I didn’t get the full scope of the changes. Seems the biggest shift is a near abandonment of the strong sans-serif headline font that was a big part of the mix – which I sort of liked, but must have been seen as the main culprit when readers cried, “the paper seems to be shouting at me!” Notable that this follows the Sun-Times’ own design tweaks a year or two ago, with a new preference for serif headlines as well. Readers have spoken – Chicago’s a serif town!

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  1. The Trib goes tab « Chris Lee

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