Table of Contents pages: WHY?

DISPATCHES FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF ALTERNATIVE NEWSWEEKLIES
One bonus of attending a journalism convention is you get to see a ton of samples of fresh papers in one fell swoop. No reader ever sees newspapers this way, but it gives me a chance to think in fresh ways about why and how we do what we do. Thus begins a series of posts with random observations about alternative weeklies, and newspapers in general, from the convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, this weekend in Toronto.

[TORONTO] Once I got past the exhilaration of seeing tons of great alt-weekly covers in one fell swoop, gathered up several arms full and hauled then off for review, I quickly dove inside and came to this realization:
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Contents pages are almost always super boring, ugly, redundant, and uninviting.
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Give me a small index, fine, telling me where I can find the movie listings. But in a weekly paper, where we should assume lots of people do a thorough flip-through, does anyone really need or read a summary of each story in the paper?
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[Table of Contents, Creative Loafing Atlanta – pre-redesign]
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Especially with a diminished news hole, is this the best way to greet your readers on Page 3 or 4 or 5? When many have already heard your pitch via cover lines … and daily Twitter and  Facebook shouts … and email blasts? Think of the time and energy required to put it together. Isn’t it best devoted elsewhere?
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[Table of Contents, Creative Loafing Atlanta – post-redesign]
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This was the main thinking behind my recommendation to blow up the contents page at Creative Loafing (Atlanta). Out went the old-school TOC. In came START, a new concept that I likened to arriving at a really cool party and picking snippets of exciting conversation from the air. (And Atlanta had tons of great quotes buried throughout every issue to choose from.) 7 to 10 random, sexy, provocative thoughts from anywhere in the paper – your eye lands on one, you become captivated, and boom, off you go to the drinks table. Included is an advertising innovation called “The Intruder” – for more about that, see my earlier posts about Creative Loafing – as well as a few choice quotes sending readers to the lively conversations at the CL blogs.
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The greatest thing since sliced bread? No, but definitely something that created “buzz” in this redesign, and in this market. Maybe they’ll make a little money with it, too. I’ll be talking about START, “buzz,” contents pages, advertising innovations, and more at my AAN presentation today in Toronto. Join me!
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