Tampa Tribune unveils design, content changes today

Today’s front page launches the new look. Click image twice to view entire page.

Update: See an expanded gallery of page design images from the first two weeks of the redesign.

[TAMPA, Oct. 12, 2010] The Tampa Tribune debuts some new design elements and added content today (Oct. 12, 2010). Media General hired me in May to help direct the changes, and here are answers to some questions I’ve been asked about the unusual project:

What’s behind the changes?
Tampa is the first of Media General’s three metro newspapers to adopt a refined new look that will share many (but not all) elements, in advance of the creation of two consolidated editing and design centers. In December, those centers will go live, and the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and Winston-Salem (NC) Journal will adopt many elements of the new format. Some stories (nation-world, business, sports, features), which now may be edited and designed three different times by different staff, may be produced with greater efficiency. [Detour here, if you like, to the earlier Media General announcement about the creation of design/editing centers, which necessitated the consolidation of the papers' designs.]

How was this project different from other redesigns you have helped with?
In many ways:

  • The biggest difference was a significant cultural challenge: getting three sets of editors and publishers from the three different papers, in three different states, to agree on a new look to be shared by all. (I figured, heck, if I can get editors from combative tribes in Kenya to agree on fonts and colors, I could give it a shot here. See case study, other links about Nairobi’s Standard.) This ended up going smoothly with Media General, because time was of the essence, designers from each of the papers were included from the start, and we explained all our recommendations in a clear, diplomatic way and asked for feedback at each step.
  • A super tight timetable was daunting. From today’s targeted launch date for Tampa, we backed up a master timetable for the project. To allow ample time for a major upgrade of the paper’s CCI system, and creation of new templates, we realized this left us just five weeks to do the design work, including vetting in all three newsrooms. The design was more or less done June 30, on schedule.
  • Because of the timetable and other factors, this project did not emphasize dramatic “reinvention.” Tampa in particular had undergone major changes in content, design and sectioning in recent years (some of which had been seen as unsettling by some readers), so drastic change was not part of the assignment. That aside, each of the three papers will introduce some new content and repackage some elements for better organization. In each market, I’ve conducted conversations about targeting advertisers with innovative approaches. (Related blog post: Innovation in advertising: Approach it strategically.)

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What’s new?
Content: Readers who have complained about cuts in content or sections should be pleased to see the papers growing a bit. Tampa unveils a new daily news section today, Trib2. A free-standing food section (Flavor) makes its return this week, and Baylife returns as a reinvigorated Sunday features section. (See the bottom of today’s front page PDF for a note to readers that further explains the changes. See a gallery of Tampa Tribune Redesign Day 1 images posted on Charles Apple’s blog today.)

Design: Tampa gets a new nameplate and inside section flags, and a blue and tan color palette that is more reflective of West Central Florida. The front page promo strategy has been reinvented to be more systematic, easier to design, and more impactful when the inside news calls for it. For lead and feature headlines, the paper retains a strong sans serif and slab serif family of fonts called Boomer. New headline styling, and other elements of page architecture, removes perhaps 5-8% of white space per an average cover page, which had been excessive, especially given a very tight news hole. First reactions to the new look said that the paper seemed “newsier,” and this was probably due to making smarter use of white space.

Also helping to move the Tribune back to a more traditional newspaper look: the addition of Miller Headline, a strong family of serif fonts previously put to good use by its sister paper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This mixing of two existing faces from within the Media General family, for eventual use by all three papers, was one of our early suggestions, and was tested thoroughly to make sure the resulting pages seemed comfortable for each market. (Eventually, the consolidated editing centers will swap some pages between papers, which required us to use common design elements for the project.)

Tampa Tribune front page, before redesign on left, and (at right) a prototype

Won’t all three papers look the same?

Not really. The major brand elements for each paper are different. Richmond will retain its horizontal black letter nameplate, and its promo strategy is totally different. There are options within story structures and page architecture (dog-legging the lead story, for example) that will allow each paper to project the day’s news in ways that are appropriate in each market, and with consideration to the importance of rack presence. Editors in each city will still make content and design decisions for their pages, communicating with colleagues in the editing centers.

How can good design and editing be done from off-site locations?

Centralized design and editing will begin, out of new centers in Richmond and Tampa, in December. To those who question whether effective copy editing and design can be done from afar, I counter with this. I, and surely thousands of other journalists elsewhere, cut their teeth on regional daily news sections like those at the St. Pete Times, producing pages from a centralized desk serving bureaus up to several hours away. We talked by phone. Layouts were faxed. Editors in the bureaus never saw the actual pages before they hit the streets. Companies made millions via zoning strategies, and in the case of St. Pete, even won Pulitzers. So, off-site editing and design cannot in and of itself be seen as a threat to quality.

What might be the biggest benefit of the changes for readers?
The reallocation of production resources should allow smarter focusing of staff toward more local coverage. (This seems to have been the case at the Tribune Co. – see related blog post which discusses, in part, its move toward centralized editing and design which partly has allowed improved watchdog coverage at its flagship paper.) In announcing the move toward consolidation earlier this year, Donna Reed, Media General’s Vice President of Content, said: “Our consolidated editing and design operations allow our newsrooms to focus on strong local news reporting. Stories will be edited once rather than multiple times, and we can take advantage of economies of scale and centralization of top talent.” Media General previously established editing centers for its smaller community papers, in Lynchburg, Va., and in Hickory, N.C. (I am now advising those teams on design improvements and streamlining to debut later this year. There, we are emphasizing improvements in legibility, navigation and organization, and early prototypes suggest the papers will appear cleaner and more modern.)

Congrats to the Trib teams who worked  hard in a short time to make the changes happen, especially those who toiled on launch night, and their colleagues in Richmond and Winston-Salem who will soon adopt the new look. Special kudos to the Tribune sports staff, who shined today with a very strong section, including 4-page special wrap for the Rays playoffs game tonight. Also to local project coordinator Kiely Agliano for keeping the design train on the track, and to Tom Bond, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for creating a kick-ass Style Guide to be used for all three papers, and demanding that design integrity stay on the front burner.

Have a question about this project, or anything else related to news design? Email me at ron (at) ronreason (dot) com. Have a comment? Post it below for consideration here. As always, thanks for reading!

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph A. Gibbs

     /  October 14, 2010

    Having been an editor, designer and photographer for both magazines and newspapers, it is indeed refreshing to see newspapers adapting (surviving) and moving on to a quicker, if you will presentation of their news. The future of newspapers today, in my view, is local news.
    Yes, the networks, the NYT or Washington Post are going to give me the big picture, but what’s going on down the street, around the corner from me…tell me stories about my neighbors. Tell me stories about my local government. Tell me stories that effect me… that’s meaningful, relevant useful content.
    One observation, sorry I am typography purist…kerning, leading and word spacing can’t be fixed by a saved hedline string. It’s all in the eye.
    I love, and miss true journalism, ironically, thats why I left it.

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