3 unglamorous (but excellent) details from a campus newspaper redesign

The Cult of News Design loves to fawn over magazine covers and newspaper front pages (that’s what wins awards, after all), much to the neglect of small details and inside pages that comprise 90% of a newspaper or magazine. This post zooms in a bit on some smaller but impactful work that came out of the redesign of the Indiana Daily Student (IDS) newspaper at IU-Bloomington this week.

There, the student staff launched a big redesign, to accompany a narrowing of the broadsheet paper’s page size required by its printers. I did not do the redesign but spent 2 days on campus earlier this winter, along with fellow alumni Pat Kastner and Eric White, giving some “over the shoulder” advice on how to get the most out of the redesign. (And eating a lot of pizza.) Two of our pushiest suggestions – make information in the paper more accessible to readers, and create formats that would strengthen staff portfolios to give them a leg up in the job market – appear to have been taken to heart.

Here’s a look at three alternative story forms that appeared on Day 2 of the IDS redesign (thanks to advisor Ron Johnson for forwarding samples), and why I think each shows a good move forward for the paper.

EXAMPLE 1: FRONT PAGE STORY WITH BREAKOUTS. OK, the IDS has done these for a while, as have many other papers, but this is a classic example of a “routine story” that when told only in narrative, often ends up like a press release. Snoozeville. Here, some narrative begins on the front, but pullouts quickly get the reader into the sexy: how much energy and water has been saved in the past, and, looking forward, how you can save money on your own bill with a few simple tricks. Basic, but has the potential to leave some readers with the sense that “this paper gives me information that can actually help my life, or save me money,” and might keep them coming back for more. (One crit: that main headline. Too “press release”y. How about: “How much power, water can YOU save?” or “Saving power, water = saving cash” … something like that, speaking more directly to students.)

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EXAMPLE 2: ASF ABOUT UPCOMING WALKS AND MARATHONS. The paper has been using ASFs (alternative story forms, or what I call “chunky text”) for a while, but they wanted the redesign to push it to the next level. When I saw this one, down-page on an inside partial page with ads, I thought: BINGO, they got it. Here is a story that if told in inverted pyramid, narrative style, absolutely NO ONE would read. But as presented, it immediately sends a signal to the desired audience – students or others who are interested in charity walks or marathons or volunteering for the same – that “this story is for you.” There’s a ton of info in a small space. Great utility for the reader. As important? A simple but well done ASF that would give a portfolio boost to a J-student applying not only to newspapers, but magazines, websites, maybe PR or app developers as well. As a recruiter I’d think, “this Michela Tindera really gets how to gather and present information quickly.” It is the only thing you need in a portfolio? No, you need strong original reporting to balance it. But, as we 3 Alumni Amigos have pointed out during our campus visits, long gray chunks of narrative alone are going to get few students jobs anymore.

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EXAMPLE 3: “THE CAMPUS BLOOD DRIVE IS OVER. WE PLACED 8TH.” Thank you, thank you, thank you for not writing this as a traditional “news story.” I can see it now (and probably wrote it many years ago): 14 paragraphs with a quote from the organizers about how happy they were with the turnout, how they’ll do better next year, blah blah blah. By contrast, this treatment gets to the point, quickly, says where IU landed in the Big Ten, but most importantly, pushes the story forward (and out of press-release land) with info on how you can still give blood and help out. This kind of information sends a signal: this paper cares about its community, and wants to connect you with it. Admirable for a student newspaper whose audience is itinerant.

Kudos to all involved, for creating a strong redesign in a very short amount of time while juggling course work and of course, the demands of spring break, whatever they may have been! Looking forward to seeing more (and probably nagging you to do even better, as well).

OK, I admit it, covers are interesting to check out too. Here are a few from Week One (click to enlarge):

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