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.

The 16,500-circulation Brunswick (Ga.) News hired me earlier this year to direct its redesign, launched Sept. 1 and just completing its first successful month. A chief motivator for the change: the desire to convert to the narrower web width, now favored by national advertisers. The paper also adjusted its publishing scheduling (adding Sunday and removing Monday from the mix), beefed up editorial pages, including sports, and staffing, and made some tweaks to its brand, including an abbreviation of the paper’s name to appeal to a much wider geographic region. Let’s take a quick trip inside the process.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the paper’s pages, pre-redesign. Not a disaster, but typographically, a bit monotonous at times. Some pages suffered from too many images being sized too similarly (i.e. no dominant point of interest, which forces the reader’s eye to wander), and clutter, including the page one nameplate promos:

Pages from The Brunswick (Ga.) News, before its 2016 redesign.

[Pages from The Brunswick (Ga.) News, before its 2016 redesign.]

After my initial review of a paper’s strengths and weaknesses, one of the first things I usually do is to explore some typographic directions for primary headline faces and logos. Here is a sampling of those efforts, wherein real headlines from recent copies of the paper are remade in a variety of new fonts, to see which ones might “click”:

Font samples for the redesign of The Brunswick (Ga.) News, 2016, by Ron Reason Consulting.

[Font samples for the redesign of The Brunswick (Ga.) News, 2016.]

After I presented these to redesign project manager and Executive Editor Tim O’Briant, he guided internal staff discussions about visual preferences, resulting in my production of the next stage of the project, full prototypes. Typically, I like to offer up a strong array of serif, sans and/or mixed font families that we all can agree would be a good fit for the tone of the newspaper, and the market, using actual images of the sort the paper has or would produce, as well as real headlines. (I have never found Greek or dummy text to help me in the rethinking process!) Here are a selection of early prototypes presented to Tim and his team:

Prototypes for The Brunswick (Ga.) News redesign, 2016. By Ron Reason Consulting

[A sampling of prototypes for The Brunswick (Ga.) News redesign.]

A lesson learned through two decades of consulting: A redesign is only as strong as the designers who implement it on the ground. In this case, new designer Tiffany Fields had just joined the paper. She studied the prototypes, asked good questions about how styles could be tweaked for production realities, and brought the concepts to life. Following is a sampling of live front pages produced by Tiffany and others in the newsroom, which show much more of an emphasis on visual impact, and a cleaner, sleeker look, partly resulting from the narrower web width:

Brunswick (Ga.) News, redesign, live front pages. By Ron Reason Consulting

… and some inside pages:

Brunswick (Ga.) News, redesign, 2016, live inside pages. By Ron Reason Consulting.

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Considering a redesign? Email ronreason (at) gmail.com to get the conversation started! Or explore the numerous links at top and right of this blog to start learning on your own.

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