Oregonian Redesign: We're Bloggy, Too!

Jeff Alworth

After spending long weeks and inches hyping a total redesign, yesterday The Oregonian rolled out the new format. The result?  Mostly a misfire.  But before offering my opinion--the one that has no doubt perched you on the edge of your seat in anticipation--let me offer this important disclaimer first: a redesign may have some effect on the number of people who pick up the paper in the next few months, but at the end of the day, success will depend on how topical, insightful, and relevent the stories are.  No amount of "respecting our time" will change that. 

But the Big O did spend thousands on a redesign, so that's what we'll consider.  According to the Public Editor (Mike Arrieta-Walden), the goal of the new look was strange mixture of the objective and silly.  Objective: break news.  Silly: be "forward looking."  Objective: deliver a vivid sense of the region.  Silly: connect better with our lives.  But from among the various goals, one is able to discern a trend: a move toward greater reader feedback, an interest in provoking debate, and shorter stories.  Couple that with the new design--larger headlines, new serif headers, lots of color photos and an all-on-one-page feel--and you have: a far more bloggy paper.

From a design standpoint, it may appeal to younger readers who spend more time getting content from the internet than from dead trees.  The trade-off is that it's less readable.  Internet sites have made a science out of packing info on the first screen, knowing that any content readers have to scroll down for will be far more likely overlooked.  (By way of example, look at this site.)  But newspapers that are too packed suffer from busy-ness.  The eye doesn't know where to land.  An even worse effect is that it tends to "flatten" information. 

Take the Op-Ed page; it looks more like a magazine than the traditional op-ed (where the opinion is opposite the paper's editorials).  Letters to the editor get bigger headlines and look like content; opinion pieces are scattered across the page.  I suspect the "flattening" is designed to bring readers into the discussion, but does the paper really intend to offer all content as equal in value?

So far, it doesn't appear to have radically different content, although the pieces are shorter and there are fewer stories (anyway, that's how it appears after two days).  Reader opinion has been upgraded, which isn't necessarily a good thing--do you really want to talk-radio-ize a paper?  Is Mike from Mollala really someone I care to hear from?  The O apparently thinks so. 

Wouldn't it have been a better idea to incorporate the objectives into the online site and focus on enhanced reporting on the hard-copy version?  Creating a hub of interaction online would attract the readership the O was aiming for: non-readers who use the internet.  It would have been nice to see the O go for something truly creative, like making a Kos-like hive of reporter blogs.  If Randy Gragg has a lot more information about architecture than the paper has inches for, it would be great to see that online.  I'd love to see more of Foyston's beer content, and a beer blog would be ideal.  If you want to spur discussion, have an online letters section; bump up the really good ones to the printed version. 

It would be interesting to wonder: what if the O had spent all this money on a new website instead of a redesign?  Might they have actually used the power of blogs to enhance their printed site and captured the eyeballs of nonreaders?  Instead, it looks like they tried to give dead-tree media blog functionality.  A twice-missed opportunity?

Comments

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    The Oregonian is now kinda interactive.

    That's about it.

    Oh, and someone found the "change font size" button on Microsoft Publisher.

    Now, if they could only afford some writing talent, like the Washington Post or Chicago Tribune or NY Times or Boston Globe or...

  • Penny (unverified)
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    Is Mike from Mollala really someone I care to hear from?

    Depends. Is this an inclusive or an exclusive conversation we're having?

  • Auggie (unverified)
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    The only change that I can detect is that the O now looks more like the Tribune.

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    Wouldn't it have been a better idea to incorporate the objectives into the online site and focus on enhanced reporting on the hard-copy version?

    An excellent idea, Jeff. I too feel like the redesign has made the paper is somehow "lighter" in content than it should be. I look to newspapers for investigative, in-depth reporting. It could just be the format, but somehow it seems like there's less there.

    It would be interesting to compare the old version and the new and see how many column inches of hard news are in each.

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    Still cut & paste. And Sid, "O" found BOLD along with change the font size. Lighter weight.......

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    Penny, my comment wasn't to diss the average citizen's view. But there's a reason we pay to read a paper: informed people are writing about topics on which they have expertise. Read through the letters to the editor and see if you think that fits. Citizens' voices are now heard more often than in any time in history (credit to Studs Terkel?), which has some value. Calling Mike in Molalla's opinion on the economy as valuable as an economist, however, is foolish. The O should realize that.

    It would be interesting to compare the old version and the new and see how many column inches of hard news are in each.

    Some enterprising blogger should get on that!

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    I think it is important to remember that a newspaper's readers are its product, not its customers. They sell the audience they create to their customers, the advertisers. The Oregonian will be read so long as it remains the major public record of events. You have to read the paper to know what is being reported in the paper. The fact that it is being reported is at least as important as any information in the reports themselves. If the Oregonian loses its position as the paper of record it will lose a lot of its ability to create a quality audience for its advertisers.

    The danger of a website is that it creates an alternative source for what is in the paper and starts to damage the print audience created by being the paper of record. And as more people get their information through the web site, what is in the paper becomes less important. The Oregonian may be able to transform itself into the web site of record for Portland, but not all the advantages it now enjoys will help that effort. And the revenue stream from selling an online audience is not close to that of a print audience.

    The real danger to the Oregonian is if online advertising starts generating enough revenue that someone can build a website of record and pay for the reporting that would be required to generate the audience. I think we may never get there - the alternatives for online advertising are much greater than for newspapers and likely always will be.

  • Penny (unverified)
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    But there's a reason we pay to read a paper: informed people are writing about topics on which they have expertise.

    <h2>That's certainly one of the reasons. But it's also true that Mike in Molalla's vote counts every bit as much as mine, so I think it behooves me to know, at least a little bit, what/how he is thinking. A quick skim of the letters section does that for me with far less pain than, say, reading Little Green Footballs.</h2>

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