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?