Mario Garcia, the WSJ, and the world of newspaper design Matt 22 Feb 2006

32 comments Latest by Craig Bromberg

His mission: to redesign with today’s readers in mind [via Gawker] is a look at the world of newspaper design and the efforts of Mario Garcia to redesign the Wall Street Journal.

Garcia, who calls himself a visual journalist and has worked on over 500 newspaper projects, thinks all newspapers will eventually convert to a tabloid format because of the Internet’s impact on readers:

“In five years, you will hit a generation of readers who don’t remember life without the Internet…People who are coming from…the screen of the Internet are used to reading within the confines of a smaller place and transfer more quickly to the tabloid.”

As for the redesign vs. realign concept that Cameron Moll discussed, Garcia also knocks redesigns that are merely visual: “A redesign is like plastic surgery…it can change your nose, but not your personality.”

One scary bit for WSJ readers though: Garcia advocates more celebrity news and fashion/trend pieces. He says, “Younger readers want to read about fashion. They want to know which suit to buy. And if the Wall Street Journal doesn’t give them that, somebody else will…So let’s take the opportunity to really do it well.”

Hmm. Gotta wonder if this approach will alienate the paper’s core audience. The WSJ means business. Its no-nonsense approach makes it almost the last media oasis from fashion advice and celeb gossip and I bet a lot of readers prefer it that way.

A couple of other interesting quotes from the piece:

“The content of many newspapers is not compelling, relevant or interesting, it’s important and dull,” Jacobson said. “Nobody wants to read important and dull. Design in and of itself cannot save a newspaper, but it can be the galvanizing force for a much larger initiative.”
“The design is fine at most newspapers,” said Gaspard of the Las Vegas Sun. “(But) no one is acknowledging yet that people spend 20 to 30 minutes a day with them, and we’re still editing and designing this stuff as if people are spending two or three hours a day with it. Newspapers have largely been produced for the satisfaction of other journalists, and the jig is up now.”

32 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Danno 22 Feb 06

You know, I’d probablly read the WSJ or maybe the Times (although the latter’s journalistic integrity has suffered) if there was just some danged way I could figure which of the articles in the paper are ones that I actually want to read.

Most of the time, to read a paper, I pick it up and start flipping through. What I’d *like* to do is look at some index and be able to pick the articles that look interesting and just read those. And article headlines don’t count. They don’t give enough insight into the detail or opinionation of the article. (Yes, opinionation is importatn, I alternately A) Want to read an article that I agree with B) want to read an article I don’t agree with because I already know everything I agree with).

The internet does that better for me, especially with feeds. If a newspaper can meet that challenge (and maybe provide some pretty URLs to the online permanent version of the article), I might be tempted into reading newspapers again.

William Cox 22 Feb 06

I’m 22 years old and I rather like the WSJ. It sounds like they want to dumb it down a bit. A shame. I like, “important and dull.”

Jamie Thingbox 22 Feb 06

I want to know when SvN will have fashion advice and celeb gossip.

Pan 22 Feb 06

Ironically, the site with the article has an absolutely awful layout (even if this is about offline newspapers).

Drew 22 Feb 06

Up next: WSJ starts stealing staff from Us Weekly.

Someday that ‘target market’ of readers is going to be older, running businesses, etc. They might miss the old ‘important and dull’ WSJ… Not every paper needs to go the Metro/Red Eye route.

Mike 22 Feb 06

The WSJ (as it is being affectionately called) has already “loosened” its standards in the past couple of years (some would call it loosening of standards, I would call it evolving). They now have a weekend edition and they have also added color in the past couple of years. They even have a wine column and sports preview.

I’m not a big reader of the newspaper but I have grabbed a copy or two while on Metra. There is absolutely nothing wrong with evolving.

brad 22 Feb 06

There’s nothing wrong with evolving, but there’s something to be said for maintaining your niche. The WSJ’s niche has traditionally been business and economics, even though it of course covers much more than that. Trying to compete with a more wide-ranging paper like the Times would be a mistake, I think.

In the early 1980s I lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, which had a town newspaper called Greenwich Time. The editors there saw the NY Times as their chief competition and were trying to cover the same kinds of stories…national news, international news. It was a ridiculous strategy and it didn’t work. What they should have done was to focus only on what was going on in Greenwich and the surrounding towns. The people who lived there were wealthy enough to afford two newspaper subscriptions…the local paper for local news and the Times for everything else.

Kendall 22 Feb 06

Here’s the thing. I don’t make time to sit and read a newspaper. I barely make time to sit and look through all of my feeds. In some ways I envy people who have a routine of sitting down with the morning paper. Having a cup of coffee and relaxing while reading it… but I just don’t make the time for that. I hope that newspapers continue to exist. In whatever form, be it on paper or online. I think that they serve a great purpose. Informing and reporting on the world. I definitely think that the move to online news media will be a double edged sword of integrity and instant gratification. It will be interesting to see who rises to the top in the future of news media.

pwb 22 Feb 06

As long as they keep the fluffier stuff mostly in Personal Journal, they should be able to easily pull it off.

The NY Times desperately needs to clean up its act. As a Democrat, I find it rather embarassing how partisan it is. Thank goodness Frank Rich is gone (for a while at least). A classic example is how the Times portrays the act of growing a budget 8% instead of 10% as a “cut”. The Times needs more David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. As it currently stands, the WSJ is a much, much more thoughtful read.

JM 22 Feb 06

This is a usability nit pick but…

If you’re going to link ‘the redesign vs. realign concept that Cameron Moll discussed’

Don’t link to another post here that’s not even about that!

I wanted to read ‘the redesign vs. realign concept that Cameron Moll discussed’.

Joshua R. Poulson 22 Feb 06

The WSJ does a great job of having news items in digest form on the front page, with references to the inside of the paper. They’ve been things that way for a long time, and I’ve always appreciated it.

ML 22 Feb 06

JM, the article you want is linked up in that post. Here’s a direct link: Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign.

Tory 22 Feb 06

I think that the WSJ is the perfect paper. I hope they don’t change a thing.

Brandon Eley 22 Feb 06

I applaud him for trying to redesign the face of newspapers - they can definitely use a facelift! They have been around for ages and the design seems a bit flawed - back from the days when they actually pasted information on the pages with scissors and glue.

I would hate to see the content suffer, though. Unimportant information, however interesting it might be, is useless. Less is more, remember. If it’s important and dull, by nature - not design, leave it dull. Don’t try to make it interesting for the sake of people who can’t read an article without pretty pictures or the news on a celebrity’s breakup.

Frankly I get disgusted seeing all the tabloid papers and magazines on the stands, the shows on TV, and the news broadcasts that are obviously just for ratings. I don’t want to waste my life watching useless information about unimportant people I don’t know just because it’s dramatic or funny.

I’d rather have real, relevant news that I can digest as quickly as possible so I can get on living my life. I wish there were decent news websites that offered customized news offerings in an easy to read and search format. I’d pay a membership. But it seems that most online newspapers are not very different from the offline papers - which don’t even work in print much less on the web.

Benjy 22 Feb 06

“Younger readers want to read about fashion. They want to know which suit to buy. And if the Wall Street Journal doesn’t give them that, somebody else will…So let’s take the opportunity to really do it well.”

I hate this trend that brands or products have to be all things to all consumers. The WSJ is the world’s foremost business publication. So it should stick to being the best when it comes to covering business. Let those who excel in fashion coverage or celebrity gossip cover those… and I don’t mean have a GQ section in the WSJ. If I want business news, I’ll read the WSJ. If I want fashion info, I’ll buy GQ.

It’s a silly an idea as Porsche making an SUV…

Javier Cabrera (ClearYourMind) 22 Feb 06

Well, let’s give a little credit to this guy, I guess he will want to do what is best for the readers. In just read one or twice the printed edition of WSJ last year, and it was quite cool as it is. Don’t know why they need a new look; but anyway…

About having the time to read a printed edition or not; it’s relative. I know some guys who read it in the subway before getting to their offices, I know others who read it when they are having breakfast, and I know others who don’t read them at all.

One thing for sure, they have to find the time to read it before going to work because, their bosses won’t appreciate very much if they find them reading a newspaper on work hours.

I have a small routine of coming to the office, making coffee, sitting down and reading my feeds in the morning, instead of the newspaper. Checking emails, answering emails, checking up delicious, etc. Let’s say 20 minutes. That’s my breakfast-news morning-feeds-what’s new on the net.

Now, I’m an “Internet person”. I read about Internet news, tech, web-related stories, and of course, economy, politics, etc. The thing with a printed newspaper is that you can’t chose what you want to read, but when your feeds, you can.

So when I want to read about economics, I go to my feeds and there I have five or six RSS about daily economy, national and international. You can’t do that with a newspaper, so if you don’t want to see the new Paris Hilton dog on the WSJ front page, you better start reading feeds instead of printed newspapers.

Cheers.
Javier Cabrera

Max 22 Feb 06

I’m a WSJ subscriber, I’m 28 years old and have been reading it since I was 24. This article kind of makes me sad… after reading blog posts throughout the day, it is nice to come home and read the latest business and investing news on actual paper, especially one with as rich a tradition as this one.

The sentence about “this isn’t your grandfather’s newspaper” really hit home for me, since my grandfather introduced me to the paper. He also introduced me to scotch, and I didn’t need any clever youth-marketed scotch mixed drinks in single serving bottles to get me into that, either.

bort 22 Feb 06

why aren’t there fashion tips in WSJ? because it just doesn’t matter.

Gary R Boodhoo 22 Feb 06

In the context of a newspaper, which unlike digital media, represents a physical archive, what’s so wrong with important and dull? I question the idea that every aspect of life must be relegated to entertainment. While understanding Garcia’s intent of realigning newspaper design with the needs of users, it always disturbs me to see the “user” held up on a pedestal as though somehow users are the only constraint in the equation of design.

The value of a newspaper (other than advertising revenue) is the the filtering mechanism is different than what any one person would choose. Personally, I welcome the novelty of a story I didn’t know I’d be interested in. Paper isn’t interactive, and I feel that to consider a newspaper and a web page similar is missing the point of both. Garcia’s understanding of this medium and his insights into the way it works are far deeper than my own, but I’ve always regarded any newspaper as collage. In many cases, it’s not so much the content of any one story that interests me, but the context of all the other items surrounding it. Dumbing the content down strips away that context.

Dan 22 Feb 06

Regarding the Moll thing, isn’t it obvious that you shouldn’t do things just because you can?

Jake 22 Feb 06

I’m 20 years old, and I already don’t really remember life without the internet, at least in terms of reading things.

By the time I was old enough to care about reading news, guides, and anything else of the sort (around age 10-12), the internet was already beginning to grow (‘95-‘97), so the switch was already being made. This generation is much closer than 5 years, I think.

Lisa 22 Feb 06

Ok, Jake, now I feel old.

I hope WSJ doesn’t follow what the NYT is doing — aren’t they bleeding money by the bucketfuls?

Small, subtle shifts will probably work well — if they move too fast, the longer time subscribers will probably throw a fit.

Just my 2 cents.

Elsie 22 Feb 06

I remember reading before the internet, and I’m 22. It’s good that Garcia does realize that the younger generations have always been surrounded by technology and will want news fast and to the point.

I think that the idea that younger readers want to see fashion and celebrity news is a stereotype though. I could care less about that and actually joke about it if I discuss it at all. Though others who are my age and read this are the type that would appreciate substance anyway, I know many people who are my age and don’t read this but care more about real news over gossip. If I know about any latest celebrity gossip, it’s because there’s no way to escape it. In any generation, you have people that prefer to read about the lives of celebrities and fashion trends over news, business, art, etc., and vice versa. I think that many people read the gossip because it’s thrown at them. If only the media never covered it and always focused on the things that matter (nice constraint), then more people would know about what’s going on in the world, but that would be too utopian.

Rob 23 Feb 06

I’m only 21 and a fresh graduate from college, but I can certainly say without hesitation that the Journal is my favorite newspaper. The quality of writing and research and the strong focus on business, economics, and technology (where it impacts the previous two topics) toghether is unparalleled — it seems to me that the WSJ is successful because it does not try to cover everything. They want to cut the page count by 20%? Fine, just don’t make that cut even worse because the remaining 80% has to carry other types of news, too. Leaner doesn’t necessarily mean smaller; it means less fat. And in a publication like the Journal, fashion news is definitely fat.

A smaller format, though, isn’t a bad idea. Being young, I grew up getting most of my news through the internet or television and have always been confused by the size of most newspapers. They’re unwieldy! I worked in downtown Chicago one Summer and read the paper most mornings on the way to work (my family lives in the suburbs so I took the train); every page turn is a huge affair where you twist sideways, apologize for sticking your arm in your neighbor’s face, and then try to fold the paper back up into a less space-consuming, but readable format. Sure, the size is fine for the breakfast table, but not most other environments.

So, format? Great to see some change. Content? Seems like the WSJ is losing sight of what makes it such a quality publication.

John Koetsier 23 Feb 06

Please add my name to the list of people who would prefer to hear as little about “celebrities” as possible.

Someone, anyone, please make all the Paris Hiltons and her ilk go away.

engelgrafik 23 Feb 06

It really seems a lot of companies are forgetting a lot about basic brand theory and concepts. All you have to do is look at the history of bankrupt and failed businesses that thought “realigning” their prestige brand to appeal to more people looking for a value brand would work. It didn’t. Which is why BMW doesn’t sell Mini Coopers as BMWs and retains its unique brand value. And why Mercedes Benz keeps losing prestige over the years as it tries to make cheaper and cheaper cars, as well as SUVs and junk that doesn’t fit its value proposition. This goes for any brand, including the Journal. The WSJ was a prestige brand and by trying to bring in the ADD generation, it will lose that prestige and dilute its brand value. Soon, it will be competing against other value brands and people will “remember the good days when the WSJ was a real paper”.

street 23 Feb 06

I think the fashion advice and celeb gab is a fabulous! I hope they tap Brüno of Funkyzeit mit Bruno to report, write and edit for them.

Dave Aiello 23 Feb 06

I think I should soften something I said in my previous comment about the St Petersburg Times article. The article does briefly mention that Garcia participated in the introduction of color to the front page of The Wall Street Journal in 2002. This is a severe understatement of the scope of the changes that took place at that time, and Garcia’s involvement in them.

My point in mentioning this is that Mario Garcia’s involvement in this new redesign effort ought to reassure current readers rather than alarm them.

Craig Bromberg 24 Feb 06

Continuing change at the WSJ—from 2002’s slight redesign to the introduction of the Friday Weekend Pursuits section, the new Saturday Weekend Edition, the upcoming resizing of the paper, new emphases on “youth” coverage,and yesterday’s reorg bringing the online and paper newsrooms together—is not based on what readers want so much as the simple reality that a shrinking part of the paper’s circ is from the vaunted 25-44 age group, the most wanted advertiser demographic, and that the company is losing money from its printed product, hand over foot.

Here is a hard fact: The most recent MRI figures show that only 24% of the WSJ’s circ falls in this demo, and (more alarmingly) fewer than 10% of all circ is from women. If you are the WSJ, you can only see this as a shrinking revenue base that must be turned around.

Design can be the focus of this disucssion, but the WSJ’s failing fortunes (with the notable exception of its online product) increasing failure is more due to its tin editorial ear. While some editorial innovations have been lasting—perhaps most famously, the famous rail of summarized headlines on P1—with the exception of its feature reporting, the paper’s news is increasingly stale and boring. What percentage of those reading these comments (for example) ever read the Money & Investing section—core to the WSJ’s business news mission? Again, research and anecdote show show that the numbers are very bad here; M&I does well among investors especially in the 45+age group (which, as noted above, is the core of 75% of all WSJ circ), but is obviously not of of interest either to women or younger readers.

Finally, no one has yet mentioned the WSJ’s conservative agenda, its hostility to social programs, shareholder activism (unless that activism is led by Carl Icahn), or corporate accountability—not to mention the Democratic party. Typically such comments are brushed off with the old adage that the paper’s conservatism is confined to its editorial pages. But the truth is that the very way the WSJ reports business news is antithetical to sustainable, accountable, relevant business thinking. Management theory is scorned; diversity is scorned; younger interests are merely patronized (hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s run Steve Perry’s Top 4 rock records, the kids will love that!)

If you want to know why the WSJ has to redesign so radically, why Peter Cohn (and his wife Karen House) were fired, why Rich Zannino has reorged the company, why the paper is being radically designed—it is because the paper is losing money and the Bancroft family (which owns considerable DJ stock) is putting pressure on the company to make money or readying it for a sale.

There are however other ways to imagine the future of business news, both in print or online. If that subject interests you, and you are an editorial professions (editorial, business, or design), you should send email to introduce yourself to cbromberg at thegreen.net.

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