Newspaper Design: Best Front Design: Rocky Mountain News

newspaper design
newspaper design


What makes this page a BFD: A story-telling photo
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By Special Guest, Mr. Robert Knilands

The news of the day was President Obama's housing foreclosure relief plan. Some newspapers chose to put down shaky foundations with illustration gimmicks and non-clever question headlines, but one paper made a good investment in photography.

The Kansas City Star's illo showed a utility worker pumping up one side of a house, with colored arrows carrying the details of the plan. The walls come tumblin' down on this one for me, as I'm left to wonder why a house has to be illustrated at all. Certainly there are many of these structures in the K.C. metro area. Take a camera and shoot one.

In San Jose, the Mercury News constructed an illo of a family holding up a house, with text package inside the frame. Again, this isn't hard: Take camera. Leave building. Find suitable house. Shoot picture. Return to building. Use unaltered photo.

The Detroit Free Press did take a photo of a homeowner inside her house. Unfortunately, it's back-lit and not pleasant to look at. Perhaps the sunlight streaming in symbolizes the promise of a new day, but the tan shading for the rest of the package offsets any beneficial contrast in tone.

The Chicago Tribune went with its one-size-fits-all approach of blowing up a photograph of someone's head. These days, whether the subject is politics, houses, or coffee, we can count on a cranial close-up in the Windy City. The photo subjects' downcast eyes and somber moods tell us a little, but the body of the details lies somewhere else.

I was left to wonder why more papers did not go large with the stimulus story. A few Arizona papers played it up, but mainly because Obama was speaking in their state.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Indianapolis Star, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise rolled out the boiler-plate headlines of "Will the housing plan help you?" I have to wonder why more thought is not put into writing something that will lead people into the article.

The newspaper with the best front design today is the Rocky Mountain News, which succeeded where others stumbled. A photo of belongings along a street tells the tale of a tenant who's been evicted because the homeowner stopped making mortgage payments. The subject's wind-blown hair symbolizes the loss of control over the situation. Bravo to the staffers who put in the time to find this photo and to give it the play it deserved. The headline, "A hand for homeowners," is not an award-winner, but it's far more clever than simply regurgitating an amount (one that differed in papers nationwide, BTW) or asking a pointless question.

On a unrelated note, 2008 was the Year of the Redesign. Only three U.S. papers were honored by the Society for their overall efforts: the Chicago Tribune, the SunSentinel and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Well done, lads and ladies!

See the stories that tweens are reading today at TweenTribune, like Barack getting Shaq's shoe; Plane gets away from 80-year-old pilot; And a woman on trial for piercing cats.

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The bell tolls for Time, too

Fourth, and probably last, in a series

Time magazine thinks it knows how to save your newspaper. But its "Modest Proposal" is delivered in a printed form that is remarkably modest itself - it's 56 pages are barely thick enough to shim a coffee table, let alone support an entire industry.

Time may be girded in gravitas, but its physical presence lacks heft. The pot is calling the kettle black while newspapers and magazines head into the red.

Newspapers may want to fight back, but against whom? Craig Newmark, the guy who reinvented classifieds, or Al Gore, the guy who invented the Internet?

A recent commenter on Alan Mutter's superb blog said, "The problem with media companies is that they don't know how to build a successful website from scratch. Very few newspaper and local media companies have successfully established new web enterprises that weren't leveraging their local brands."

Mutter calls this failure "profound."

"The reason young people don't gravitate to newspaper websites is that most sites are more newspaper than web: staid, static and largely un-interactive. In other words, 1995-style shovelware won't cut it."

While Mutter delivers answers, Jeff Jarvis asks "What Would Google Do?" Based on Jarvis' book, it's safe to assume that Google would not deploy the kind of lackluster sites that Jarvis directed for Newhouse's newspapers until 2005, where he was president and creative director. Ultimately, it's these people who are responsible for the failure of newspapers to monetize online, which ultimately is driving the downfall of newspapers.

Here's something else Google wouldn't do: create new sites mired in old thinking. Globalpost, minnpost, voiceofsandiego and stlbeacon will fail because they merely replicate the content and revenue strategies that haven't worked for newspapers. None of these can generate the cash they need to be sustainable. That's why they depend upon handouts.

But consider this:

Sites like realpeoplerealstuff, videojobshop and tweentribune represent the new breed of news and advertising sites. These sites embody the new fundamentals: niche, youth, usability, UGC, geo- and demographically targeted advertising, stickiness, video, automation, mobile, distributive editing and fun.

These sites are coming to your town – with or without the local newspaper's imprimatur. But they're coming.

So go ahead. Pick up the current issue of Time. Its slimness speaks volumes.