Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Chicago Trib: Survival on the front page

The changing face of the Tribune

In a column written by the Public Editor of the Trib, he defends the newspaper against complaints of its past front-page treatments. The above image was the front page of the Trib the day after Saddam Hussein was executed. He says the size of Hussein's image and the large "Executed." next to his face is more typical of a magazine or tabloid. But at the same time, it got his attention... which is the whole point.

Sadly, we all know that newspaper readership has been steadily declining over the years. We ourselves are probably contributing to this factor. For myself, I know I'd rather look at the stories online because 1) it's free, 2) I don't have to carry anything around and 3) it's one less expense if I don't subscribe to the paper edtion. But this is only because I don't have a great deal of time to spend poring over the different sections of the newspaper. Right now, my goal in reading the paper is to find story ideas or to be relatively informed for my news quizzes.

But perhaps the rest of America is going along with this trend because life has simply sped up in the past few decades. As technology advances and days get longer for working people, who has time to spread out the newspaper and take a good look at everything? I'm guessing that more people subscribe to only the weekend edition of a paper or the Sunday edition because THAT is when they have more time.

Now, in order to get more people to buy the paper on a random basis from news stands, Tim McNulty suggests the eye-catching element of the front page is crucial. And I believe him. He says, "The front page is the newspaper's face and its prime real estate."

But at the same time, newspaper editors do not merely think about making the front page an "eye-catcher." A great deal of thought and discussion goes into deciding what stories go on the front page. The different elements -- like newsworthiness, relevance, timeliness and whether or not it has an image -- come into play, yet again. And all this is pitched to the senior editor by the section editors.

There is no way a newspaper can make all of its readers happy with the way it decides to present its front pages. Not only is it WHAT goes on the front page or what DOESN'T make it to the front page but also HOW the stories on the front are treated. Readers should keep in mind that an image or headline is just a way of trying to grab attention, but the important stuff is really the teeny, tiny writing that you can't read from 2 feet away.

And as fewer and fewer people read the paper, McNulty argues that finding different, creative ways of presenting its front page is necessary for enticing more readers to pick up the paper and could also be "essential to the survival of the newspaper industry."



At Sunday, January 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I think the editor's job is to constantly come up with new ways to sell papers. Newspapers, in order to be relevant 20 years from now, need to appeal to new audiences. And if life-size pictures or snazzy graphics sell more papers than so be it. It's a business.

but the future of papers is online. From the lousy 3 percent increase newspapers have gotten from advertisers in the past few years, 90 percent of that is from online advertisements. The days of the Daily might be numbered.


At Sunday, January 21, 2007, Anonymous VLD said...

It must be incredibly hard to keep the ethical tenets of journalism in mind when your other job is to SELL SELL SELL!

I've seen RedEye covers that, in my mind, really bordered on offensive or inflammatory or even misleading. Wish I could think of one right now.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

So many books are judged by the cover and so much of daily news is captured only by the front page. I think its sad that though lots of newspapers capture a diversity of voices and opinions and a diversity of stories, much of the diversity isn't reflected in the front page--thereby limiting some reader's from purchasing or even reading the paper. If all they see are sad stories about death, divorce and abuse--the assumption arises that everything from pg2 on is bad news about death, divorce and abuse.

I am a heavy analyst of front pages and headlines, in general--newspapers, magazines, tv headlines (esp.) and I'm always eager to see which stories make the top list, which are the ones we tease and which are the ones that only get a quick graph or (vo).

I agree that readership is a huge priority for editors and it's sad that certain words and pictures (no matter how ethical) will be more attractive to the eye than others..and more likely (even more than story content) to sell a paper.


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