Redesigns. They’ve been on my mind a lot lately.
When Ed Henninger, the undisputed guru of newspaper and magazine design, decided to retire three years ago (I never really thought he was serious), we had several conversations about his decision. I’ll never forget when he told me he was “done.”
“I’m closing down my website. I’m getting rid of my Adobe software subscription. I’m going to give my large page printer to you. When I retire, I’m not looking back.”
I asked who would take his place. “They’re all yours,” he said.
Like a lot of you, I stay busy. Most of my workdays begin around 9:00 a.m. and end between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. During those hours, I’m overseeing my businesses, leading webinars several days most weeks, and trying - when I can - to help longtime newspaper clients. It’s 10:30 p.m. right now, and I have several hours of work ahead of me.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that redesigns are on the minds of many publishers. I’m hearing from a lot of my community newspaper friends that business is good. They know that a redesign has the potential to make business better.
My phone has been ringing…a lot. I just finished a redesign of the Standard Banner, Jefferson City, Tennessee, and I’ve agreed to do a couple of redesigns at newspapers on the northern and southern borders of the U.S. over the next few months. I guess, like Ed predicted, I’ve become his heir apparent, whether I have the time or not. With that in mind, let me make some suggestions on ways you can improve your newspaper's design right now, without waiting to do a total redesign.
- Hold a meeting of the full newspaper staff and brainstorm ways to improve your paper. What parts of the paper are your readers' favorites? Which regular features could be removed without anyone noticing? What needs to be added?
- Look at your current design. Unless you’ve recently done a redesign, there's a good chance that the pages look outdated. Readers don’t have to be design experts to know when something is outdated. The subconscious does a great job of reminding them. What needs to be changed right away? What outdated design elements are causing potential readers to put down your paper before reading a word?
- Hold a focus group made up of readers and non-readers of your paper to learn what changes people in your community think should be made to improve the design and content of the paper.
- Make incremental changes to the paper. Yes, newspapers should redesign their pages every five years, at a minimum. However, gradual changes can be made to update and improve the design along the way. Look for design elements that are outdated and fonts that were outdated ten years ago. What colors are you using? Are they outdated (yes, colors go in and out of style)? Are you keeping your ad design up to date, or do your ads look the same as they did ten years ago?
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, but doing just these things will go a long way toward improving the way people perceive your newspaper, and when they perceive it positively, readership will increase, along with ad revenue.
I’ve come to learn that one thing is almost certain: When a newspaper does a major redesign, increased readership and ad revenue will follow. I regularly hear from clients who tell me their readership and revenue have increased significantly since their redesigns. It happens enough that I’ve learned it’s not a coincidence.
My Latest Late-Night Phone Call
Just now, while writing this column, my phone rang. It was Hank, a longtime publisher in Kentucky. I like Hank, so I was happy to take his call.
He didn’t take any time to get on topic. “I am so tired of reading (a newspaper industry) Magazine and reading that newspapers are dead. It’s just not true, and I’m so tired of reading that print is dead.”
I told Hank I understood and that we’ve been hearing that for more than 20 years. “Don’t let it get to you” was my best advice.
Then he added, “My revenue was up $40,000 in 2021. It’s just not true that printed newspapers are dying.”
I assured Hank that I regularly get similar calls and messages from publishers, and it’s true that newspapers are not dying. I also assured him that most publishers I’ve visited with lately about the subject have told me their papers are doing quite well.
We visited about Hank’s health and our crazy late-night work schedules. I ended the conversation by saying, “I might mention our conversation in my column.”
He answered, “That’s fine.”
Believe what you want. From where I’m sitting, most community newspapers are doing just fine.
Let’s see. That’s 800 words in 35 minutes. My work, for the moment, is done.