Key to great design: A great art director

Since Businessweek was bought over by Bloomberg, it has been transformed for the better.

The covers every week have been mostly eye-catching, with content to match.

What’s the secret? Get a top-notch art director.

That’s exactly what the magazine, renamed Bloomberg Businessweek, has done. David Thurley and his team have consistently come up with great covers.

Here are just  few examples:

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Design plagiarism

It’s pretty common in newsrooms everywhere to see designers rifling through the SND annual design book looking for ideas. It’s fine, for as long as designers don’t blatantly plagiarise another designer’s work.

After all, there is nothing original under the sun.

But I can’t help seeing blatant plagiarism by a Valentine’s Day card designer. Here it is:val2.pdf as first shown on 10,000 Words, a blog on journalism and technology (http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/).

Whoever designed that card must have stolen the idea from Nicole Peterson’s cover of Dante’s Inferno which she designed in 2008.  Here it is: dantes-inferno.pdf

You can also find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicole-peterson/2421871810/

What do you think?

Frustration of reading the morning papers

This morning at 5.30, I struggled out of bed to catch the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspurs and Inter Milan. There were 7 other matches, but obviously ESPN could only show one.

Being a soccer fan, I wanted to know the results of the other matches to see who would progress into the next round.

Frustratingly, ESPN did not show the results in a corner of the screen as the matches were being played.

So like many soccer fans, what did I do? Go online, of course.

With my iPad logged into various soccer sites and ESPN’s own soccernet.com, I kept track of all the other matches. I knew the result of every one of those 7 matches they were being played. Why, if I wanted to, I could also have watched snippets on internet TV.

It was only at the end of the Spurs-Inter match that ESPN showed all the other results. Except for one – that between Manchester United and Turkish club Bursaspor.  Why? Because ESPN was going to show the match right after the one being telecast live and didn’t want to “spoil” the thrill for ManU fans!

Now, isn’t that pathetic?

Does ESPN think fans would not know the results before watching the delayed telecast? Are they dreaming? The irony is that its own website has a live commentary on all the matches!

The same can actually be said of newspapers.

Yesterday, the morning newspapers carried the story about Canadian Air Force Colonel  Russell Williams’rape and murder of two women, including a photo of him cross-dressing in one of the many lingeries he had stolen from these and other victims.

The story was no more than 600 words long. But it was a gripping story that made Page 1 in many newspapers around the world.

There were numerous stories in Toronto’s  National Post and The Star. You could get all the juicy details in as many papers as you like, especially Canadian ones like the National Post and the Ottawa Sun (below).

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Ottawa Sun: Typical tabloid treatment. But wasn’t the news all over TV and radio the day before?

In fact, if you were an online fanatic, you could read the story well before the morning papers hit your breakfast table.

Which brings me to the following questions: Why are newspapers and TV news so awfully bad at coping with the instant availability of online news? What are they doing to counter this massive threat to their existence?

Almost every “news” story we read in the morning papers is more than 24 hours old. You can name as many stories as you like – from the rescue of the Chilean miners to 911.

More importantly, why aren’t editors thinking of how to bring a story forward instead of merely rehashing what they get from the wires?

Imagine the frustration that readers, especially younger ones who are well plugged into the internet, feel as they flip through the pages of newspapers (if they do at all). No wonder they aren’t reading and buying newspapers.

Editors should wake up before they find themselves outplayed. Like Spurs who lost 4-3.

P/S: The National Post carried the story on Page 1 as a single column. Its main image was the skyscraper home of the Ambani family in Mumbai. I first saw this photo and read the story in Forbes magazine and several other Indian newspapers and magazines more than six months ago. Are Canadians so way behind the times?

The Ottawa Sun’s Page 1 is a typical tabloid. But the killer colonel story was all radio and TV the night before.

China Daily to launch international editions

For a good part of the last decade, China has been flexing its economic muscles.

But now it is ready to flex its journalism might.

A few days ago, Newsweek reported how Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese government’s propaganda wing, is setting up bureaux all over the world and making its presence felt.

Today, I can reveal that another government outfit, the China Daily, is readying itself to start publishing two international editions – one for Asia and one for Europe.

These new editions are intended to give the Chinese view to the news. For long, China has viewed the West’s interpretation of events with suspicion. And it believes the only way to counter western opinion is by publishing an English-language paper that has all the hallmarks of an international newspaper.

That was why China Daily recently hired a handful of westerners, including former SND board member and managing editor of the Las Vegas Sun, Bill Gaspard. Bill redesigned the English-language paper which is published out of Beijing, giving it an international, classier look.

Take a look at the Sept 7 edition:

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A senior journalist, Ravi Shankar, who has worked for China Daily for about 10 years has been dispatched to London to head up the European operations.  It is believed that the European edition of China Daily will hit the streets sometime towards the end of this year or early next year.

The Asian edition is still in the planning stages.

China now has the financial clout to publish what will certainly be loss-making newspaper operations, but profit is of the least importance to the authorities. Flipping through the current issue of the paper, you will notice that there are hardly any ads. Yet the paper employs more than 1,000 people including about 250 journalists.

The paper is headed by a senior Communist Party official with links to top government brass. Each day, journalists take instructions on how to play stories. Many subjects are taboo and will never see the light of day.

One journalist who has worked there for years tells me it is not easy coping with such a system, especially after having worked in a free press. “But the money is good,” he adds. “You just have to accept that this is the way the Chinese do things.”

And do things their way, the Chinese surely will. After all, money is of no object. It’s the war to win over minds that matters more to them.

Young and vibrant = success

Have you noticed that many papers that are hugely successful are manned by younger people?

Take the Jawa Pos group, the second biggest media organisation in Indonesia after Kompas., for example.

Helming the newspaper division is Azrul Ananda, who is under 30, having taken over operations from his father.

Azrul tells me that a majority of his journalists are very much like him or younger. Here he is holding the latest issue of Asian Newspaper Focus published by WAN-Ifra with him and his dad on the cover.

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The Jawa Pos group has about 140 newspapers throughout Indonesia, plus  20 TV channels. Its biggest paper is the Jawa Pos in Surabaya, with a readership of 1.45 million, which is more than Kompas the national newspaper based in Jakarta.

Jawa Pos is perhaps one of the few, if not the only, paper to have a daily youth section. This “Deteksi” section has three pages each day and is entirely run by young journalists whose average age is just 20.

Move over to Croatia, and there, too is a very successful newspaper called 24 Sata, which, again is run by a team of young people.

Boris Trupcevic, the editorial director, is just a touch above 30, and the CEO of the group is not much older.

24 Sata is an A4 newspaper started about four or five years ago. Its strength is in short and snappy stories, the longest of which is six paragraphs!

Is it not quite clear that newsrooms all over the world need to dust off the cobwebs and turn to youth?

Above-the-fold myth

South Africa is still very much a country where newspapers are sold by street hawkers.

Here’s a photo taken from my car while driving around Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago.

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What’s amazing is that morning papers are still being sold in the evening.

Does that mean the morning papers are not doing as well?

Latest circulation figures show that many papers there have taken a hit in sales. The top-selling paper, The Sunday Times, suffered a 40,000 decline year on year in the last quarter.

Drops of 20,000 is not uncommon.

Nobody seems to have any idea why. But one thing it does show is that it is absolutely not true  that newspapers will sell if there are lots of things above the fold.

Can ignorance be justified?

In The Diary of the Media section of The Australian today (Aug 30, 2010), the writer Caroline Overington says it was the first time she had heard of the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association (Panpa).

This comes as a shocker since she is the media writer for the paper!

While it is true that it is very much a boys’ club (in the words of Caroline, “the vibe was very much like that at Car Dealer  of the Year” with “945 men plus three women, one of whom had to play barrel girl”) it is quite wrong to dismiss an organisation that has done much for newspapers, especially those in Australia and New Zealand.

Unfortunately, Panpa has not grown out of its Australia-New Zealand axis despite having been around since 1969 (probably longer than Caroline has lived).

Most of the attendees at its annual conference over the years have been papers in these two countries, although its name suggests it should really represent publishers in the Pacific area which is quite vast.

Journalistic awards dished out at its annual gala dinner have been anything but world class, save for a few of the bigger papers such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.

Only a handful of the papers that win awards at Panpa will ever make the cut at international competitions such as the Society for News Design’s annual design competition or the International Colour Quality Club.

To be fair, many of the awards for marketing, circulation and non-journalistic ones have been of a very high standard.

Does that say something about the standard of journalism, especially in the smaller cities and towns of Australia  and New Zealand?

Have pity on older readers

Why do editors continue to believe they must squeeze as many words as possible into their newspapers? Don’t they read what research has found out – that readers are  having trouble reading small point sizes on newsprint?

Here’s proof – yet again – that they are struggling.

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Bhutanese journalist Sonam Pelden shot this picture of an elderly man reading a paper with a magnifying glass on a bus ride in Berlin last week.

She tells me she has seen quite a few people doing that.

Readers of this blog will remember seeing a photo of an elderly man in Singapore doing the same thing.

The sad fact is that many newspapers totally disregard the ability of the elderly to read point sizes smaller than 9. In fact, many want to bring that down to 8 points!

City Press redesign launches today

South Africans woke up Sunday morning to a new look City Press.

The Sunday English-language paper sports a new masthead, new names for various sections, a new colour palette, new typography and best of all, new content too.

Here’s how the new Page One looks.

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As the designer for City Press, I have always believed that a new design is of little consequence if it is not accompanied by new approaches to the presentation of news and stories,  new ideas, new ways of using photography and graphics, etc.

Editor-in-Chief Ferial Haffajee and her team did not disappoint.

Here’s Ferial and I with some of the day’s pages in the background.

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The new City Press is vibrant, with an exclusive story about how some party leaders are using their positions to enrich themselves leading the paper today.

There will be an emphasis on setting the media agenda, says Ferial, rather than following the pace.

The broadsheet now comes in five sections plus a tabloid lifestyle magazine which is simply called ‘7′ to signify the seventh day of the week and create a younger image.

Each of the sections open with a vertical section name that goes all the way down the left. The Opinion section has been renamed Voices, and this is followed by Business, Sports and Careers.

Here are some of the section fronts:

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The striking feature of the section fronts is the vertical column down the left. Each has a huge initial: V for Voices, B for Business and so on.

First reactions to the redesign have been exceptionally good, with papers flying off the shelves at several agencies I visited this afternoon.

Ferial was delighted that hundreds of ordinary readers had emailed her to express their pleasure with the new look.

“Brilliant. Exciting. Colourful. Clean. Readable. I love it” were some of the comments she received from the readers. She was especially pleased that many top bosses, newsmakers and prominent citizens had also expressed their appreciation for the new design.

“The response has been phenomenal,” says Ferial.

A website, The Daily Maverick (www.dailymaverick.co.za), says the competition among the Sunday papers will be racheted up a notch with City Press’ new design.

Thanks, Daily Maverick, but there is an error in your report. I was not involved in the makeover of the New Straits Times or the Sydney Morning Herald.

New look newsroom as part of redesign

How often do you get a new newsroom? In fact, how often do you get a new newsroom in the process of a redesign of the paper?

Many newspapers tend to think a redesign is just that – a new look paper. But the few that are more forward looking look beyond the design.

City Press, a Sunday paper in South Africa, is being redesigned by me and is set to be relaunched on May 2.

The new newsroom was completed just a week ago, and together with it, a restructured editorial floor. Journalists have moved back from their temporary office, to oohs and aahs from other colleagues in the building in Johannesburg.

It’s colour-coded to identify the various sections.

I had recommended a structural change and Editor-in-Chief Ferial Haffajee was super keen to implement it from the word go! I’ve never worked with such enthusiasm bubbling from everyone in the newsroom!

Here is a picture of workers ripping out all the old carpets, knocking down walls, putting in new colour-coded furniture, paint and the lot!

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All the offices where section editors used to sit, have been knocked down to create an open newsroom.

There are two main hubs. One is where all  the content producers will sit. This is what I call the Producers’ Hub and the other is the back end of the operation called the Production Hub.

The idea is to get all the producers talking to each other so there is little duplication, more coordination between the various sections, and ultimately a better newspaper.

With the Production Hub just at arm’s length away, there will be far better communication between the front office and the back room.

Here’s a photo of the new newsroom, with an area for brainstorming and chilling out if you need to.

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An advertising campaign has already started, teasing readers with posters such as the one below. It has a huge question mark with a little map of Africa at the bottom. This is a teaser to the forthcoming masthead which has undergone a tremendous change.

The campaign is also on TV, radio and of course, in print.

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Here’s how City Press looks today. Watch out for May 2 when the new look hits the streets.

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Here’s a partial picture of what the new masthead  will look like come May 2.

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A world of difference, surely!