SunSentinel Redesign, Day Two

The headline on Earl Maucker's Sunday column on the redesign of the Sun-Sentinel (hey, he left the dash in there, not me) reads: "Bold new look aimed at helping readers."

The truth is that it does the opposite. All of the big headlines, logos, and other visual bells and whistles only separate the readers from what they are there for ... news. What used to be laid out for them on a silver platter is now something they must search for like a small store in a big mall.

Maucker seems to know this. He writes in his lede that the purpose of the redesign is "to give readers quick and easy reading" in the first pages and to give them "a colorful and simple-to-follow road map to more in-depth information inside."

Great. Now we have to follow a "road map" to get news out of our newspaper. Let's examine today's front page.

First observation, not a single story on it. It's dominated by Tropical Storm Fay, of course, but the page adds nothing in the way of context. Just a giant photo and the headline. Little blurbs then give us a "road map" to where to go find actual stories about the storm -- you know, the stuff we didn't already know.

How about Page 2? More road map. No, really, there's a map of Broward and Palm Beach counties with blurbs of stories attached, telling us where to dig in the newspaper to find them.

The local section again is led by Fay, this time with about ten inches of copy running down the side of the page and a lot more road map, leading you related stories on page 3, 6, and 9. Two other stories grace the page but have such little space for copy that both jump.

Inside is a cacophony of blurbs and ultra-short stories and jumps and ads. "FPL to replace power pole." "Transferring into workplace." "Apply for spot on board."Brandsmart USA: Stay Connected." Hey, the latter is an ad, but who knows the difference? Finding substance is like finding an egg on Easter. They've turned the newspaper into a scavenger hunt.

The Sentinel has been heading down the bells-and-whistles path for years, but this takes it to a new level. The last time I remember such a radical change was when Gannett, back in the 1980s, shortened almost all stories to the 8-12 inch range and instituted the jump rule. The idea behind that change was that readers have short attention spans and don't have the time or inclination to go digging through the newspaper. The Sentinel's redesign seems to be informed by just the opposite idea (though both share an underlying belief that the average reader is disinclined to read in-depth stories).

In the end readers will decide if the newspaper is right. Until then, happy hunting.

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