Poll results: Impediments to good design at community newspapers

I’M DISAPPOINTED. I thought there would be more interest.

There wasn’t. Fifteen votes.

Here are the results.

I could go on a rant here about the real answer being “No one at community newspapers gives a damn about design.” But I think I would be wrong…to rant, that is. I’m beginning to think I’m right about no one at community newspapers giving a damn about design. OK, not “no one.” But too many of the editors, managers and publishers at community newspapers continue to demonstrate that they couldn’t care less about design.

How do I know that? I’ve seen their papers.

The correct answer to the poll questions options is: All of the above.

No one is trained.

No one has the time.

No one bothers to plan.

No one offers design leadership.

No one cares about design.

Disagree? Prove me wrong. For every feel-designed community newspaper out there, I can show you at least a dozen that are terrible.

And the sad part of it is that most of the staff and managers at community newspapers have no concept of design. They’re comfortable with what they have…even it it’s ugly, uninspired and uninviting. And they don’t seem to care about making it better.

That’s the disappointment.


Filed under Poll | survey

18 responses to “Poll results: Impediments to good design at community newspapers

  1. Hey Ed. I agree many community newspapers don’t care about design. They think their content is enough, which is sad. I have a book due out soon that hopefully will help the community journalist. Time is an issue. But the will is an even bigger issue. And for the record, the Carolina Forest Cheonicle is a community newspaper that does care about design. It lets us hang with the mega daily. Love the blog!!

    • Well, of course content is king. We all agree to that. But what many community newspaper editors don’t understand it that “design” is about a lot more than fonts and logos and color. It’s about organization and readability and making the paper more accessible and more comfortable and easier and faster to get through. And…please…spare me from editors who justify whatever design sins they commit with “I like it! It’s cool.” I soooo do not want to go there!

      • Oops I didn’t see the glaring typo in my last post. I was texting from the golf course. Should be the Carolina Forest Chronicle!

        Anyway, I think too many community journalists think good content overrides good design. I obviously don’t agree with that but it’s what I think some editors and publishers think. Too many people out there with too much pride to admit that fuzzy photos, funky fonts and 60-inch stories are turning readers off. If more community journalists would think art first, it would be a great start to solving design problems. Good art doesn’t guarantee good design, but bad art does guarantee bad design (unless you’re a whiz with Quark, InDesign or Illustrator). I’d go as far to say that great art and great design compensates for average content more so than great content compensating for poor design.

        I also think it’s true that lack of time keeps design-minded editors like myself from cranking out more great designs.

  2. Kurt Johnson

    Seems a little harsh, Ed. I won’t disagree that a lot of papers could use some serious design help, including ours. Time and money in short supply these days, though a little effort and creative focus would go a long way.

    • Not harsh. Just the truth. And…if you don’t disagree, what’s keeping you (and/or other publishers) from doing something about it? Time? I believe you create the time you need for anything you want to accomplish by planning better. I know it works…I’ve done it. Money? Even if it could be proven to you that getting help will make you money in the long run? Even if that investment could bring you better efficiency? Even if the process could bring more $$$ to your bottom line with new approaches, new thinking and new techniques for advertising?
      “Time” and “money” are relative. An ugly, disorganized, cluttered newspaper is not relative—it’s out there every week for all to see.
      And I will grant you your last point: a little effort and creative focus would go a long way. But…who leads the effort? And who decides what is “creative” and what is clichéd? If you need an operation, you go to a surgeon…an expert. If your newspaper needs to be better organized, more readable, more accessible—if it needs to do a better job of ad design and attention, you bring it to…well…???

  3. Scott M. Brings Plenty

    I would agree that most community newspapers couldn’t care less about design. Just look at most of them, they truly are terrible. Most of them look like they were designed back in the 1970s. And, I think that is the problem. In community newspapers, for the most part, there is a huge tendency to not want to change. It’s the old, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it” mentality. That doesn’t work in 2012.

    People have to be willing to change, and to be willing to change they have to admit that there is something that needs improving.

  4. “If you need an operation, you go to a surgeon…an expert.”
    I can only speak for myself. There is a certain amount of God-given talent and artistic flair in design that I will never have. Yes, I can be trained to put together a vanilla-looking page, but I went to college and became a sportswriter. I am now expected to take photos and design pages, but somehow, the people who make the hiring decisions don’t expect the designers and photographers to write. Let’s have writers write and designers design, instead of having writers do both.

  5. Bev

    I have to chime in here..I agree with Kurt and Larry. In our very small communities talent is spread pretty thin and the old line about what does a publisher do….depends on who comes to work that day…is so true. We can really be held hostage by our employees in these small towns meaning we can plan all we want but if that one important person gets sick or leaves (or some other creative personell issue happens) the publisher (owner, editor, head houncho) is back to putting those redesign plans back in the drawer and answering the phone. Personally, I try to sneak in small changes as I can.

  6. Denise Jorgensen

    I would have taken the survey; however, I am not a member of LinkedIn. Sorry, Ed.
    In regard to design, it is my opinion that many times the apparent lack of good design is the fault of those who have the final word on what the paper looks like. Many times I’ve had a perfectly fine design ruined by a higher-up or committee whose ideas were simply awful.

  7. Jishyo

    Our newspaper values good design and makes it a point to try to make elements engaging. I will say though, I think there’s a little more heft to the “keep things traditional” argument than meets the eye.

    Newspapers, especially community newspapers, can’t afford to lose readers by a radical redesign especially if staff is attempting to capture one audience at the cost of alienating another. Good design should be about trying to incorporate all audiences easily, but I can see editors worried about losing an audience they may never get back.

    But times are changing. Any newspaper, community or daily, must roll with them.

  8. Anonymous

    Speaking of design what are the rules for how wide a column should be? An editor had a story with 2 columns and each column is 3.25 inches wide. That seems too wide. Is there a rule? Thanks.

    Concerning good design, at some weeklies, one person does everything: write, photographs, copy edits, website, blog, and design. They may have a journalism degree, but they are not necessarily graphic designers. In college, I don’t believe graphic design is part of the journalism major, but it should be. I recall having one class in college in which I had to do a mock-up newsletter and magazine and that was it! This was before the days of Photoshop. It would be heavenly if we had a design department but that’s not going to happen. I do think our papers look better than a lot of other ones I’ve seen! Time is another factor. Since staff is spread so thin, they don’t have time to do fancy design things, such as cutouts, etc. Heck, I barely have time to read Ed’s blog.

    • The ideal length is 39 to 52 characters long. Typographers, who are the experts at this, claim this is optimum line length for good reading.

      Eon’t count inches, don’t count picas, don’t count points. Count characters. And, while you’re at it, count everything as a character, including punctuation and spaces.

      39-52 characters. Easy.

      But you should know that most news columns in newspapers are shy of the mark—some of them only in the high 20s. Be prepared for that.

      Does this help?


  9. Anonymous

    Yes, thanks!

  10. The poll is clear … there is way too much going on for design to depend on the staff, which is often the same soul who edits the copy and write a good deal of it.

    Design can and should be automated.

    That would make most papers look way better than they do now while not requiring an attention by the staff.

  11. just curious… were any of the respondents the persons primarily responsible for the design of their own papers?

    • Interesting question…and I don’t know the answer to that. Now that I have moved my blog to my web site (www.henningerconsulting.com), I’m going to resurrect this entire poll sometime in the future, perhaps moving the comments already received to the new discussion.

  12. Jishyo

    I’m partially responsible for layout, but the heavy lifting goes to the graphic design artist. I do occasional pages when I have time, as well as corrections- but I’m usually writing and taking photos first before that.

  13. Anonymous

    Breathe, Ed, breathe. Inhale, exhale.

    There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home …

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