Good newspapers believe that only daily discontent with the product will meet the changing and growing needs of readers.
That's one reason it was a pleasure to see the Deseret News introduce some changes in its format this past week, though the News was, and had been for a long time, a bright and artfully designed package.The News follows the example of more and more papers that are redesigning to make their product an even "faster read." They have learned that readers begin by scanning pages for stories that meet their needs and interests.
Great newspapers constantly improve format. The changes are usually subtle, so as not to shock readers or make it hard for them to recognize the paper. Casual readers of the New York Times might think its front page hasn't changed much in eons, but it has. The Times put a small fortune into new typography a few years ago to make the pages more readable, though the only change quickly apparent was the elimination of the period after The New York Times in the nameplate.
The American Society of Newspaper editors tells in its current bulletin why newspapers are experimenting more than ever with new graphic techniques. It says that "increasingly researchers identify time pressure as a leading cause for lost readers. It is a problem growing in intensity." It points to increasing competition for leisure time from new media such as specialty magazines and cable TV.
Excellent papers like the Portland Oregonian and, within the past month, the Los Angeles Times, have begun, like the Deseret News, to use expanded index/news summaries. The Times, which had been regarded as rather gray and traditional, has gone even further than the News, creating a highlights column for every section and a full Page 2 of news summaries.
-THE MOST INNOVATIVE recent development in these papers is the "summary deck sentence," which the Deseret News uses on the front and local page and promises will be used more extensively. It is a catchy point or two set off by a key word in large type under the headline.
It's a device used by magazines, where it is especially valuable because they usually use titles rather than headlines.
In a way, the summary deck sentence replaces the conventional decks, or subordinate parts of headlines, which have largely become passe as newspapers have streamlined their appearance. In that sense, the newspapers have come full circle.
I always liked decks, for they helped the busy reader. This was especially true when the top headline had to be compressed into miserly space or was no more than a label.
-NEWSPAPERS STARTED using decks in the Civil War period to smack readers right between the eyes with news from the battlefield. The depth of a whole column often was devoted to the headline. One of the most famous headlines of the day was over the New York Times report on the assassination of Lincoln, which began with the line "Awful Event" but was followed by seven units on significant parts of the story that followed:
Shot by an
The Act of a Desperate Rebel
No Hopes Entertained of His
Details of the Dreadful Tragedy
BX) (BX) (BX) (BX)
-TIME MAGAZINE'S collector's edition of 150 years of photojournalism, which came out last week, was a joy to read, reprising some of the great photos from its sister publication Life and other sources.
I was struck, however, by how many of these great photos brought up some real ethical problems, some of which didn't seem to bother the journalists of yesteryear.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of the Marines planting the flag on Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima was widely believed to have been posed, because it was so perfectly composed. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal of AP, always denied he posed it. I heard him say once that he had shot more than one photo by asking the Marines to plant it again, in effect restaging the event. But that's how news lensmen work: They always want one more shot for safety's sake.
In a Civil War shot, the scene was rearranged by Harper's Weekly. It added bodies, a broken cart and fallen horses from other photos to a picture of a dead sharpshooter.
Then there was the photo the New York Daily News sneaked of Ruth Snyder dying in the electric chair in 1928. Snyder had been convicted in a sensational trial of murdering her husband. The New York Daily News brought in a photographer to shoot a picture with a camera strapped to his ankle. A shutter release cable ran to his pocket.
And in that famous picture of the American plane flying over the rubble of Berlin to deliver supplies during the 1948 blockade, Time reports, "The heroic imagery was artificially augmented by the addition of a few extra clouds in the developing process."
These touches would cause considerable anguish today. Electronic editing has made retouching vastly easier and less detectable, hence of more moral concern. And all media are more sophisticated about the strengths and limitations of pictures and about their ability to lie.