Burning down the house — but not town hall

Readers see headlines and images, and then (we hope) read the text of the story. That’s why it is important for that combination of headline and photograph to make the correct impression.

That doesn’t happen here. The “steady pace” headline is at odds with the image of destruction. The story mentions that a house was burned down by firefighters to clear the site for the new town hall, but that’s pretty far to ask the reader to go to reconcile this unfortunate juxtaposition.

Solutions to this sort of problem include changing the headline or selecting a different photo. Another option is to write the cutline in a way that clearly connects the image to the story. In this case, perhaps revising the second sentence of the cutline to mention that this is the town hall site would help.

Here is another example. And here.

Farewell, Mr. Blackwell

Fashion critic Richard Blackwell has died at age 86. Known as Mr. Blackwell, he was best known for his lists of the worst-dressed celebrities.

Blackwell, presumably with help from his editors, was the master of the sartorial insult as well as the list format. His well-worded zingers included pop culture references, alliteration and internal rhyme. Here are a few examples:

  • Camilla Parker-Bowles: “The Duchess of Dowdy.”
  • Sharon Stone: “An over-the-hill Cruella DeVille.”
  • Lindsay Lohan: “From adorable to deplorable.”

Read more here.

Redesign reactions

Anytime a newspaper goes through a redesign, some people are going to hate it, and they will be vocal. And the complaints are almost always the same.

Having just gone through such a revamp with this blog, I offer this list of the top 10 complaints about a newspaper redesign.

10. It looks like USA Today.

9. Why isn’t international news on the front page anymore?

8. The type is too small. I can’t read the stories.

7. The photos are too big. There’s less space for news.

6. Dumbing down the newspaper will not attract younger readers.

5. The weather map looks like the one in USA Today.

4. A redesign has never been shown to increase newspaper revenue. Never!

3. The colors are ugly and distracting.

2. I can’t find the Jumble.

1. Why are you turning into USA Today?

UPDATE: Thanks to links at Romenesko and elsewhere, this post is getting lots of traffic. It’s also being perceived in some quarters as a critique of the redesign at the Los Angeles Times. It isn’t about the LAT — it’s about typical reaction from readers to a typical newspaper redesign.

Thanks for reading.

In search of Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day is confusing. What’s open? What’s closed?

Back in the day, newspapers ran textboxes (usually in a grid format) that listed holiday closings for banks, post offices, courts, libraries and schools. Information about garbage pickup was usually included too.

Copy editors and page designers lucky enough to work for newspapers with zoned editions had to deal with “closings boxes” tailored to specific readers in different circulation areas. This made sense for those readers, but they were often a headache for the copy desk. The problem was the size of the box changed from edition to edition, requiring changes to the overall layout of a page — the one for Rockingham County may be a lot smaller than the one for Guilford County, for example.

Readers still want this information, and nowadays many are looking online. The Hot Trends list at Google has these search terms among the top 100 on this Columbus Day:

  • columbus day 2008 calendar
  • is there mail on columbus day
  • columbus day bank holiday
  • us postal service holidays
  • is the post office open on columbus day

So, readers are looking for this information. Are they finding it easily? Not at prominent North Carolina news sites. Searches at WRAL.com and the Greensboro paper’s site were fruitless. The News & Observer’s site has this brief tucked away. A search at the Charlotte Observer’s site turned up this list.

None of these sites had Columbus Day information on its homepage. Was that the right call?

UPDATE: This post is attracting some readers looking for that elusive Columbus Day information. I’m sorry I cannot provide that, but be sure to let your local media know as they plan for the Veterans Day closings.