Do Post editors care what readers think about the redesign?
Here’s one of the main questions from readers who have offered views on The Post’s print redesign: Do editors care what I think?
That was a common theme in reader e-mails following Sunday’s ombudsman column noting my surprise at how few readers had submitted comments to email@example.com, the address set up for feedback. As I wrote, through Friday “they totaled fewer than the more than 750 who contacted The Post in the spring after editors eliminated the ‘Judge Parker’ comic strip,” which was subsequently restored.
After Sunday’s column appeared, more than 100 others wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org and about 50 more e-mailed me. Many said they hadn’t written because they considered the changes a done deal.
“Why waste precious time tilting against a fait accompli?” wrote one. “I generally find the Post’s requests for readers’ comments very disingenuous.”
But there’s evidence editors are listening.
I’ve been given access to the email@example.com queue and can see that many readers already are receiving lengthy responses from key editors offering detailed explanations for the changes.
And changes are being made. Many readers complained that the new system for numbering pages – the page number followed by the section letter (example: 18A) -- was unnecessary. Editors agreed, and beginning Tuesday the paper will revert to the old system of letter first (A18).
Further revisions are being contemplated for the weather layout on the back of the Metro section, where the national map is so small that many said they couldn’t read it. Minor design alterations already have been made elsewhere, and editors are looking at the placement and reduced size of some comics.
The redesign, the most extensive in more than a decade, was introduced on Monday, Oct. 19 with an accompanying eight-page tabloid “Redesign Owner’s Manual” explaining the changes. But editors decided to wait until they received reader reaction from several hundred thousand Sunday-only subscribers who saw the changes for the first time this weekend.
Raju Narisetti, one of The Post’s two managing editors, said he expects the redesign team will convene in the next week or so for a broad assessment. “If we find that something’s not working, we’ll go back and change it,” he said late last week.
Added Ed Thiede, a key editor on the redesign effort: “It will take a few weeks. But I think people will eventually say: ‘Great, they DID listen to me.’”
The main complaint continues to be what many readers believe is bad choice for a new typeface for stories. More than half of the e-mails I received since Sunday say the font makes it harder to read. From talking with editors today, my sense is that it would take a much greater reader upheaval to abandon the new typeface, which is an upgrade of the Scotch Roman font used in newspapers for roughly two centuries. To many readers it appears smaller, although a side-by-side comparison in the “Redesign Owner’s Manual” tabloid shows it’s slightly larger. But editors generally agree that it tends to come off as slightly lighter or less weighty.
Roger Black, head of the New York-based Roger Black Studio that collaborated with The Post on the redesign, said today that negative reaction to the font change is not surprising.
“I always tell any editor going through a redesign to be prepared for the following letter: ‘Dear Idiot: Your typeface was almost illegible and now I can’t read it at all.’”
“That’s just a function of change,” said Black, who added that typeface readability is overwhelmingly based on familiarity.
Black said he considered the volume of Post reader reaction to be “moderate," noting: "There’s always a certain amount of pitchfork-and-torches that happens after a redesign.”
He said The Post has a high percentage of readers who are “generational,” meaning that they read the paper as their parents did before them.
As such, he said, Post readers feel a deep sense of “ownership” of the paper and react strongly when there are changes in design. “It would be like if the Ford Motor Co. went into your garage and repainted your car while you were at work,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger that would happen.”
“Two months from now, if people are still cranky, I think there will be huge trouble,” he said. “But I think people will get used to it.”
My column noted that as The Post has gone through huge changes in content and appearance over the past year, its decline in circulation has been fairly modest when compared to the newspaper industry. That held true with new circulation figures released today for the six months through September compared to the same period a year ago.
Post daily circulation declined by 6.40 percent to 582,844 and Sunday circulation declined 5.06 percent to 822,208. That was on the low end of declines when compared to many other major U.S. newspapers.
Daily circulation of The New York Times declined 7.28 percent and 2.66 percent Sundays. Daily circulation for USA Today declined 17.15 percent. The Wall Street Journal recorded a slight (0.61 percent) increase in daily circulation and has the highest circulation of any daily at just over 2 million. USA Today is at about 1.9 million.
| October 26, 2009; 5:17 PM ET
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