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Do Post editors care what readers think about the redesign?

By Andy Alexander

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 ideas@washpost.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 ideas@washpost.com 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 ideas@washpost.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.

By Andy Alexander  | October 26, 2009; 5:17 PM ET
 
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Comments

Roger Black, head of the New York-based Roger Black Studio that collaborated with The Post on the redesign:
‘Dear Idiot: Your typeface was almost illegible and now I can’t read it at all.’”

"There’s always a certain amount of pitchfork-and-torches that happens after a redesign.”

-------------------------------------------

This man certainly holds WaPo readers in low regard. Now we know what the people the WaPo hires thinks of it's readers.

if people are still cranky, I think there will be huge trouble,”

a high percentage of readers who are “generational,” meaning that they read the paper as their parents did before them.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | October 27, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

The answer? No! Post editors don't have an ounce of repect for their readers.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 27, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

I have a suggestion: Ask us BEFORE you redesign, not afterwards!

Posted by: AMviennaVA | October 27, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I don’t think Post editors care much what readers think about anything.

Posted by: hgillette | October 27, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander has three basic columns:

1. He finds the Post guilty of not being deferential to conservatives based on Pew Polls that show Journalists are supposedly "liberal"

2. He writes about some issue and asks the editors to explain and then he issues a wishy-washy, Broder-like non-conclusion.

3. He writes about an issue that is way on the back of most people's interests in a newspaper, like the redesign, ignoring the rightward trend of the papers Op-Ed staff, ignoring the paper's war-cheerleading neo cons, ignoring conflicts of interests like Ms. Applebaum's and Mr. Kurtz' very active spouses, ignoring the hate speech by Beer Hall Orator William Donohue in the "On Faith" "Conversation" (!!!!!), ignoring the legitimate complaints that Mr. Hiatt relied on his own proposed facts to criticize President Obama on Health Care.

In general Mr. Alexander is deferential beyond belief to right wing critics and the Post staff, so it is not surprising Mr. Alexander has no readers.

The only time he gets readers is when he bows to Limbaugh and Memeorandum sends them here.

For progressive/liberal readers like myself, The Post is an ex-newspaper. It is FoxNews Lite. Mr. Alexander is an Ombudsboy-reporter who needs to take the conservative cure and start courting the "Ditto-Mega-diito" conformist crowd, because he has lost any progressives. We know a conservative groupie when we see one.

Posted by: wapoisrightwingrag | October 27, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The answer is no, you don't care, WAPO - Bill "I think therefore I'm wrong" Kristol is on your pages - 'nuff said...

Posted by: LABC | October 27, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl seem to be outside your purview, but it's Krauthammer, Kristol, Kagan, Gerson, Cohen, Hiatt, Diehl and Will who define what's quoted from the Washington Post. Does it believe these people or simply print these columns for reader amusement?

Does the Post not employ real journalists who have primary sources and who dig for news that their sources might be reluctant to reveal? Nope, it's Hiatt's op-ed pages (two) which define the Post. Katharine Weymouth should be ashamed.

Posted by: harper-d | October 28, 2009 6:27 AM | Report abuse

If the Editors care, why do I have to post a comment on today's editorial cartoon under yesterday's cartoon? Mainly because the person who does those boxes is a day or so late. Except on Mondays when I have to go back to last Friday. I have sent emails to explain the problem and they react in very sincere incomprehension. "Huh.." is the most intelligent response I have ever received.

I just give up on the Editors and am happy they are able to earn a living with their set of skills. I do not want them "hanging out" around the Malls.

Posted by: gary4books | October 28, 2009 6:43 AM | Report abuse

Is this what the Ombudsman job is? To talk about matters of style? Do you have nothing more important to address? Perhaps you could talk about what how you see your function in your next column.

I could find enough criticism of how the Post presents the news to write your column for a whole year just by reading the comments posted by readers in one day. But hey! We don't want to rock the boat, do we?

Maybe you should should just go back on vacation.

Posted by: st50taw | October 28, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Andy, we're a week away from the VA elections and all you care about is the redesign? Nothing on the blatant spill-over of the Post's editorial bias to the so-called news reporters - specifically Amy Gardner and Anita Kumar's attack articles on McDonnell and Cuccinelli (based on a phone call from Cuccinelli's opponent)? No interest in journalistic balance?

Posted by: jhorstma | October 29, 2009 1:22 AM | Report abuse

What is the difference between journalism and art?
Activity: Appropriation and Manipulation of News Imagery http://edu.warhol.org/aract_dedis.html
The difference is the volume of production. We'll always have both. Newspapers are good source materials. Newspapers that survive will know how to balance journalism and art. There are things that can be done with newspapers that can't be done digitally. Editors have less control of things today. The death of newspapers has been the death of art or at least the source of some art.
CRASH KILLS FOUR is in front of me on newspaper. Not planned, it was just there in the morning. "“4 million are
going to die.” That started it." It never ends. Who cares?

Posted by: Dermitt | October 29, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander,

Are you ever going to get around to writing about the pro-Democratic bias covering the Virginia elections appearing in the "news" section that is becoming more ridiculous by the day. Today's two articles trying to smear McDonnell and Cuccinelli five days before the election show that the only real difference between the editorial page and news page is...well...I don't know what the difference is....

Posted by: DaveinMD | October 29, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Watch and see:

A conservative has complained about Liberal Bias.

Mr. Alexander will sit up and beg, "woof woof!!!"

"Hire more conservative writers!!!"

"Pew Report!!"

Cannot wait to see Alexander's column sucking up to his right wing reader.....

Countdown begins!!!

Posted by: wapoisrightwingrag | October 30, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

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