One of the local newspapers here (in Upstate South Carolina), the Anderson Independent-Mail, has decided – and already instituted – a new paper format they call, “Going Green.” They say it’s more environmental friendly, it wastes less paper and that paper itself is environmental friendly. But I ask: at what cost to a) the news hole, which in news-speak means the amount of space alotted to news and b) journalistic integrity.
Here is a screenshot of the new format:
While a giant picture and no text may appeal to fourth-graders, it shouldn’t be satisfactory to anyone with a high school, and especially a college education. To a journalist, it’s truly a road to crisis. But the worst isn’t the front. The front actually looks decent, that is, if you are OK with no stories on the front of a newspaper. I’m not OK with that at all.
Other distressing signals rest inside. Here, content is fleeting. The reader finds 100-word stories and 10-point font that looks cartoonish amidst tiny tabloid-esque newspint. (Note: Say you are a publisher of a fairly sizable daily and you want to make a name for yourself by making a radical change in your format. If that format includes a smaller newsprint, by all means, decrease the size of the type by a point or two. It will make your product look more professional, to the extent this is possible.) As it stands, the font is too big for the format. And by the way, where did the opinion page go? That all important forum for letters to the editor and alternative viewpoints was relocated to the back of the A section.
But maybe I’m just a century behind the times. Maybe I have too much faith in folks. I believe folks want content more than they want a comic book. I believe newspapers have an important and serious calling: to increase the knowledge and understanding of its readership and to give them the tools necessary to make informed decisions. From my observations of the paper itself, this product no longer measures up. A friend of mine told me a few days ago that it’s no longer a newspaper. Frankly, I probably wouldn’t take a job there if it was dropped in my lap unless I was given the freedom to induce a major shakeup — which I wouldn’t be — to instill the kind of changes needed to turn a dumb-inducing paper into an intelligent and well-informed one. Apparently, a shakeup has already occurred, and it was not a good, but a sad day.