By: Mark Fitzgerald
David Burgin, the legendary editor who’s headed newsrooms from Orlando to San Francisco, told me a couple of years ago that if he were running a paper now he?d tell designers to study portals like Yahoo or AOL, “and the first one that comes back with a newspaper front page like that wins.”
By that standard, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin looks like a winner.
It’s not that the Star-Bulletin’s new design, launched last Monday March 12, really looks much like Yahoo or any other Web site. It doesn’t. But what the design shows is just how much newspaper front pages can learn from Internet home pages.
The Star-Bulletin has created front pages and section fronts with more than a dozen or so very short stories that are not so much refers in the traditional newspaper sense as they are click-throughs right off the Web.
Star-Bulletin Editor Frank Bridgewater calls them ?clickable? items.
“You can look at our (front pages and section fronts) and read a summary of the story, and if you want to read more, the full 15-inch or 18-inch story is on the inside pages,” Bridgewater said in a telephone interview.
In E&P?s October 2006 special report ?Fixing Print,? Associate Editor Jennifer Saba and I discussed the various radical redesigns newspapers are trying to satisfy an audience comprised of time-pressed people who want information delivered quickly, and equally time-pressed people who demand in-depth coverage and analysis from a print newspaper. In North Carolina, for instance, the Gaston Gazette now publishes a front page that is virtually all refers.
The Start-Bulletin is trying to get at something else. Bridgewater wants readers who take in that front page to come away feeling they know the day?s news. ?If they were to get in a discussion at the workplace or a bar, they would be able to know what everyone?s talking about,? he says.
Typically these days, the Star-Bulletin front page will have upwards of 20 ?clickable? story summaries.
The Star-Bulletin redesign started from a simple, and increasingly popular, goal of newspapers everywhere in United States — eliminate jumps.
“We know the overwhelming number of readers don’t like jumps, but for some reason the newspaper industry has continued to force jumps on people,? Bridgewater said. ?The older readers accept it a little bit, or I should say, I think they tolerate it. But the younger the reader, the more they hate jumps.?
Bridgewater?s inspiration for the redesign, which was created entirely in-house, came during last fall?s meeting in New Orleans of the Associated Press Managing Editors. Member newspaper displayed big blowups of their front page from the same day.
?There must have been 80 or 90 papers,? he recalls. ?And the more I looked, the more they looked the same. It all looked pretty sad. I just kind of started thinking to myself, why aren’t people in the industry trying to be different from each other??
Star-Bulletin front pages look different from their peers now. Gone is the big, powerful color photo or graphic so favored by broadsheet designers. Instead, there are smaller photos and images — but more of them, and there?s more color everywhere.
More immediately, Bridgewater wants to distinguish the Star-Bulletin — a 64,305-circulation p.m. paper published by Vancouver, B.C.-based Black Press Ltd. — from its much-bigger rival, Gannett Co.?s 143,020-circulation Honolulu Advertiser.
But while the front page has changed dramatically, other long-time formats are staying. The paper likes the p.m. publishing cycle, allowing it, with the time difference from the mainland, to get breaking stories like the ?Scooter? Libby conviction in all home-delivery editions. And through the redesign process, the Star-Bulletin never seriously considered going tabloid, Bridgewater says.
?Part of it,? he says, ?is that this is just a real traditional newspaper market in many ways.?