By: Steve Outing
The growth and popularity of the Internet – especially among young
people – have made newspaper and magazine publishers skittish about
the future of their legacy enterprises. Obviously, they can and should
be moving into Internet publishing in a big way – as a growth
opportunity as well as to make up for eventual declines in revenue or
lack of growth on the print side.
But printed newspapers and magazines aren’t going the way of the
dinosaur anytime soon. Consumers will be reading printed periodicals for
many more years, even as their consumption of online/digital media
expands. However, the printed newspaper or magazine will not look like
it does today. Print publications must change how they look and present
A growing number of print publications indeed are redesigning
themselves, in reaction to developments in digital media and the
Internet. Let’s take a look at where they’re headed, and how the printed
publication of the (not so distant) future will look – how paper
periodicals will fit into our increasingly digital world.
Where we’re headed
In designing the print publication of the future, let’s start with the
assumption that Internet access in time will approach ubiquity. (Which
is likely to happen first in the U.S., as well as Western Europe, parts
of Asia, and possibly Australia.) Most home consumers and business
people will have always-on, high-bandwidth Internet access at their home
computers or workstations. And Internet access will expand to a variety
of other devices: the television; digital screen home phones; digital
portable phones; portable reading devices (more sophisticated models of
what today are e-book readers); more capable hand-held organizers (like
the Palm Pilot VII, which now features Internet access); etc.
It will be commonplace for a consumer to go to the PC or other
Internet-connected device to look through electronic catalogs and place
an order. The days of looking at newspaper ads and then trudging off to
the mall will partly go away for a large part of the population.
Newspapers will serve a somewhat different purpose than they have in the
past. Need the score from the Mets-Cubs game played earlier today?
Get it on your Palm Pilot, not your newspaper. Need a coupon for clothes
shopping at Foley’s department store? Go to the Foley’s Web site and
print it out, instead of clipping it from the newspaper. Want your
horoscope for today? Get it from your digital phone, Palm Pilot, e-mail,
or TV set, not your printed newspaper. Breaking news? Get it from a
variety of Web news sites. And so on.
What the Internet is doing, of course, is giving consumers other,
attractive options for getting information that they used to get from
newspapers. While this doesn’t threaten newspapers’ existence (for the
most part), it does decrease the amount of time that consumers spend
A similar trend is affecting magazines. A special-interest magazine, say
one on snowboarding, now has to compete not only with other snowboarding
periodicals, but also online snowboard community and portal sites that
are vying for boarders’ off-the-slopes time.
Design shops busy
All this is affecting print publications, as they try to figure out how
to redesign themselves to fit into this new media environment.
(http://www.mariogarcia.com) Mario Garcia , a top print and Web news
design consultant, who most recently launched a redesign of The Wall
Street Journal Europe Edition , says he’s seeing a ‘tremendously rapid
pace of activity (redesigns and launches of new publications) in the
traditional print media. … We are seeing an activity in the print
sector that is without comparison, even by the standards of the 1980s.’
Much of this might be viewed as survival strategies – print
publishers recognizing that the growth of Internet media means they have
to modernize their operations and offerings to fit the changed
expectations of consumers in this wired world.
In Garcia’s view, tomorrow’s consumer will consume more types of media.
‘The future belongs to users who live in a multimedia environment,’ he
says. ‘They will read on the screen and on the page.’ That’s an
important point for print publishers to grasp. Today’s print publishers
can’t operate in a vacuum; they must recognize that their customers
increasingly will consume other media forms, including the
‘Smart editors,’ says Garcia, will make sure they keep users moving from
one medium to another by emphasizing the pluses of each medium and
cross-referencing them. In a way, the Internet is turning the printed
page away from a self-contained unit to also serving as a ‘table of
contents’ or directory to other information sources.
Part of the influence of the Internet lies in how people use it –
primarily as a means of finding something . The Internet as an
‘index’ or ‘directory’ is a notion that is finding its way to print. So
we’re beginning to see new print designs that contain more elements than
in the past, with many of those elements being pointers to related
information housed elsewhere than the printed page.
Renowned publication and Web site designer Roger Black , who is
now chief creative director for consultancy (http://www.circle.com)
Circle.com , calls such elements ‘information transactions.’ The Web, he
says, has created the expectation in consumers that you visit a
publication (or site), find the information you want, then get out.
Print publications should likewise think of offering quick-hit pieces of
information that readers can use.
An information transaction might be a reference to another medium –
say, in a review of a movie, instructions on how to find a theater near
you and time of the show with an online database – but it also can
be a simple condensed version of a story. A headline and extended deck,
or an abstract of an article, can serve time-starved readers by
delivering them important information quickly.
Related to that point, Black thinks that ‘scan-ability’ is something
that can save print publications in the Internet era. Recognize that
modern news consumers don’t spend as much time as they used to with any
printed page that they may view, and that many of them merely scan pages
rather than intently focus on individual stories. Printed pages should
contain shorter, denser information blocks; bullet lists; bold-faced or
color text to draw attention to key points; etc. This is some of the
same advice that Web site operators get from the design experts. Ergo,
we are seeing more print publication designs that are clearly influenced
by Internet design trends.
(Editor’s note: Black was recently hired to redesign Editor &
The need for depth
While publication designers urge print publishers to provide more
elements on their pages and to keep those elements brief, that’s only
half the story. A newspaper or magazine made up only of small bits of
dense information would be ultimately unsatisfying for the audience.
For print media in the Internet age, it’s still depth of coverage,
analysis and perspective that keeps readers reading. But what’s
different today (and will be in the future) is how in-depth stories are
presented. In the past, a newpaper investigative series might have
included a long main story, a sidebar or two, a chart, and a few photos.
The modern, Internet-influenced newspaper will break up that in-depth
package into more small, information-dense bits.
Eric Meyer, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois who
is both a new media and print publication design expert, says he’s
noticing that print newspapers are taking a more ‘literary’ approach
than they did pre-Internet. The crime story is less likely to start out
with ‘just the facts,’ and increasingly is in the style of literary
journalism. It’s retelling a story that the reader already knows, he
says, and in a sense it’s better journalism. This style of writing
doesn’t work as well on the Web, he says.
Weekly newsmagazines have taken this one step further, Meyer says. Their
articles have gotten longer, and they are more concerned with the
writing style and the spin the writer puts on the story – and not
just serving to offer up weekly summaries of news events. (You can
easily get that on the Web.)
To sum up, here are some key bits of advice on how to make your print
publication work better in the Internet age:
Recognize that your print readers have shorter attention spans
and more media choices than in the past, and design your publication
with that in mind. Make your printed pages more scan-able, using
typographic and design techniques to call attention to key pieces of
information. Provide more elements of information on your pages
– not just a series of long text articles. The most powerful
elements are those that spur the reader into action. Provide depth
or analysis that print readers may not find when they go online. Give
them something different than what they can get from the Web.
Leverage your relationships with other media outlets (especially
those owned by your parent company). Print publications should include
frequent ‘non-active links’ to relevant supplemental or complementary
content found online. And both sides should aggressively promote content
in the other. Accept the fact that your printed newspaper or
magazine is only one piece in the information stew being served up to
future news consumers. Try to guide them through our information-rich
culture, rather than trying to hold on to them solely – which is a
lost cause in a media environment where there are so many choices.
This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Online.
Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher