Here’s How the Cyber-Savvy Print Publication Will Look

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

with newspapers.

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.
( 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 ( , 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 &

Publisher magazine.)

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.)

Print advice

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

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