Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why'd we have to go and change things?


Change is never easy. We all know that. Sameness is comfortable, especially when you're getting a little long in the tooth, as I am.

Since we unveiled the redesigned Suffolk Times two weeks ago, we've had a number of questions, comments and complaints that I'd like to take this opportunity to address.

Why did we do this? Why not leave well enough alone?

It's true, we had some pretty good-looking newspapers to begin with. And although I don't like change any more than anyone else, we decided the time was right to spruce up and freshen their look. Apart from the introduction of color photography in 2003, the paper hadn't had a comprehensive review from a design perspective in more than 10 years. A lot has happened to newspapers and newspaper readership in that time. We need to try to stay current in order to serve the needs and tastes of a changing demographic. We can't just say, "We like things just the way they are," and leave it at that, for that's the first step on the road to extinction. Imagine if we'd refused to use four-color printing, and kept everything black and white? That may have made some people happy 10 years ago, but how old and stale would we look today if we hadn't changed with the times?

Why did we have to go out of the local area to find a design consultant?

One reader wrote to say she was disappointed we didn't employ a local graphic artist or design firm. While there are indeed many talented graphic artists on the East End, we needed to find people specializing in newspaper design. We searched among nationally recognized newspaper design consulting firms and settled on Creative Circle Media of Providence, R.I., headed by a very bright and dynamic guy named Bill Ostendorf. They not only worked with us on layout and design, but they also ran on-site workshops for our staff to help us improve photo editing, caption and headline writing, and storytelling.

Was this redesign project an attempt to cut costs?

Absolutely not. In fact, the contrary is true. It cost money to do it, in consultant fees and the cost of our new fonts. We believe in our papers and we believe in reinvesting in them to maintain and improve their quality.

Some people have commented on the newsprint stock we're using. The newsprint stock hasn't changed in several years. Several months ago, we did switch from the bright-white cover paper to newsprint. That was indeed a cost-saving measure, but it had nothing at all to do with the redesign project. We took note that none of the other newspapers in the East End market used the heavier, bright-white paper stock on the cover. We also took note of the excellent reproduction capabilities of our printer, which also prints the other East End weeklies. And we decided to take this step -- the savings from which, quite frankly, helped us preserve a job in this very tough economic time.

What happened to The Suffolk Times' 'signature' Page One photo by Judy Ahrens?

This is a tough one, since we all appreciate the beauty of the North Fork and enjoy how Judy captures its beauty with her award-winning photography. While we haven't banished them from the cover, we decided not to run these large feature photos every week on Page One, in order to present more than one story on the cover. Simply stated, we wanted to mix it up a bit. I agree that it's changed the look of the paper and I appreciate Judy's artwork as much as anyone else. That's why today, for instance, we've got a beautiful floral shot by Judy on Page One of our Life and Times section. But we thought it was time to try to get more news on the front cover some weeks.

Why did we change the typefaces we use?

For headlines and such, we just wanted a fresher look. For the body copy -- the font we use for stories -- we wanted a font that was bolder, darker and easier to read. We chose one called Utopia from a field of about six "finalists."

You are now looking at the font we had been using, Times Ten Roman. It seemed to us a much lighter, harder-to-read typeface when printed side by side with the other fonts we were considering. In fact, we did a print test and a blind survey of our staff. Only three out of about 40 people selected Times Ten Roman as their preference. The majority picked Utopia, with a font called Nimrod coming in second.

Give it some time.

The consultants told us the only thing we'd hear at first would be negative reactions. People with complaints tend to speak out more than people who are content. That being said, we've had a lot of positive feedback along with the negative. To those who have called or written to say they don't like what we've done, I thank you for caring so much about your hometown paper, and I ask that you bear with the new look for a while. Give it some time. Maybe, like other changes we've experienced, you'll not only get used to it, you might even like it better.

Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at Her e-mail address is


Anonymous said...

It doesn't surprise me that some felt the Times needed some sprucing up. That's human nature.

However, more care should have been taken in the change. It's interesting that a "changing demographic" helped inspire the change. Kinda reminds of some that are attracted to relocate to the East End because of the rural beauty only to curse the slow moving farmer driving his tractor while trying to develop it into the image of the urban/suburban communities they moved from.

Besides coupling serif article titles with sans-serif subtitles, I think 2 huge errors were made in the design of the new look.

First, eliminating Judy Ahrens' extrordinary front page photos of our community. Mistake.

Second, killing the classic, folksy look and content of the top of page one. The new Suffolk Times logo looks computerized. "News and Information for the North Fork"? (touristy)

I'm not sure the designer that was hired was in tune with the ST's loyal readers. And I bet a lot of local businesses would love the luxury of being able to tell their customers something like," yeah, people will probably make negative comments about that dress I just sold you, but, in time, they'll get used to it". Not!

Maybe you guys could make some "changes" to bring our local paper back a little closer to what it was.

Jim Kowalsick

MattituckTom said...

The new design looks great. Keep refining it to perfection. It still has the look and feel of the Suffolk Times I have enjoyed for many years but more organized.

What you are missing now are a few conservative leaning reporters to balance the views and stories.