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

For 10 points: 'What is...public humiliation?'

For 10 points: 'What is...public humiliation?'


I haven't slept well in weeks, maybe months. It wasn't the redesign launch this month keeping me awake, or worries about the collapse of the world economy and the resulting disappearance of my 401(k).

Ever since I accepted the invitation of East End Arts Council director Pat Snyder to be a contestant in the East End Charity Game Show tomorrow night, I've lain awake in bed night after night, gripped by fear.

What was I thinking?

It's true enough, this is nothing new. I have a hard time saying no to people, especially when there's a good cause to help. (I did, however, draw the line at taking "the plunge" into a local body of water in December to benefit Peconic Bay Medical Center. I don't know which was more off-putting: the idea of jumping into 40-degree water or being seen in a bathing suit by hundreds of people.)

So when Pat called me up to ask if I'd be willing to be a contestant in this Jeopardy-like game show, I said, "Sure!" And regretted it before I even hung up the phone.

That was even before I found out who was making up the questions. Cutchogue resident Jeff "Doc" Greenberger, Harvard Club distinguished teacher of Latin and ancient Greek will be doing the honors. Oh, swell. The man is a walking encyclopedia.

"Don't worry," Pat assured me when I expressed the panic growing in the pit of my stomach. "He won't make the questions too difficult."

Yeah, right. I have to consult a dictionary just to read Doc's e-mails sometimes. I'm here to tell you Doc Greenberger has no idea what "difficult" means to a mere mortal like me.

For a while, I suffered in solitude, not even divulging what I'd gotten myself into to my family. I was smarter than that. I knew how my teenagers -- both of whom are among Doc's Latin students -- would react.

"LOL," said Katie. (Kids nowadays actually speak Internet shorthand. For the uninitiated out there, "LOL" means "laughing out loud.") "You?" She rolled her eyes. "That's ridiculous."

Thanks for the confidence-boost, kid.

In mid-January, I found myself seated next to Riverhead Town Councilwoman Barbara Blass at a breakfast meeting. Pat Snyder stopped at our table and mentioned the game show.

"I can't believe I agreed to do this," Barbara confessed in a hushed voice as Pat walked away. "I am absolutely terrified," she said. We commiserated. Our upcoming public humiliation would be complete and swift -- on the first round of questions, no doubt.

"Don't worry," Pat had tried to soothe us. "Each contestant will be paired with a brainiac high school student." We'd be able to rely on our student partner's mental acuity to answer questions about subjects we once may have known something about but have long since forgotten.

Great. This only means I'll have the special opportunity of embarrassing myself in front of six of my daughters' friends. So I'll embarrass them in addition to myself.

A few weeks back, I was getting a haircut. Linda Langhorn (who would prefer not to be identified as responsible for my hairdo, since my idea of "styling" my hair is running my hand through it after towel-drying) had a Charity Game Show poster hanging in her shop. She cheerfully informed me that her husband, Butch, was a contestant.

"He's terrified," she said. "He's so afraid he's not going to know anything."

Join the club.

The poster said WRIV manager and morning host Bruce Tria was also a contestant. I called him up.

"Scared? Are you kidding? I'm beside myself with fear," he said, adding, "I'm hoping to enter the witness protection program immediately after game show ends." There might be dead air on WRIV come Monday morning.

None of us has a handle on how to prepare for this thing. Councilwoman Blass thought it would be a good idea to watch Jeopardy on TV, try to play along. Big mistake. She watched it with her daughter, home from college for the weekend. "Mom, you really need help," Juliet (RHS Class of '08) informed her. "Why couldn't it be Wheel of Fortune? You're pretty good at that."

Truly. I can think of any number of game shows I'd rather compete in. Password. Family Feud. Beat the Clock. Or even the weekly NPR news quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! -- all familiar territory. But testing my dwindling intellect on questions written by Doc Greenberger in categories such as "Ancient Times," "World History," "Literature in English," and "Inventions, Discoveries and Scientists"? I'm doomed.

You can come to Riverhead High School and watch us all make complete fools of ourselves tomorrow night at 6 p.m. If there's one thing I (still) know it's this: You won't be disappointed.

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