As the Memorial Day weekend was winding down, I was packing up for a road trip to Michigan to launch redesigns of two GateHouse papers, the Cheboygan Daily Tribune and The Holland Sentinel.
I hit the road early Tuesday morning for a 6-hour drive to the tip of the middle finger of Michigan's lower peninsula for my first stop in Cheboygan.
After meeting with Gary Lemberg and Zac Britton, publlsher and editor, respectively, we rolled up our sleeves and jumped right in.
A big change on on the front page is a new nameplate. A new illustration of the Cheboygan Crib Light was drawn to update the top of the page.
New content includes reader submitted photo packages on 2A, rotating ASFs on 3A and new features on the opinion page.
Wednesday morning we conducted a critique of the paper, after which, Lemberg, Britton and Renee Glass, composition manager, show off the new edition.
Right after this shot was taken, I was on the road to Holland on Michigan's west coast.
Arriving in the afternoon, I had an initial meeting with Editor Ben Beversluis and Sarah Leach, assistant managing editor for nights and weekends (she also oversees the design of the Sentinel).
The Sentinel being a larger GateHouse paper, the redesign required a good deal more prototypes and templates for the paper's many pages in its three daily sections.
Here's a look at the front page before and after the redesign.
Unlike Cheboygan, the nameplate stayed the same, right down to the big red tulip. Holland is home to the annual two-week-long Tulip Festival, so it's a big icon for this city.
More room was given to the skybox area and less space given to the bottom-page rail. This allow for greater impact for the content promotions up top without sacrificing then news hole on the front.
The Sentinel already was producing a handful of rotating ASF pieces with great success, so transitioning to the redesign was much easier than many other redesigns.
Here's a look at more pages from the first edition.
For newspapers about to launch a redesign, there's always some level of anxiety felt by the staff. You would have thought the folks in Holland have been through dozens of redesigns if you were to have seen the copy and page flow Wednesday night. One of the smoothest launches I've been a part of. That's a testament to the work Ben and Sarah did to prepare for the launch. Nice job by them, and the Sentinel staff to get copy and photos in early, allowing for fantastic page flow — 22 pages in the first edition.
Ben and Sarah answered a few questions about the redesign.
Why did you decide to redesign The Holland Sentinel?
Ben Beversluis: I wasn’t here for the start of the process, but what it’s become is a chance to play catch-up for the print edition, both in looks and content, after so much growth in online editions in recent years. It was time to move away from some old fonts and color schemes, in part as a signal to readers that we are doing new and different things.
Sarah Leach: We needed a fresh look that streamlined our copy, including a modular, efficient, packaged feel to our alternative story formats.
What are some new features in the redesgn?
BB: Fresh colors, new fonts and an overall cleaner look are the most striking visible elements. Beyond that the biggest change is renaming daily feature sections from a generic Life & Style to day-specific themes like Good Eats, Weekend, Faith and Adventures. And with very limited local news space, efficient briefs packages are key, as are re-formatted ASFs for some of our favorites, like What’s Going on Here, Your Question Answered and people profiles.
SL: We have all-new fonts, a streamlined ASF library, story label heads (which are great for reader navigation), a more templated features section and a much better color palette.
How have readers responded so far to the Thursday launch?
BB: The first day reactions were few — which to me means most people like it, or at least weren’t bothered, which is saying something since any redesign changes a comfortable companion. But also, we mostly repackaged existing content, so people didn’t lose anything. The half-dozen or so calls included “hate” to “love” (three to one in favor of love) and several where people simply didn’t look a few inches away for the new location of a standard feature.
SL: We have had several positive responses, but there’s been (an expected) resistance from the older readers.
What advice do you have for other papers who may be considering a redesign?
BB: First is something we didn’t do but would have been valuable: Early on, tack up or lay out every day’s paper and talk with staff or at least section editors about why each element is there, if it should be kept and/or how it can be improved. That would put everything on the table and get staff buy-in. As D-day approaches, try to be as organized as you can — we ultimately set up a white board to mark items off day by day, page by page. Produce and print some test pages if you have the resources and the time. And then, despite the prep, you’ll still just have to jump in, do it and be ready to adjust what needs adjusting. Oh — and don’t forget to order pizza for the copy desk on launch night.
SL: The best thing you can do is to plan as much as possible. Make sure you start generating the right content to fit your redesign and ask a lot of questions of the designers in charge of the project. Little things you never would have thought of crop up, and the more you prepare, the better off you will be.
Joe Greco is corporate design director for GateHouse Media.
Contact him at email@example.com.