Local news remains top priority in southern Michigan where three other GateHouse newspaper circulation areas overlap.
The Coldwater Daily Reporter is the latest GateHouse newspaper to go through the News & Interactive Division's incubator program. The front-to-back redesign, which included new story formats, improved organization and navigation, had one mandate — keep the paper local, local, local. Heather Jeffrey, editor of the Daily Reporter, responded to a few questions about the redesign:
Why did you decide to redesign?
It had been more than a decade since our last redesign, and our paper had grown into a cluttered mess, where nothing really had a home. We are located in southern Michigan, just above the Indiana border, and also between three other daily Gatehouse newspapers. We also redesigned our two weekly newspapers, which have been in circulation since the 1800s. The Independent is the second oldest weekly newspaper in the state of Michigan. It was certainly time to make changes. And those changes seem to be worth it. Finally, we redesigned our TMC as well. It is primarily an insert wrap with a few stories of what non-subscribers to our daily paper missed the past week. Our TMC now is a product that I hope does what it is intended to do — sell more subscriptions to our daily newspaper.
What can you tell us about your community?
Our community is very conservative, with about 47,000 residents. The community is rich in history, as it is located along the Sauk Trail, a well-known Native American roadway. The African American and Arab American population has seen significant growth here in the last decade. The Arab American population here is second in the state to Dearborn. Our community is very proud of its local newspaper. We have not run AP or other non-local stories in many years here, so the totally local aspect has been followed here since at least 2000. Our readers appreciate that.
What changes did you make as part of the redesign?
We made a ton of changes. Our paper is now modern, easy to read and everything has a place. We are learning to use white space with our designs and to better plan in order to have a better product. The massive amount of submissions we receive from community members now have a home and can be run in a more timely manner.
How have readers reacted to the redesign?
Overall, per telephone and counter talk, the readers love it. According to a poll on our Web site, more don't like it. I am hoping this is because our Web readers are different from our hard-copy readers. We have only had one complaint — crossword puzzle is too small.
What advice do you have for papers considering a redesign?
Plan, plan, plan. Go through other newspapers, not necessarily in your area, and write down ideas or features of those papers you like. Also, come up with your own ideas as far as new features to your paper. Know your readers, what they like, what they don't and what else they'd like to see. Include the entire staff is the planning process. The ad staff and editorial staff may have different ideas. These are also the people in the community, so they have a good understanding of what the readers and advertisers like, too. Speak up if during the redesign process there is something you are not happy with. The outcome will be well worth it. I would not want to go back to our old design for anything. Involve the community because without them, you would not have a paper. They buy it, advertise in it and with any luck — they let you know what kind of news they enjoy reading. Involve them in any aspect you can. Also, keep them informed of the changes you are making.