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  • Boston redesign project: Northwest Unit publications get a new look

  • The 21 publications of the Northwest Unit are part of GateHouse New England's blanket coverage of Boston's western suburbs.


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  • In less than 2 1/2 years, about 60 GateHouse Media newspapers around the U.S. have gone through a redesign process as part of the GateHouse News & Interactive Divsion's Newsroom Incubator program . That number will grow to more than 80 with the graduated redesign launch of 21 newspapers in GateHouse New England's Northwest Unit. This project clearly has been one of the larger, if not largest, redesign projects GateHouse has undertaken.
    Below is some description on how we started the process with the group in New England.
    Follow along with me as I post regular updates and interviews over the next couple days as we launch the first two of 21 newspapers.
    In late 2008, Chuck Goodrich, Northwest Unit group publisher, Kathy Cordeiro, the group's editor in chief, contacted David Arkin, executive director of GateHouse's News & Interactive Division to discuss the possibility of a redesign project that would include all 21 newspapers.
    Chuck and Kathy wanted a redesign that would not just improve the presentation, but also the content, which are two of the main goals of the redesign project. We discussed logistics, such as common fonts, style sheets and ways to make the newspapers look very different.
    Chuck and Kathy felt that the process of looking at every single newspaper and examining what should be part of their specific content mix, their front page colors and presentation — and not creating cookie cutter newspapers — seemed to make sense and a good avenue to go in re-creating their newspapers.
    They said yes to the process and we were off.
    David Arkin visited the group of papers in early March and an evaluation of their products, their processes and their content officially kicked off.
    A detailed, page-by-page content plan was created in collaboration with Chuck, Kathy, David and the editors of each paper. That's a daunting task considering the 21 papers and the differing perspectives of the editors.
    Once a redesign has been put in motion, one of the first things we do is send a redesign questionnaire (see photo) to get some key information that we need to begin.
    The information provided by this questionnaire tells us what we need to know to begin the first process: creating a master page template with the proper dimensions and specs. We also find out a little about the production process, a crucial step to the success of any redesign
    With the content planning and master page details in place, the attention is turned to the newspapers' nameplates. Some of the nameplates resonate with the community, whiles most will be updated to modernize the look and better reflect the communities they serve. We look for demographics from each community to get an idea on the design direction of each nameplate. For example, a newspaper in a conservative community will get nameplate that reflects that. Tempering that with the tastes of the editors and publisher will yield a nameplate style that should better represent the readers of each publication. To facilitate this, a pdf of nameplate examples is sent to the editors for review (see photo).
    Page 2 of 5 - Choosing only one style by looking at the names of other newspapers is difficult, so a number of font style selections were made. This gives some direction as to what styles may work and which fonts to avoid.
    The prototype process begins with making front page samples (see photos). Most if not all of these prototypes have been improved since these have been made, which goes to show the number of revisions the prototypes go through before getting final approval.
    Two back-to-back training sessions were held Monday for the editors of the 21 publications and the production staff that will build the new papers. Perhaps the most difficult part of any redesign is learning the lingo of new style names on the style sheet palette. There are other new design ideas and guidelines that are important to learn, but knowing the new "language" of styles can hinder the transition.
    Check out the first page of the style guide in the photo slideshow. A full pdf can be found here.
    The style sheets have been the most challenging part of getting the templates ready for the redesign launch. Problematic because there are 21 different newspapers that don't share all the same styles, yet it was important to maintain the same name on the styles that are used because they need to match the styles in the Word documents used by all the editors. (They use — eeek! — PCs!)
    Some of the key people from the Northwest Unit who were integral to the redesign process and helped make it a success were kind enough to answer a few questions about the process.
    • Kathy Cordeiro, editor-in-chief of the Northwest Unit
    • Robert Burgess, managing editor and editor of The Beacon
    • Michael Ballway, editor of the Times & Courier
    • Ray Johnson, assistant manager of pagination of the Northwest Unit
    Q: What prompted the move to redesign GateHouse New England’s Northwest Unit?
    Kathy Cordeiro: The staff here has embraced the online initiatives that we have undertaken in the last two years. But we have not lost sight of the fact that we also are print journalists. We take a great deal of pride in the print product we produce, both in terms of content and presentation. For a year or more, a number of editors had been raising the bar in terms of trying new cover designs and incorporating new features into their papers. At the end of 2008, the time seemed right to ask editors whether they had an appetite for tackling a redesign.
    Page 3 of 5 - Q: What are some of the goals of the redesign?
    KC: For the staff: A renewed pride and enthusiasm for putting together the print product every week, from new fonts to new ASFs, to centerpieces. Also, and very important, efficiencies that enable them to produce a terrific product despite the reduction in resources. For the readers: A more contemporary print product; rails that highlight ROP and Web content; organized, clean ROP pages that are easy to read; a more obvious focus on the people in the community.
    Q: What one hurdle did you have to overcome in order to get to this point?
    KC: I have to limit my answer to one? With respect to relaunching three of the smallest pubs as tabs, the biggest obstacle was getting the production department to buy into the change. Overall, I'd say the biggest hurdle for me - just me - is shaping the visions of editors for 21 weekly newspapers into an overall, unit-wide redesign project. Joe, you get a lot of credit for making that happen and putting up with the changes that it took to get to this point.
    Another hurdle was working with a few news and sports editors who were reluctant to step up to the challenge of something new.
    Robert Burgess: Focusing on what's happening at this moment in the newsroom, the big hurdle today was getting the right template on my computer so I could help in our first paper's launch. So instead of getting started first thing this morning, it's 4 p.m. and I can finally help put some pages together. I have no doubt we'll pull off deadline tonight anyway, and we prepared for something unforseen like this to happen, but I've been eager to get started.
    Ray Johnson: From my perspective, the challenges were mainly technology- and staffing-related. I’ve been involved in many redesign projects over the years, so the scope and intricacy of a project like this was no surprise. But staffing levels being what they are right now and with major software upgrades (unrelated to the redesigns) and the attendant troubleshooting and workarounds still a daily routine at this point, folks have been pushed to the limit.
    Q: How has the redesign process gone up to this point?
    KC: The content review for all 21 pubs seemed to take too long. I'd do it differently if I were starting over (Don't even think it!) Once the prototypes starting getting out to the editors it created a buzz that has energized people for what's ahead. It definitely was the right decision to have you on site for the review of the new template styles. It would have been difficult to do remotely. My sense from watching people's faces during the review of the new styles Monday morning is that they think this will be a daunting task. Despite all the scrambling - and again, kudos to you, Joe, for doing what it took to stick to our deadlines - I'm pleased that we are on target to launch on schedule. No small feat for 21 pubs.
    Page 4 of 5 - RB: The redesign process has gone well. Twenty-one pubs is a lot to do at once, but it has come together nicely. A bit of scrambling at the end - but that's inevitable with any big project isn't it?! We're excited about breathing new life into our jobs and our papers.
    RJ: The process thus far has been exciting and exhausting. Joe has been a genuine pleasure to work with right from the start. From his initial conference calls from another time zone to his on-site presence on production day, Joe’s boundless patience, constant communication and relentless attention to detail have had a calming and reassuring influence on the entire staff and the entire process.
    Q: What advice would you recommend to other GateHouse newspapers that wish to be redesigned?
    KC: Get the upfront support of newsroom staff. This is too important a project to undertake without buy-in, although it's probably inevitable that not everyone will appreciate being asked to make a change. Get all the departments who will help execute the redesign and relaunch involved as early as possible: advertising, circulation, promotions, production. Set a realistic schedule in collaboration with all those departments and then stick to it. This is a months-long process and everyone needs to have the dates front and center. By the time you're near the finish line, you'll just want to get it done. For anyone who might be considering redesigning multiple papers like we did, I would recommend streamlining the process, particularly in the content planning stage. ROP didn't end up being all that different paper to paper, so the time spent going over content for 21 papers could have been reduced.
    RB: Be flexible, open minded, challenge yourself to try something new. Have a mission - don't just make the paper look better, but try to have it function better for readers and for you.
    RJ: Before you commit to the process, be clear about what you want to accomplish and who will be the decision-makers – especially after the initial redesign process is done. If key staff don’t buy in to the plan and won’t follow through with consistent execution, I would suggest not wasting your time with a redesign. If however, there is a clear plan and someone on-site to enforce that plan after the designer leaves, the process can result in an editorial staff more focused on content, a production staff more focused on execution and a happier, more productive newsroom.
    Page 5 of 5 - One newspaper down, 20 more to go. The next two tabs go into production on Thursday. The first two broadsheet editions launch simultaneously in a couple weeks. The remaining 16 broadsheets will launch in groups of eight over two weeks in mid- and late-September.
    The editors and production crew did a fantastic job staying on track and communicated well throughout the night. Considering that editors and production crew work in separate offices, the complexity of the production system and going through training one day prior to the launch, the staff involved should be proud of what they accomplished.
    Great job by all!
    Joe Greco is corporate design director for GateHouse Media.
    Contact him at jgreco@gatehousemedia.com.

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