Thursday, October 11, 2007

looking forward to death

I thought I should follow-up on the Chicago Reader saga I documented a couple months back. The new tabloid-sized Reader (made in Atlanta!) came out last week to decidedly mixed reviews from readers. Many complained that the diminished size lead to a diminished paper (though editors were quick to point out that there was the same amount of text in this issue, a slight-of-hand that didn't really address the issue at hand). One thing that didn't come up is how ugly the post-Chicago era started, Case in point:

I'm not sure what's going on with that masthead, but it couldn't be less generic if it tried. And the whole cover lacks the elegance of earlier issues of the Reader (even the ones after a panicked Time Out-induced redesign, which created an awkward false-front to the paper held together better than this). They say not to judge a book by its cover, but as consumers that's all we do. This cover won't sell (good thing it's free).
Saddled with a bad cover, what's inside needs all the help it can get. Unfortunately for the Reader, the editors in charge (all good people, let's note) have decided that the best thing to do is to leave the content undisturbed. As one editor explains in the comments:

I can tell you that so far every effort has been made to make sure the new format can accommodate the contents of the old Reader.

This same effort was made during the last Reader redesign, which clearly didn't save the already diminishing returns of the paper. Why a smart staff would not look at that last lesson learned and say, "Hey, maybe it's not HOW the information is presented, but the information itself" is beyond me. Instead, the editorial decision-makers at the reader continue to insist that their way is the best way, while corporate magazines like Time Out continue to chip away at their readership with truly innovative ways of presenting local content.
What the Reader needs isn't another redesign, or another cost-reducing change in format, but a low-level rethink of what it is and what service it provides to its readers. Unfortunately, that chance has most likely passed the Reader by (these new owners aren't going to do anything but what they already know), and as a result there's little to look forward to but the death of a once-great paper.