ProJo debuts new look for newspaper

Top editor tells convention he’s unsure how to charge online

THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL unveiled a redesign of its print edition with Wednesday’s edition, shown above.
Posted 10/28/09

PROVIDENCE – The Providence Journal debuted a new look for its print edition on Wednesday, just three months after overhauling the newspaper’s sections.

The paper said the new format would emphasize shorter stories and key information while making it easier for readers to navigate the paper. It follows the July decision to consolidate local news into the first section and move national and world news from other organizations into the second section.

“One of the most telling aspects of the new design is that we expect the average reader will only have the sense that something is different, and better,” Thomas E. Heslin, the newspaper’s senior vice president and executive editor, wrote in a note explaining the changes.

The redesign effort was led by Rob Schneider, presentation director of The Dallas Morning News, which like The Journal is owned by Dallas-based A. H. Belo Corp., and a group of Journal staff members, Heslin said.

Like metropolitan newspapers across the country, The Journal has been rocked by a sharp falloff in advertising revenue and the migration of readers to the Internet.

The paper’s weekday circulation fell nearly 19 percent to 106,875 compared with last year in the six months ended Sept. 30, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported Monday. Weekend circulation fell by a similar amount. In addition, the paper’s advertising revenue shrank 31.5 percent in the first half of this year compared with 2008.

Heslin spoke on Monday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Inland Press Association, a trade group, about the changes at The Journal. He said the redesign would allow the paper to experiment with “alternate story forms,” according to an account posted on Twitter by Bill Densmore, director and editor of the Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Heslin also said the paper had embraced a “Web first” strategy, meaning reporters and editors are instructed to get news online as quickly as possible, and has received a positive response from readers, Densmore said.

Heslin also cast doubt on whether The Journal will force readers to pay to read its content online in the near future, as some newspapers are considering.

Asked about the best strategy for charging on the Web, Heslin said: “My favorite three words these days are: I don’t know,” according to Editor & Publisher.

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