Monday, August 17, 2009

Bakersfield keeps innovating

The Bakersfield Californian is one of the papers in America worth watching, because its owners are willing to take chances in print and online. Their latest step - going tabloid on weekdays and sticking with the broadsheet format for weekend editions - is a worthwhile experiment that I believe others should consider following.

BrassTacks Design's Alan Jacobson has written a comprehensive post about the thinking behind the change and the paper's strategy going forward. While I don't necessarily agree with everything he says or everything the paper is doing, some of their core concepts are right on. And I admire the effort.

I always believed that if Denver had to go to one paper, it should been a tabloid during the week and a broadsheet on the weekend, for a number of reasons. I couldn't believe owners in other markets didn't see the benefits of the tabloid format as full-page ads dried up.

In any event, a few key points, mostly from an editorial perspective:
  • The paper is smart to streamline its design. Limited staff resources need to be deployed to create and curate content, to involve the community.
  • The paper is smart for the paper to treat ads as content and work with advertisers on the design of their ads. The tangible quality of the paper will be enhanced as a result and the results for advertisers should be better.
  • The paper is smart to eliminate "non-essential content." Papers need to have value. The only way to do that is to have a focus. Wire news is commodity news, unless it can be explained in Bakersfield terms. There are too many other places to get it otherwise.
  • The paper is smart to use a 54" web width for its tab. Square tabs are ugly. They avoided that by using different web width for tab and broadsheet.
  • I don't fully understand Jacobson's statements about photography. "Non-news photos, such as stand-alone feature photos, should be eliminated to save space and make better use of news photographers' time. Editorial designs should not be dependent upon display photos which consume newshole." I agree that feature photos can be space fillers. I also agree that it's not the best use of staff photographers' time to send them cruising for features. But readers love photography, including seeing their own pictures. Sometimes standalone photos are wonderful. They can be a story unto themselves. We live in a highly visual world. Display photos can be what readers remember. Papers should be surprising.
That said, this is an experiment worth watching.


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