06 April 2014

[pdx] Meet The New "Fun-Size" Oregonian

Welcome to the new era. The Oregonian has gone post-newspaper.

They still publish one, mind, in a sense of the word. Newsprint is reeled off rolls, run through presses, and ink deposited in patters resembling letters, words, pictures, and such, in parseable array.

I had an idea of what I was in for when The Wife™ and myself stopped by the Jackson's Shell station at 122nd and Division before our weekly bout of Library time (you should all have a weekly Library day, by the way. Some sort of intellectual life. It's free. It won't kill you). Seeing those little The Sunday Oregonian early editions had generated an emotion that I don't think I'll ever be able to put into words.

Finally arriving out our branch and setting up for an afternoon of browsing, reading, and writing, we found several of The New Breed racked up where the should be. And, actually, that was rather odd. Since we no longer (for a bunch of reasons both practical and intellectual) subscribe to the pape, we catch up over the week at the Library. Typically, it was tough to find the week's editions; they were out around the building, all being read. Today, they were all in position, with no competition for reading them.

"They're all there," Wife™ says. "Nobody else is reading them."

And that is strange. Maybe it isn't a thing. Time will tell.

Left: a traditional broadsheet. Right: The Oregonian, "Fun-Size" edition.
 To be honest, I was having trouble visualizing such a small paper. The tabloid "Fun-Size" format has been identified with newspapers that are thought of as newspapers because they can't adequately be described as something else (e.g., National Enquirer), or major city dailies who were redesigned by people who were more interested in money than news (the post-Murdoch Chicago Sun-Times comes to mind).

Well, on the upside, my brain didn't burst into flames and I didn't cry and die inside when looking at this stunted little thing. World didn't halt spinning on its axis and career into the Sun. So, there's that.

But I do note that the Fun-Size edition debuted on the 2nd of April. I can only conclude that this is because if they rolled it out on the 1st, they would send the mother of all mixed messages.

The difference in layout is striking. The pre-April 2nd Oregonian carried the classic banner black-letter announcing the paper's title, a touch this old-fashioned mind always liked. In the stripe below the title, the wording Always On Oregonlive.com can be seen. There was a time they boasted of the Pulitzer they won there. We've come so far.

The current version shrinks the proud title to a minisculeness above the new-look Oregonian Media Group logo, a redesign which amounted to filling in the right side of the blackletter capital O.

The section heading. 'Memba when you could get the Living section or the Opinion section? Not no more, chum. Takes a sharp eye to deduce where one section takes up and the other leaves off.

The new Fun Size's section are all stapled together, a practice they are most proud of, ciding that they are the only daily in America to use stapled sections. They do it Europe, you know. The Fun Size's sections are nested within one another. The above it Saturdays. Tuesday, April 2nd's, was arranged thusly:

If you didn't pay attention to the table of contents, here's how you know you've stumbled into the Metro section of Saturday's paper, which is subsumed into the Main section:

The comics are all in color. This is a mixed blessing. Yay, because color comics, but, you know, some of the more richly-colored comics tend to look muddy when printed on newsprint. So, points for style here, but I actually preferred them in black and white a little more.

I will concede points for solid, sensible design as far as it goes, though. This Business section front page is a good example. Each new section has a signature color, and the front page's upper left ear is a square of that color. The boundaries of this square, extended out, give solid spines along which to organize and arrange the rest of the content. If the page layout of the Fun Size edition is based on modules, I'm betting that the single modular unit is the size of that square. So, solid layout logic, good.

Like I said, they redesigned The Oregonian,  and the world didn't end. Still, after watching the trajectory of the paper since the changes at the top, I can't say I'm encouraged.

Change doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Oregonian, a paper that once promised everyone who worked at it their jobs for life as long as they continued to do them well, has been hollowing itself out from the inside, as far as I'm concerned. The massive layoffs last year were just an inflection point in a path that began when the paper decided that on Mondays, Opinion would no longer be a separate section, and went through points on the curve that included Jack Ohman's departure for the Sacramento Bee, where he shines just as fiercely and funnily as he ever did here in Oregon, and the recently released news about compensation and performance standards that accentuate posting stories to OregonLive.com over everything else suggest that the West's largest daily is going to a place where I, bluntly, don't think we're going to be well-served from.

It doesn't signify, to me, courage in changing our idea of what a newspaper is and can do so much as it signifies, in the final view, a narrowing of perspective, and a stunting of horizons. Finding itself under too much pressure to aspire to greatness, The Oregonian is willing to settle for chasing clicks on a computer, web impressions on a smartphone.

The Fun-Size O's managment call it a 'digital-first' policy.

That's also the same policy my doctor has for prostate exams. 


ed waldo said...

How I love the smell of mimeo fluid in the morning! Smells like APA!

Samuel Klein said...

Indeed. Thank whatever powers that be that the right of the people to acquire spirit duplication fluid not be infringed. After blogs go, it'll be all we have left.

ed waldo said...

Actually I was referring to the new Oregonian and its sheer professionalism. ;-)

Samuel Klein said...

Well, that's a little unfair on sincere users of mimeo fluid don't you think? :)

Brenda said...

I have far too many peeves about the paper, yet I'm the one who reads the week's offerings on our weekly Library Day. It is still more comprehensive and cohesive (online news is calculated to get your eyes off track mid-story and drag you someplace else) than the other option.

Some observations. First, my reading time per paper is down 30-40%. Simply because there's less content. Certain days of the week they do not feel as though they must present op-eds or letters to the editor (yet when they do print the latter the same five names that have dominated the LTTE page for the past several years still get their space). Second, speaking of editorial pages, they stuck that bit in the middle of the Business section for some reason I find nonsensical. And third, perhaps it's shrinking pains but there is no consistency whatsoever from one week to the next with regard to the size or even the inclusion of so-called 'regular' features. Now you see them, now you don't, oh wait they're back.


- The Wife™