Monday, May 11, 2009

Newspapers: Sun lies?

‘Font Day’ brings change
to Baltimore Sun design,
and curious note to readers

The Baltimore Sun took on a noticeably different look on Monday as the newspaper adopted the typographical style demanded by its Tribune Company overlords – throwing away the work of Sun staffers in recent years that produced the last of several redesigns.

A small notice at the bottom of the front page, with the heading “To our readers,” offered this explanation:

Today you may notice that we have changed the newspaper’s type styles to improve readability.”

Then again, you may notice the change another way – to make less obvious the smuggling of content from Tribune’s central editing and production staff in Chicago into The Baltimore Sun.

There wasn’t much from the Windy City on this inaugural day of the style overhaul – the heavy local content seeming almost to have been planned as a cover-up. But increasingly, Baltimore Sun readers will find the balance shifting, their newspaper becoming less and less uniquely Baltimore – and more and more driven by content that’s cheaper to produce, using the Tribune chain’s nonunion central staff to feed all of its publications.

That’s part of the reason for the firing without notice nearly two weeks ago of nearly a third of the news and editorial staff – writers, copy editors, photographers, page designers, graphic artists, newsroom editorial assistants, even one of the few remaining librarians. (Another, clearly, was that little matter of breaking the Sun chapter of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild.)

The Tribune typeface, to my aging eyes, seems less readable. It’s also uglier – visually and morally.

And the notice “To our readers” was disingenuous at best.

At worst? Maybe it was a little notice bearing a big lie from Sun president/publisher/CEO Timothy E. Ryan.

'House ad' hilarity

Don’t know if anyone noticed the back-page house ad appearing in The Baltimore’s Sun’s unreadable ‘tv&comics’ section on Sunday.

A house ad is a self-promoting message often used to fill pages and holes where paid advertising is lacking, and can probably be deducted from the bottom line for tax purposes as a business expense. In flusher times, many house ads were planned and scheduled for specific parts of the newspaper to promote classified ad sales, special marketing sections, newspaper-sponsored events and the like -- and when important news needed additional space on a page, moving or eliminating a “scheduled” house ad required permission from higher-ups.

Some houses were pretty clever; most were predictably mundane or unimaginative.

Sunday’s TV section… well, maybe too many people have been fired in the marketing wing – an extra set of eyes that might have prevented this Baltimore Sun Media Group message, under the image of a cute designer-breed dog with the power cord of a table lamp in its mouth:

“Selling your merchandise and pets has never been easier.”

To which I can only plead: “Please, daddy, don’t sell Fluffy!”

Then again, maybe that’s just another indication of bad economic times.


Stephen Pohl said...

The advent of USA Today Lite with ugly typeface and graphics. Yeah, that'll work.

Anonymous said...

Didn't The Sun pay a bazillion dollars to have someone create the "Mencken" font used "exclusively" by the paper? Seems to me at that time the Mencken font was praised for it's "readability."

Tim Windsor said...

Not to minimize the pain and suffering of the 61 newly-former Sun employees, but to me the low point of the past several weeks was the obvious dissembling of the reader's note you quote above. There were many ways to acknowledge the change; saying it was for readability was an unnecessary lie.

All a news organization has is its reputation for truth. Beyond that clear line lies Pravda and the house organs of a dozen Banana Republics.