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'USA Today' Redesigns

Struggling paper puts focus on digital

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USA Today is about to roll out the biggest redesign in its history, but is it too late? On the eve of the paper’s 30th anniversary, John Hartman, author of The USA Today Way, said the paper is showing “all the makings of a death spiral” and predicted that it would shut down within three years.

The 1.7-million circulation paper is Gannett’s flagship and the country’s second biggest print daily, and while it once stood for innovation, its circulation and ad revenue have fallen along with the rest of the industry. Digitally, the brand has lagged (even though its core business traveler audience would seem to demand their news on the go). The print edition went without a top editor for eight months, until David Callaway was hired in March.

Gannett has turned to Larry Kramer, a newspaper vet who went on to found Marketwatch, and its digital chief David Payne, to try to get the paper's mojo back. The pair is pushing a digital-first approach and a redesign, effective with the Sept. 14 print edition and online Sept. 15. 

“We’re going to be über-aggressive on every platform,” proclaimed Kramer, the president and publisher.

The most noticeable changes to the brand will include a bouncy new logo and, impossible as it may seem, more color and graphics than before. USA Today thinks of itself as America’s paper, though, so it’s kept many of the print mainstays like its folksy voice, weather map and aggressively balanced opinion page.

A mass-market newspaper is limited in today’s niche-focused world, though. Kramer has been looking to develop more verticals, some of which is manifest in the redesign. There are two new color-coded sections, Tech and Travel, which will appear as a weekly full page. Kramer sees developing more such verticals—even style. “Fashion could be done in a more usable way,” he said. “I think there’s a whole fashion world out there that’s different from the Vogue fashion world.”

Kramer is also getting more creative with advertising sales. USA Today might not have the cache of its higher-end brethren The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, but it’s been more permissive with advertisers than they have. Continuing along those lines, it’ll now sell ad space inside the logo box, to the right of the logo itself (which will remain off-limits to marketing messages)—a decision that might have raised more hackles at a time when newspapers’ future didn’t seem as dire as it does now.