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Chicago Tribune Acknowledges Faults of Redesign

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In an extraordinary mea culpa wrapped around its A-section Thursday, the Chicago Tribune acknowledged that its much-ballyhooed redesign was a flop with many readers.

"You spoke, we listened," was the headline for a note to readers from editor Gerould W. Kern published in a spadia that discussed how the paper's design would change from its radical transformation launched last Sept. 29 -- and how it wouldn't.

Using a format of listing reader complaints under the hed "You Told Us" and responding "What We're Doing," the Tribune said it would work on the paper's navigation, which many readers found confusing, and said it has been "refining our approach" to reader objections that the Trib had become "too loud."

Specifically, the Tribune said it would bring back the business section as its own section front. Depending on the day, and seemingly without any pattern, the business section would previously sometimes have its own section front and at other times appear in the middle of another section.

The Tribune also said it had stopped a practice many readers found particularly annoying: jumping stories to other sections.

"We hate it too," the spadia said. "And we've stopped doing it."

The wraparound also served to introduce a new "Chicagoland Extra" section of very local news that will be launched Jan. 21. The regional sections will run Wednesday through Friday. The paper emphasized that its daily "Chicagoland" report of local news will continue to run in what it is calling the "Main News" section, the A-section.

At the same time the Trib was promising or showing changes from the September redesign in the spadia, it was also defending many elements of the new approach -- which was part of a company-wide mandate by financially troubled Tribune Co. to come up with designs that had smaller newsholes and could be produced quicker with fewer journalists.

So to a complaint that there were "too many ads," the paper responded by saying advertising "is the lifeblood that makes it possible to bring you the newspaper." It said it had "created several open pages within the newspaper that serve as reader destinations." It did not say it was backing away from its 50/50 newshole/advertising ratio.

To improve navigation it noted it had returned columnists to fixed places in the paper rather than have them float and said it had improved "internal 'road maps'" to help readers find what they're looking for. "Navigation remains a work in progress," the Tribune said.

Many readers dislike the Tribune's new practice of using large front-page. "Some people found this disorienting," the Tribune said. "On top of that, we didn't get everything right the first time." But it said even if that "unsettles some readers," that big displays of photos would continue.

"Our photojournalists are among the best in the world, and we are displaying their work more prominently," the Tribune said. "At the same time, size doesn't always equate with worth. Therefore, we are being more rigorous in editing photos so their use is commensurate with their value."

In a final note to readers at the bottom of the spadia, Kern noted the other changes that had happened since the redesign: the election of Barack Obama, "the worst economic slump since the Great Depression," the corruption scandal in Illinois government and the collapse of venerable financial institutions.

Nevertheless, Kern said, "we face the future with optimism, and look forward to serving you for many years to come."