‘News Flash: Everything’s Not Always About You’

hankstuever.jpgThe word on 15th Street is that the Post’s experiment to offer daily staff-written critiques is going well–the actual exercise of doing the write-ups hasn’t penetrated as far into the rank-and-file of the paper as top editors would like (so far it’s mostly the top reporters/editors doing it), but the staff is reading them for sure. (You can read the first edition here.)

Style writer Hank Stuever used the platform yesterday to tear into the idea that the paper should reach out to the lowest-common-denominator of its readership. He thinks that the paper’s proposed redesign, still in internal prototypes but the general idea visible in the new redesigned business section, is worsening a trend within the whole paper: shorter is better.

“This forum seems to have a lot of focus-group fallout, calling for: shorter stories, faster formats, oh my it’s all too much to handle, I can’t possibly read it all, I don’t know where to start, I get everything I need from my (pet electronic doodad). And, my favorite, from a critique a couple of days ago, the assistant news editor guy who reads the NYT, WSJ (so navigable! Huh?), then gets online and reads everything else, and then and only then might deign to read The Post, which is, again, too this and too that and is an incredible intrusion on his time. Remarkably, the paychecks navigate their way to his bank account every other Friday, which is another way for me to say that I firmly, firmly believe that if you can be bothered to work here, you can bother to read this paper–the meatspace version, not the Web, the printed result that we all worked so hard to make–every day before you read someone else’s. This is why I can never be allowed to observe focus groups: I will surely bust through that one-way glass window and administer hard spankings to each and every participant who seems incapable of just paging through a newspaper, looking at headlines and pictures, and deciding whether or not there’s something worth stopping on.

“I think we’ve overlistened to people who never read the paper, and yet insist it include more about their neighborhoods, lives, and concerns. A newspaper is filled with criminals, celebrities and fools and I for one am happy when it doesn’t include my life or neighborhood in theirs.

“Then again, no one is interested in my new slogan for The Post: ‘News Flash: Everything’s Not Always About You.’

“Why are we obsessed with the paper being too much, too large? Our counterparts at McDonalds, Google, iTunes, Comcast Digital, The Cheesecake Factory and Barnes & Noble have already learned: People do not complain because something is too big and they can’t possibly read, listen to, watch or eat it all in one sitting. (American consumers so rarely seem to be saying this, except in newspaper focus groups. Otherwise, they seem to enjoy being overwhelmed.)

“I have worked at newspapers that fretted, angsted and test-marketed all sorts of ‘news you can use’ and entry points and time-savers. We added geegaws, rails, skyboxes, refers, breakouts, sidebars; we set the articles in ragged-right and whacked the living shit out of them. It helped not one bit, but this identity crisis ultimately created a paper you really could read in 10 minutes. And soon enough, it started to feel like something that wasn’t worth the 50 cents they charge for it.

“So I really do reach for my air-sickness bag when we start passing around prototypes of a redesigned A1 with rails and time-savers, and an AME wonders (in yesterday’s critique) if it might be good idea execute a blanket reduction in story lengths. If we want to redesign the paper to make it look like the coolest thing on the planet, fine, that’s an image crisis I can live with. I prefer that if we do, the aesthetic end result reminds me of walking into the Apple Store, and not of a bulletin board in a middle school social-studies classroom.

“They will never let me do this critique again.”

The rant continues after the jump.


So, without any navigation tools, let us have a look at our beautiful Washington Post, shall we? Some of it we can read later, or not at all. Sometimes you’re just smarter for having it on the dining room table in case you want to read it. That’s the beauty of it.

A section:

Bleh — a “hug” photo. And the lady’s not even related to any of the dead Marines! (Her son was injured, in a separate incident.) Ah, but look closer: I think we’re maybe supposed to linger a moment on her SUV decor — the “My Son Defends Our Freedom” sticker, and I didn’t even know, heathen that I am, that one can get a yellow ribbon sticker with a cross in the center and praying hands. So, on second thought, I do get my thousand words out of this picture, but I think it’s a failure as an A1 lead photo.

Susan Torres: We’re done, and good work by Stephanie McCrummen the whole way, and good luck to the newborn. Any more stories seem macabre. It’s like finding the same movie on cable every single day.

GOP and pork: It worked, I’m angry. Especially once I get to the excellent Fed Page chart. Kudos to the nameless researchers and artist who put that graphic together.

Raffy Palmiero: Great stuff from Sheinin, with nice recounting from congressman about the phone call he had with the ‘roided Oriole.

That crazy clone dawg is lookin’ at me with devil eyes. And for those of us who dropped biology at midterm (and took “world nutrition” instead for science credits) thank you Rick Weiss for a single, perfect paragraph midway explaining how cloning is done. I always manage to forget.

The only story that seemed to me misplaced (and buried its own news) is the Air France folo on A10, where, midway through, we learn that these yellow inflatable slides on the burning airplane didn’t all work properly, especially given that the plane was in a ravine and not on a flat tarmac. So really this wasn’t the clean, professional evac we originally thought it was. This story could have been recast and given better play.

Now for the rest of the section: Today I learned a little bit about how, if someone thinks I’m a suicide bomber, I can reasonably expect to be shot in the head (noted); caught up on my gap-filler woes; shouted “bah!” at “Bush Hails Tax Cuts For Boost in Growth”; wondered if that little girl in Fresno is really sorry for throwing a rock instead of a water balloon; I dwelt in prison briefly, where converting to extremist Islam is possible; and I tried twice to make sense of “Noted With Interest” on the Fed Page, the item about Kay Cole James’s career epilogue — and had no idea what I was supposed to be getting there.

Did my usual Letters page check for any letters beginning with “Let me get this straight” or “Am I the only one who…” and am happy to report an all-clear.

All of this did not take long. I read what I wanted, and offer my humble thanks to the editors and designers who put it all into a manageable, prioritized, low-bandwith, easily flip-through-a-ble newspaper of importance for 35 cents. And I’d be happy to show anyone else how to do it. I call it “scanning.”

But wait, there are FIVE OTHER SECTIONS! You people are too good to me. You give so much! I love it!

Metro:

Hey, Marc: I like the look of K Street underneath the Whitehurst, especially around the Georgetown Loews and Ritz-Carlton. I like the girders – it’s a little bit Chicago, or New Orleans’ Decatur Street market. How about instead of tearing it down, they consider Italian-style light strings for the length of the underside? It might be like Christmas year-round. I say they work with it, and leave the freeway alone. I also like the effect up top, whizzing by all those empty (or perhaps very minimalistically furnished) Ritz condos.

Adhering to my scan-everything, stop-when-fascinated way of reading the newspaper, I took in a little of the following: Kidnapped nun! (Sounds weird.) Judy Jailbird! LA Times’ David Shaw obit (died how many days ago??) and some further unraveling of No Child Left Behind, this time in Va.

Style:

Loved the piece on the Noms Unit on the Hill: “The staff here has a necessarily ambivalent relationship with paper. (“Poor trees” is the unofficial office motto),” Hanna Rosin tells us, in what’s going to be her last story for a while (two words I hate to hear: book leave)…In hindsight, this piece could have been our display, or played bigger. I liked Blake Gopnik’s piece on Janet Cardiff’s “audio walk” genre, but the art to go with it just doesn’t cut it. August I think would be a wonderful time for Style to further explore a front display format that doesn’t insist on a main story/page rounders worldview.

Ann Gerhart as a television critic works for me, but this is a pinch hit. Funny stuff.

Back to Gopnik: I’ve read it a couple of times and still can’t figure out how long the audio tour takes. Given that it’s outdoors, daily, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and given what the outdoors feels like these days, we might like to know: An hour? Less? More?

Su Do Ku usually kicks my ass weekends, but I’m managing the up until Thursdays all right. Yes, it’s crack cocaine. Yes, for a while my boyfriend/partner/monogamous sodomite was actually buying a Washington Post every day of his very own, on his way to work, just for Su Do Ku. And then he found it for free in the Express a few days later. So much for that circulation booster.

Sports:

Editors, please ask yourself, before leaving every evening: Have I done everything possible to include a photo of a male swimmer in tomorrow’s paper? (If answer is no, please return to desk and get busy.)

My only other complaint is the size of the “injury report” in Training Camp Tracker on E10. These are big men with big injuries. That type is too small to read and I’m not at the reading-glasses stage yet. Also unhelpful: the 20 percent shade of gray over it.

Business:

Again, about this rail stuff: It takes longer to read the rail than to page through the section and read the headlines, leads and look at the pictures and Dilbert — because really, the section is just-a wafer theen.

I miss having the columns where the rail goes; I know for certain I haven’t been reading as much Steve Pearlstein since the format change. And if we’re going to do rails, let’s not put tiny red lettering in them, because getting tiny color type in registration clearly isn’t on our Things-To-Do list.

More indignation on my part with the lawmakers and the lobbyists and their hunting trips at lodges and who knows what all else, courtesy of Jeffrey Birnbaum. Good read.

Home:

A total of 10 house ads. Perhaps some of them already pre-booked so that The Post can showcase it’s extremely uncreative campaign for its job-search classifieds. (One of those ads is actually offensive to non-Easterners: The picture in the ad with “Plano” — Texas, I presume — is clearly some stock desert shot, maybe Nevada, or Death Valley. Doesn’t look like Plano at all, a city in a county with a million people and better shopping malls than ours, and four distinct seasons amid somewhat hilly, verdant North Texas pastureland and fields. Take your “Plano” desert photo and shove it, y’all.)

Back to Home. Is the Katherine Tallmadge with the Swedish furniture in the story the same one who has written/writes for The Post? If yes, should we mention that? If no, then my apologies.

And instead of all those house ads, I’d be willing to read just a dose of wire copy.

Last two rants:

Every Wednesday and Thursday, my heart goes out to whomever designs the Food and Home fronts, with careful choices about color and size and shape, only to have their fronts marred by a jarring, intentional stripe of pure ink (cyan, magenta, etc) that runs from the top to the bottom of the left edge of the page.

I gather this is so the paper can be properly sorted by zone (especially on Thursdays), but somehow The Post is the only newspaper I’ve seen of its size that can’t manage to accomplish zoning without ruining its makeup. Today, the District edition of Home lucks out with a soft stripe of gray that goes with the cool, Swedish-themed front. But readers elsewhere got a stripe of hot pink, or radioactive yellow. And in Anne Arundel you get pink DASHES all the way down. Surely someone in editorial wields enough power to address this.

And even more like a window-dresser, I shall now fuss about the gray bar that runs at the bottom of every color page in the paper. It used to be a continuous bar, easily overlooked. Since about March, I believe, it has acquired a large gap in the middle, which sometimes, to my eye, makes the stories and photos look as if they’re about to fall into that hole. It’s imbalanced. It’s like having a co-worker come in everyday without front teeth. At the very least, we should
format a single hairline into the page templates, just above the gray bar that indicates to readers that we have nothing to do with the printers’-mark gobbledygook below.

Believe it or not, I’m done.