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A Gratifying Information Experience

A banner hangs in the lobby of the San Diego Union-Tribune, displaying a letter from publisher Ed Moss to “our readers.” It reads, in part: “After months of polling thousands of you, coupled with internal planning…we are preparing to unveil a new Union-Tribune on August 17. We think you’re going to like what you see.” The new paper, writes Moss, will be “more enjoyable to read…making better use of photos and graphics to tell stories.”

Besides a shift in content presentation — real-time web posts leading to short, daily page-two items leading to longer, weekly page-one features — the new U-T also took on a new look. The redesign was the work of managing editor/creative director Kris Viesselman, who also happens to be president of the Society for News Design. For the new header, which stresses the paper’s (smart-phone friendly) “U-T” shorthand, Viesselman turned to noted type designer Jim Parkinson, the man behind the logos for Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the Wall Street Journal. (The Journal has also gone shorthand, featuring the WSJ logo on its own page one.)

“At first, there were hundreds of negative comments,” recalls Union-Tribune editor Jeff Light. “But people who had been through these things before said, ‘Oh, no, this was much less resistance than we see to change, in general.’”

“It’s a little bit of a Starbucks theory,” says Light of the print-side redesign. “The news you find in a newspaper, you’ll find it somewhere else” — say, on the paper’s website. “So what’s the real value of getting a newspaper? It’s the whole immersive experience of ‘thoughtful, insightful, well-presented.’ It should be a gratifying information experience. You sit down with it. You see big illustrations and graphics in the feature sections because that’s what you can do in print. The web is data, instant news, telling you what’s going on right now. Print is about presentation, stepping back to give context and meaning. Graphics are part of that — they’re inherently analytical. You create a little bit of an inexpensive luxury product” — like Starbucks coffee.

“Starbucks took something that was a commodity — low cost, available everywhere. They turned it into an inexpensive daily luxury and charged a premium for it. They made the coffee really strong, brought in the Z Gallerie couches. People liked it — it was a little treat, a special moment in their day.… It’s a bit of a departure, but I think print newspapers need to occupy that niche. Print today is about refinement of a product for that particular audience.” — Matthew Lickona

The Union-Tribune’s Golden Years

The September 27 edition of the U-T featured 4 ads for erectile dysfunction treatment (out of 47 total). Also, 3 for strip clubs — and yes, one of those ED ads was right next to them. Just 40 to go! Of course, the U-T is a big fan of advertising in the U-T: 8 ads touted some aspect of the paper or its website, if you include the squib for “U-T news partner 10News” on “How the Sheriff Cut Millions From Overtime While Reducing Crime.”

My favorite U-T ad in the U-T was for the Union-Tribune Successful Aging Expo at the Town & Country Resort & Convention Center on Saturday, February 19, 2011. “Attention Business Owners! If you want to reach active adults over 40, you need to be here.” You betcha. Because the U-T knows from old people. I don’t say that just because of the grinning old guy in the ED ad. There’s plenty of corroborating evidence.

Page A5: Full-page ad for the Hearing Aid Store.

Page A6: Quarter-page ad for dental implants. Quarter-page ad for SAS comfort shoes (product names: Free Time, Siesta, Time Out, Relaxed). Quarter-page ad for Arthritis Expo at Paradise Village, “Resort-Style Senior and Assisted Living Community.”

Page A8: Three-quarter-page ad for San Diego Spine and Disc.

Page A10: Another, smaller ad for the Arthritis Expo.

Page A10: Small ad for hearing-loss study.

Page A11–12: Two-page ad for new diabetes medication. Okay, maybe that one’s not fair.

Page A13: Small ad for dental implants.

Only one ad for mortuary services.

On the bright side: according to transgenerational.org, “America’s elderly population is expected to reach 72 million by 2030, more than double the number in 2000. Tomorrow’s elder population…will demand products that offer continued enjoyment and stimulation while, at the same time, supporting functional limitations and maintaining independence.” — Ambrose Martin

Fire Coverage Was Always Two Hours Late

When Ramona’s Bret Stateham inaugurated his blog San Diego County Fire Information Resources on August 25, he wrote, “I built this list because we just had a small fire here in our area and it brought back for me much of the stress I felt with the 2003 Cedar fire and the 2007 Witch Creek fire.”

Stateham’s blog (blogs.netconnex.com/2010/08/san-diego-county-fire-information.html) has grown to six pages and dozens of links. Stateham states that he started posting the links for “pretty selfish reasons,” saying, “I got nervous when the fires came right up to my fence line. And it seemed like the [traditional news media] was always two hours late. So I designed it for the way I’d want to use it. If other folks find it helpful — fantastic.”

On September 27, I checked the 92131 weather readings taken at Miramar Reservoir, about a mile from my home in Scripps Ranch. According to the Weather Underground website, at 11:52 a.m., it was 112.2 degrees with 16 percent humidity. Winds were holding steady from the north at 8 miles per hour, but easterly gusts of up to 25 were said to be imminent. Was a fire on tap?

Consulting Bret’s blog, I started with a live audio feed from the Monte Vista Ranger Unit in Ramona. Nothing doing there. Next, I checked out the Cal Fire San Diego Twitter feed, which reported that a small fire near the Mexico border had been contained earlier in the day. On the “All San Diego County Emergency Services Radio Scanner,” I heard something about a “possible bomb device” at Steele Canyon High School, but so far, no fires in the county. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I then turned to unmanned cameras set up by UCSD researchers around the backcountry. Peering at live shots taken from hilltop crags near Ramona, I looked for signs of nascent disaster but found only boulders, brush, and blue sky. No smoke — at least not yet. — Moss Gropen

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