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Mario Garcia & The Future Of Newspaper Design

newspaper.gifI've long been fascinated with media as a delivery mechanism of information and in particular how that mechanism is designed. Anyone who has talked to me about the traditional/broadsheet newspaper knows that I'm bearish on its long-term viability, at least in its current form. It's my belief that for traditional newspapers to survive the permanent movement to microcontent and micro-attention-spans, a substantial rethink on how a newspaper is designed, printed and marketed is required. If newspapers evolve the way I think they will need to, we may see the price of some daily newspapers skyrocket into the $5-$15 range.

Recently I stumbled across an interesting article about Mario Garcia and his current effort to redesign the Wall Street Journal. Mario Garcia is among the world's most famous newspaper designers and when an authoritative agent for change walks into a very old-school publication and 'moves furniture around' the process must be both frustrating and incredibly interesting. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks there is little life left in the broadsheet newspaper.

Still, the Journal likely won't adopt the one idea Garcia thinks all newspapers will eventually embrace: a conversion to tabloid size.
If not tabloid, perhaps the berliner format (a bit taller and wider than tabloid - think Le Monde, but still considerably more compact than broadsheet) will eventually gain in popularity amongst newspaper publications. Garcia looks ahead and clearly sees the writing on the wall - the front-end of the Echo generation is getting older, and soon they will be within the crosshairs of a newspaper-subscriber demographic.
Garcia reasons that an audience raised on cable TV and the Internet needs a more portable, navigable newspaper.

"In five years, you will hit a generation of readers who don't remember life without the Internet," said Garcia, a 59-year-old father of four who enjoys youth-oriented tabloids such as the Times' tbt. "People who are coming from . . . the screen of the Internet are used to reading within the confines of a smaller place and transfer more quickly to the tabloid."

Today newspapers are in a real tough spot, they have to cater to their loyal (sorry to be blunt, but older) readers while trying to make the paper something a younger reader would want to buy. Unfortunately, that's an extremely, if not impossible thing to do because of how divergent the wants and needs of those demographics are. If people think the newspaper business is undergoing a transformation now, just wait, you ain't seen nothin' yet! As the Echos age and hit their 30's newspapers will have no choice but to cast aside the needs of the dwindling older few in an attempt to make news on paper something the Internet generation really wants in their hands.
"What we know about the reader is that he or she today is very tech savvy," he said. "They're surrounded with iPods and cameras and all of this, and the second thing is impatience. They don't give you a lot of time. They don't read the newspaper like Grandpa used to read - page by page, waiting patiently to get to sports. They look at Page 1, they see a story about Tino Martinez hitting a home run, well, (they) want to see it - immediately."

"...no one is acknowledging yet that people spend 20 to 30 minutes a day with them, and we're still editing and designing this stuff as if people are spending two or three hours a day with it. Newspapers have largely been produced for the satisfaction of other journalists, and the jig is up now." says Gaspard of the Las Vegas Sun.

How will newsprint survive in the long run? In one word: prestige. Newspapers may become status symbols. Not everyone will be able to afford one. If you're carrying around a newspaper, it will have to say something about who you are. How many people would plunk down $10 for a Tuesday newspaper? Not many, perhaps. But the newsprint of the future, printed and presented in revolutionary ways, may best be morphed into a symbol for wealth and chic. News for the masses on paper? It appears to be dying, and I'm not convinced the net-savvy Echos will ever embrace it enough to revive the medium under that premise. However, the Echos are the most brand-conscious cohort the world has ever seen. Convince the Echos that a newspaper is something they want to 'be seen' carrying, in essence by turning the newspaper into something as trivial as an accessory it may actually give it more importance and appeal to the readers of the future. Sound crazy? Well, this is the same generation that has turned a communications device into chocolate candy.
Everything from earrings and pendants to radios are now being sold in phone-shaped versions. When ShopNBC.com five months ago began offering gold cell-phone charms adorned with topaz and diamonds, it tapped into a gold mine. In early March, the retailer sold more than 100 at $69.99 each during a TV segment lasting less than two minutes.

The cell phone is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful symbols for all that's cool, young, and on the move. It's "a cultural icon," says Victor Chu, fashion technologist at Parsons School of Design in New York. "It's way beyond a piece of technology now."

Nearly half of the U.S. population (2002) now owns a cell phone. For kids and adults alike, a phone-shaped accessory carries a clear message. "What's hanging off your wrist is a way to communicate who you are, that you are open to communication," says Steven Goldsmith, general merchandising manager at ShopNBC.com, owned by ValueVision Media (VVTV ).

Think about this line in that quote: "It's way beyond a piece of technology now." To survive the Echo wave, we may describe the newspaper of the future this way:

"It's way beyond the news now."

Think about it. What would a newspaper have to be, have to look like, have to feel like, to fit that description?

His mission: to redesign with today's readers in mind [St. Petersburg Times]
Dialing into Cellphone Chic [Business Week]
Q&A with Mario Garcia [Poynter Onlin]

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