Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Little ado over Orlando's redo

Fewer than 0.05% of the readers of the Orlando Sentinel are fussed about the bold redesign of their newspaper, according to statistics provided by management three days after the debut of the new look.

The response could mean any of the following:

:: 99.95% of the readers like the colorful overhaul, which would be great news for the newspaper.

:: 99.95% of the readers didn’t notice, which not only would insult the Sentinel’s editors but also put in place the industry kibitzers (including me) who have been second-guessing the project for the last week.

:: 99.95% of the readers don’t care, which would be the most alarming outcome of all.

In all likelihood, the actual answer is a combination of the above.

But the evident equanimity inspired by the revamp suggests that harried consumers may be more personally detached from their newspapers today than ever before, regarding them as no more than another fleeting blur in the ever-accelerating cascade of media. Thus, a fresh splash of pink on the front page may have no more impact than an incoming Twitter, a new text message, a hot Digg, a Facebook poke or the latest Fox News "Alert!"

As of the close of business today, 106 of the readers of the Sentinel called, emailed or otherwise expressed their dissatisfaction with a widely watched makeover that was billed as a precursor of the revamps planned for each of the newspapers owned by Tribune Co. With 220k in daily circulation, the critics amount to 0.0482% of the Sentinel’s total audience.

The complaints, which of course reflect only the subset of readers motivated enough to speak up, outpaced by nearly six-fold the 18 congratulatory comments recorded by the newspaper, according to Bonita Burton, the assistant managing editor who directed the redesign. She adds that eight subscriptions were canceled because of the remake and two were acquired.

Assuming no major delayed reaction to the new look materializes in the coming days, the most logical working hypothesis has to be that you can radically remake a newspaper overnight without generating anything more than a mild or indifferent response.

While the Sentinel’s managers can take comfort in knowing they evidently have done little harm, a corollary conclusion appears to be that reskinning a newspaper, in and of itself, is not likely to boost business, either.

Last and most unsettling, the casual reaction in Orlando suggests that newspapers may have far less passionate constituencies than we would like to think.

19 Comments:

Blogger Alan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the redesign.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how long they can keep up the daily scare stories. Today we have "Bolts of Summer" on deadly lightening. We have already been treated to the Sea that Swallows Florida on global warming that will obliterate the state in 90 years, The New Red Scare on deathly tomatoes, Poisonous Fish in Florida Waters on the possibility deadly lionfish might join jelly fish in the Atlantic. And there was also the possibility that you will die from a stroke. There are a lot of nasties out there, but not sufficient to keep this up, IMO

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Alan Jacobson said...

Cheyenne's makeover two weeks ago garnered roughly the same number of comments, a higher number of positives and 4 stops. But Cheyenne is 20 times smaller than Orlando and Cheyenne pursued a content-driven redesign. This suggests that readers are far more likely to respond to makeovers that focus on changes in content, rather than changes in appearance, as described here.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nobody I know reads the sentinel - maybe glance at weather and movie listings online. they are feather-lite, like a 90s-era medium size Gannett paper. some good writers and a great local columnist who "takes names" but the rest is a yawn. none of my friends subscribes.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Richard Klicki said...

The real test will be in a year, when the Sentinel compares its circulation figures. That will be the determining factor to its success. It's going to take more than a week or two for readers to get used to the new look, then decide if its a good fit for their lifestyle.

The bigger test will be to see how patient Tribune Comapny execs will be with the results. It'd be a shame if they jump on this "good news" and take the redesign across all its papers, only to find the Sentinel's circulation remained in decline after a year.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Davisull said...

At the same time any number of redesigns have drawn hundreds of calls of outrage. And people are always more apt to complain than praise. So it could mean that no one cares, and it could mean that an even broader rethink might have brought more praise, but at least they didn't honk off a huge number of their readers -- which if nothing else means that other papers may be emboldened to do better.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that another major reason for the lack of feedback on the redesign is the Sentinel's failure to solicit reader reaction on its web site.
A couple readers on the paper's anemic message boards are wondering why the paper did not set up a "Tell us what you think of the new look" thread on the main web page.
Instead, the paper continues to offer its propaganda video extolling the brilliance of the changes.
The redesign is cosmetic. Been there, done that. It probably won't make any difference.
The fact that Zell and gang feel it's pioneering is pathetic. The senior Sentinel editors and staff just keep their mouths shut and play along. They need their jobs and paychecks.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

orlando sentinel business page a joke. there are two good senior writers and they kick ass on real estate and other important stories. the rest are clueless kids and tepid leftovers. the new "columnist" is a joke and would struggle as a feature writer at a decent paper. she was cheap to "promote" vs. hiring a keen columnist with a sharp eye. she sucks. so-so college newspaper quality stuff.
the business editor knows little about business and was promoted due to her "efficiency" and wouldn't know a business story if it fell on her. she blogs about her maid service and a spoiled child who doesn't do chores. none are trained business journalists and the section is poorly regarded. classic case of a business section stocked with people who expected to write on the local or state desks and ended up parked there. leftovers and medium-quality benchwarmers. somehow they make stories like Disney bland. the nine-year-old tech writer is pr agent for whatever he sees - "hey, cool!!" a la Beaver.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the web site is so-so - maybe a C+. runs cheesy dated photos from swimsuit model calendars - they ran the Britney/Madonna kiss photo earlier this month - was from 2003. they would need to upgrade to be gratuitous.
paper a joke - Zell can drive it into the ground with his radio executive sidekick. blind leading the greedy.

1:37 PM  
Blogger rknil said...

"There are a lot of nasties out there, but not sufficient to keep this up, IMO"

On the contrary: The Sentinel could do this for quite a while if it continues to cast facts to the wind and simply goes for the sensational head and/or graphic.

For example, we have a tomato problem. With the Sentinel's crack(ed) design staff in motion, we could have lots of bright red tones and a giant headline: "FRUIT OF FEAR."

It's all a matter of "thinking outside the box." If you're willing to throw away facts -- and the Sentinel has proved it is -- then you can do just about anything.

1:41 PM  
Blogger enhager said...

When will people realize, the newspapers' demise is not about content or colors? It's about business. How may of us have gone through expensive and regular redesigns - did it ever increase circulation? I've never heard anyone say, "I just bought the newspaper today for the first time because it's pretty." If you want a redesign people might care about, get rid of newsprint that stains your hands and shirts and put the paper in a format you can read when it's windy.

3:31 PM  
Blogger rknil said...

"How may of us have gone through expensive and regular redesigns - did it ever increase circulation?" No. Not even in Bakersfield, even though a consultant claimed it would.

The real purpose of a redesign is for designers to handle less content. In this case, it's already a success.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How. many. of these commenters. have. touched the. redesigned paper?

And the imperious author?

Probably none of these closeted experts have a pulp edition of the new O-Sentienel in their hands . . right?
And they call themselves reporters. puh-lease.
Deal in facts you dorks - that is the best redesign advice.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This commenter has touched the redesigned Orlando Tribune at my local Borders store, where they stock and sell out of town newspapers.

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe another thing to consider is that the sentinel already looked a little out-of-whack, at least to my eye.

but yes. whoever said that redesigns don't affect circulation is dead-on. and the only thing THIS redesign does is sacrifice meaningful content at the altar of looking... well... "new."

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The data simply reinforces what many of us have long believed -- we design and endlessly redesign the paper for us, not for readers or anyone else.
That 99.95% cares very little, if at all, about colors and cosmetic changes, and won't start to complain unless and until you start removing key content -- "key" being things like comics, puzzles, horoscopes, and the other diversions most of our 55-and-older core readership uses the paper for.
I'm not disparaging those readers (OK, well, maybe a little), but rather the corporate mindset that believes redesigns/headline font changes/splashier photos/more color will do anything to move the needle. A fresh paint job won't make a car with a broken axle move one inch.

2:51 PM  
Blogger papercuts hurt said...

It's interesting you should say there's 'little ado' over the re-design, because just today I read some readers' online rants about the Sentinel's "Ticked Off" column being trimmed back. While, most people were mainly angry about the single column, they also threw in their not so kind sentiments about the Orlando Sentinel's new design. The disgust with the "new look" of the paper is spread through out the Sentinel's website, but it is there.

In my circles, people have been very angry about the new look of the Sentinel and it's dedication to avoiding in depth stories/ investigations of the city. But then again we have seen it coming for a long time, as I'm from a newspaper family.

A few choice words about the Orlando Sentinel's alteration of its look, content and staff:
http://amazingshrinkingsentinel.blogspot.com/

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Orlando Sentinel, an ad-ridden rag, should offer subscriptions free of charge. The recent makeover reminds me of My Weekly Reader during the 1930's.

I refer specifically to the Op-Ed pages and the scanty local news section.

2:23 PM  

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