A movie critic must manifest himself as to the quality of a motion picture spectacle. Theatre critics about the play and the acting. Book critics examine the writing, the message content, and text attributes.
What’s to be expected of media critics when a newspaper, magazine, or TV show undergoes a face-lift?
Because it deals with an artistic and cultural manifestation, must the evaluation criteria be solely aesthetic? If – prior to all else – the media has a socio-political responsibility, how relevant are design and graphics to one of its vehicles?
The new design of the newspaper Estado de S. Paulo, debuted Sunday (10/17), really caught the eyes of media observers. Primarily because the newspaper itself invested heavily to announce it.
The change captured the attention particularly since the Estado – known for a classic image – suddenly decidedly to give it a touch up.
What ought to matter to us in this case is just the necessity for the image change. Whether the paper has gotten prettier, more or less attractive, that’s secondary.
To the extent that newspapers and magazines have been in the market for years – decades in some cases –, it is assumed that readers enjoy them and have become fond of their repetitive visual patterns day in and day out.
Then why the switch? Why break away so abruptly from reading habits that, along with periodicity, are anchors that hold the magazine or newspaper readers?
It’s an old debate. The New York Times takes years to implement changes in a way not to scare readers away.
Therefore, it makes use of a homeopathic strategy, by way of undetectable alterations. Or close to it. But it never stops transforming itself.
Not much different than the women (and men) readers whose plastic surgeries are noticeable only to their spouses.
The overhaul that began at the Jornal do Brasil in 1956 and had the follow-through by the team who assumed control in 1962 was implemented along the subsequent 12 years.
Perhaps due to the fact that the notion of a “process” was adopted in lieu of a “reform”, JB developed a style. Institutionalized, it served as a model (or platform) to a number of experiments and adaptations; including at the Estado.
Here, it’s not a question of a change in wardrobe, make-up palette, or tie knot. By imploding its appearance, a press vehicle unveils a sense of insecurity when it comes to its identity.
If, to inspire confidence, newspapers attempt to appear unshakable, immune to power pressures and the passing of time, why then resort to shortcuts and unexpected moves?
If the catalyst in the journalistic process consists in precisely conveying discernment and knowledge to readers, wouldn’t a radical image cut be a confession of the inability to always stay in touch and current?
The face-lift operation at the Estado did not hide their desire to modernize and rejuvenate.
It’s expressed in the use of colors and illustrations, bigger fonts and line spacing. It’s marked by shorter pieces, articles, and editorials.
The typographic discoloring, usually dark and for that reason highly impacting, got clean, whitened, almost gray. It has a little something from the Armani House.
You can’t argue taste, but what does it mean to be modern and young – to further segment the minds of readers and take away the paper’s uniqueness and universality?
Increase the number of sections and encourage partial reading of their contents? Does answering to the young and hip require such sacrifices?
Rival newspaper the Folha de S. Paulo ceded to temptations and went through the same move in the early 80s, creating sections, segmenting, and abandoning the elegant English paradigm it had adopted in 1975, shifting to the syncopated formula of the USA Today.
When, a decade later, those same young journalists and readers began to age a bit, the paper felt obligated to face another surgery.
Newspapers like the Washington Post also felt the necessity for renewal – which has been conducted on an ongoing basis, stealthily.
They too want to grab the youth segment but have opted for a different strategy: launching a new product, the Express, an afternoon newspaper, in tabloid format, live, covering the city’s goings-on; and indications are that it is a success.
The WP‘s publisher didn’t run any risk, didn’t switch audience – it incorporated a new one.
Readers of the WP were exhilarated in 1974 with the accomplishments of the Woodward-Bernstein duo that led up to Nixon’s impeachment.
Thirty years down the road, their children or grandchildren would be thrilled if the paper would re-release the Watergate editions and hamper chances of a George Bush victory in the upcoming elections.
In this interval – a generation! – the paper has changed relatively little (not counting the embracing of color). It wasn’t necessary.
In analyzing such devotion to young audiences it is fitting not to lose sight of certain demographics and social considerations which marketers and advertisers don’t appreciate hearing: the youth market is ephemeral.
Its expansion is being neutralized – on one hand, the rapid coming of age of young professionals, on the other, the inevitable rise in life expectancy.
Newspapers’ circulations are down, not only in Brazil, because under the pretext of audience rejuvenation, newspapers have dismissed precepts that had made them indispensable to the previous generations.
During these festive times, forgetting such unimportant facts is not recommended.
In Search of Density
International consultants and project designers who earn their living redesigning and revamping printed media around the world aren’t the least concerned over the future of newspapers, journalism, the press, culture, and society.
Their business is cosmetics, paper cosmetics. They don’t promise permanence or durability – if that were the case they would starve to death.
The weekly newsmagazine The Economist certainly is interested in profiting and growing its audience to stay among one of the great five in the world.
It has gone under the knife several times, always coming up with new ideas, but never letting go of a few obsessions: precious titles, informative texts, and photos that set the atmosphere (rarely with captions).
Its writers remain anonymous, nevertheless, they often toast the shrewdness of readers with memorable bits of their virtuoso talents such as the editorial on page 14, in the 10/9 edition.
Inspired by a phrase from Winston Churchill (“Brief words are better, and ancient words – when brief – are better yet”), the piece was written in words – at the most – two syllables long.
Joking? With jokes like this, young, old, modern, and traditionalist are delighted. Journalism isn’t just a service – were it so phonebooks would be unbeatable.
With only three editions, it’s impossible to make a more consistent analysis about concrete aspects in the refurbishing at the Estado.
However, from the title, the section “Aliás” (By the Way) promises interesting incursions into analytical journalism.
A slip up captured the attention on Sunday’s front page: not a single international reference.
Blame the high emotions of a premier, which at the Estado (the newspaper with the best foreign coverage) becomes very visible.
In essence kept intact, the paper’s opinion page (A3), the nation’s most influential, was aptly integrated to the op-ed page (reserved for columnists).
Thanks to smaller text sizes in both cases, more space was open for the expansion and visibility of letters from readers, an area where the daily Folha possessed an old clear advantage.
The deficiency could have been mended long ago, without taking on such risks.
Also, the section “Cultura” (Culture) was preserved and enriched with articles from the New York Review of Books, the best cultural publication in the US.
Concession to traditionalists, an indication that the young also want density – in any case, proof that it will still take a while for the Armani journalistic style to consolidate.
Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the *Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, FL. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org.