Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LA Times' Latest Redesign Skimps on Sports, Substance, Staffing

The much-ballyhooed Los Angeles Times redesign debuted with this morning's edition. Sure, this is their second redesign this year, but this time, they're serious. Serious at shrinking both the quantity and the quality of the newspaper, that is. And as one of the few remaining holdouts who actually enjoys the ritual of braving the cold Los Angeles autumn mornings to emerge from one's domicile in boxers and barefeet to pick up the paper from the front doorstep, I was looking forward to this latest round of changes as a substantive improvement for the LAT, restoring its trajectory back toward its glory days as a quality newspaper.

This redesign is not an improvement. The cliff notes (how fitting, given the LA Times appears lighter and thinner than ever):

  • The front page masthead gets a cute little serif. Yawn.
  • Section mastheads are now in color font. Sports gets a light blue shade, which is nice for Dodger and Bruin fans and not so nice for Angel and Trojan fans.
  • The sports page boasted a huge full-color picture that stretched across all six columns and extended beyond the fold, implicitly indicating a direction of visuals over content. Sure, the picture of Trojans in a tunnel was interesting, but when you've shrunk the sports section to six measly pages, couldn't we have more than just eye candy?
  • The Sports section was six pages today, the equivalent of a translucency. No longer can one take the section to the bathroom for a morning constitution. Heck, I could even get through six pages while standing at a urinal (I have a large bladder, battle-tested from many a Dodger game).
  • Front page articles jump recklessly. Sam Farmer's column was headlined, "Favre is full of denials," so it made no sense to jump to the interior headline "San Francisco fires Nolan as coach," unless your sharp eye picked out that it was an NFL-related piece spanning multiple teams. Given all the copy on the front page was about Brett Favre and the Jets, the link to Nolan wasn't clear, meaning that any reader trying to jump inside wouldn't be able to find his or her way to the remainder of the article. Well done.
  • LATimes columnists will soon sport hand-drawn portraits "as individual as their writing." Nice use of declining funds, LAT, and I'm also really excited to detract from the limited copy space we've got with self-indulgent portraits. I suppose the Bill Plaschke portrait could make a nice dartboard piece, however (and one could draw clean score demarcations among all the wasted space created by his one-sentence paragraphs).

The fastest bait-and-switch move they're trying to pull, however, is the change in bylines, which no longer have the title of the reporter beneath the name. (The only staffer on the front page who did get a title with her byline was Lorena Iniguez, who did a nifty health-care spending graphic (think USA Today) and is apparently a LAT employee). Names sit bare beneath subheads, unless the report is being filed from a remote (i.e., non-Los Angeles) location, in which case the location is also listed. LAT Editor Russ Stanton makes a big note of this in his gatefold message (accompanied by a nifty hand-drawn portrait, too!), highlighting the geographical breadth of the reporting staff.

What Stanton conveniently forgets to mention, however, is that omission of the titles allows the paper to pull reports from ANYONE, ANYWHERE. These aren't necessarily LA Times Staff Writers contributing stories. In fact, the reader doesn't know WHO is contributing the story in the first place! Is it a credentialed staff writer from the LAT? A pooled writer from the Chicago Tribune? A story pulled off of Yahoo! News? An elementary schoolkid writing a book report? A blogger who writes under a 1980s Dodger's pseudonym? Without titles, this writer could be anyone, legitimate or illegitimate, experienced or inexperienced, human or cylon. The reader would never know.

So now, the LA Times has moved to a thinner paper with less content, and the bulk of the content that is in the print edition can be from anonymous writers on staff and off. They sure are making it difficult to justify being a subscriber, when the end product is flimsier than the internet substitutes.

UPDATE 10:42a: Apparently the title of the reporter is located at the end of the article, rather than the beginning like any other reasonable newspaper, according to LA Observed. It's still buried, however.

Earlier: Witnessing A Los Angeles Institution's Slow Decline to Mediocrity


Orel said...

Nice writeup, Large Bladder. Would this be a proper place for the "lipstick on a pig" metaphor?

Unknown said...

Too many changes too soon. They've been revamping the paper for the last 6 months or so.
I love how they put the opinion section in the main section now. Was that to draw readers to read the front section?
I agree, not much there. Looks like they are trying to get readers to go to the website. I WANT TO READ THE PAPER! If I wanted to go a website I wouldn't go to theirs!!
And....because someone complained that they weren't "green" enough in using plastic bags, I recieve a messed up paper when it lands on my wet lawn. Then I have to call and get another one. Does that make any sense?
Some things need to be left alone. Progress Smrogress.

WesParker in IA said...

Zell,Lehman Bros...losers. This leveraged buyout has destroyed one of the world's great papers and is an example of how our economy has lost perspective. If you can't afford something, you save up until you can afford the payments. Borrowing against something you've bought in hopes that the value will increase has not stood the test of time. Meanwhile you have destroyed one of the greatest symbols of the West Coast and the Pacific Rim.

I agree with cindy. Progress, hah! When you reinvent the wheel, it should still be round. Times has gone to hell since Murray died and they let Scott Ostler get away.

Jeff Prescott said...

I'm writing to them----

Congratulations on your new publication, "L.A. Times for Dummies."

WesParker in IA said...

A link to Morning Briefing still exists on the website...way to taunt us.