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Design tips for very small paper?

Discussion in 'Design Discussion' started by ouipa, Jun 4, 2008.

  1. ouipa

    ouipa Member

    Hey guys.

    I'm looking for ways to improve our section, but I'm not sure exactly how, since our section is very small, is only a separate section once a week and is taken up by a "Scoreboard" section on most of one page.

    The section is, as I said, two pages, every day. Never changes. Even in our weekend edition, when it's got its own legitimate section head, it's still only two pages, with the opinion and lifestyles sections embedded within the B section on the next several pages (which kind of bugs me). This leaves few options to be creative and use large art, because there's no room to allow anything to jump. Not to mention that some AP stories have large blocks of text because we use MCT for photos and they're pretty sporadic with getting them, to say the least.

    I've been given the suggestion by the ME and publisher to help fix up the scoreboard agate. It's our second page in the section, and it's got five columns of scoreboard agate with a TV box in the top right, and national/regional briefs are run down the left side. This leaves only one page for local and original material. In the summer, this isn't so bad, because we don't have anything local going on except a Babe Ruth League baseball team that plays only once in a while, so I get a lot of AP copy. But I've heard from a few people that for a small paper, a scoreboard may not even be necessary (we're a 5,000 circ paper). Getting rid of that would be a tough to pull over the ME, and you'll always get those calls from the weirdos about town that can't be bothered to get their out-of-market scores anywhere else.

    I'd like to start using dividing lines for our section, but our gutters are too small, and taking the effort to change that up for the sports section means having to change it up for the rest of the paper (right?).

    As I said, right now, this isn't all too much of an issue, because of the loads of AP copy (except when I do features, which I pick up quite often, but can't do every day). I'm the lone man on the sports desk, so the small amount of space and limited design options will come back to haunt me in the fall, when football and other HS sports get running. It wasn't much of a problem when I first came in a month ago, because we were into the playoffs, and spring sports don't generate as much interest as fall sports.

    I've gone on long enough, so I'll just ask, basically, what can I do? The big question: what to do with the scoreboard/briefs? Bonus points if someone can point me in the direction of PDFs of small sections for tips.

  2. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    I think an agate or scoreboard is important, but it may not merit the space you're giving it. My guess is that if you're a 5,000 circulation people are already going elsewhere for national stuff, so I'd switch my priority to a niche in the local market.

    Design-wise, you are somewhat bound by the paper's style, especially not being a standalone section too often. Most people, I'd think wouldn't notice the wider gutters, but they would notice things like rules (divider lines).

    Generally, the best advice for smaller papers is using big, dynamic photos for your centrepieces and features and doing roundups for other things to fit.

    I'm not sure your biggest issue here is strictly design though, but maybe focus and page architecture. Like I said earlier, it's tough for a paper that size to thrive on AP stuff you can get elsewhere and you're right, a one-man show can't always get every local thing.

    Somewhere, I think they maybe have to prioritize, commit to a path, and put you in a position where you can work ahead.
  3. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    Like mentioned above, I would switch to local teams or teams of local interest for your scoreboard agate. As it stands, you could use the limited space you have more for creating an attractive overall package that can draw a reader in.

    If you're in a market that has major league-level teams, you can include standings, but I wouldn't go any farther than that. If it's minor league teams, I might do a little more there, but not so much that it detracts from the overall package of art and original stories.

    As for wire copy, if you have enough original, unique copy, I would play that up more and not use a whole lot of wire copy that isn't geared toward the teams in your market or of interest to your readers. And I wouldn't be opposed to cutting down on wire gamers to get more space for your original stories/photos/etc.

    And yes, I'd set priorities of coverage. If you have teams that have high local interest, focus on them. Perhaps ramp up coverage of smaller sports if there's a bigger angle, such as a local team making it to a nationwide competition or something. But you're right. You can't be everywhere at once. You have to try to be where you can most effectively serve the needs and wants of your readers.
  4. ouipa

    ouipa Member

    The problem isn't being able to cover everything at the moment — it's not having enough to put in on most days. Like I said, there's only one local team that does anything during the summer, and they play about two to three times a week. What other original content would I be able to put in?

    We are in a Major League interest market, but it's too far to cover personally. There's a closer Minor League team, but that's still a bit of a drive.

    When I have original copy, I use much larger photos (four to five columns out of six) and larger headlines, though I don't do anything too fancy with design. We have one design guy on staff, and he's leaving soon.

    I definitely feel like crap when I have to load the page with AP content (the top story today? An NBA Finals preview, and the closest NBA team is on the other end of the country). But when I do features, I try to do them right, and I don't like to throw them onto the page when I think they're not ready just because we need original content. I've only had this job for a month, so I'm not too keen on planning ahead for when to use the features yet, either. But whenever I get them done, there's usually lots of space for them.

    Where else would I find original content? Spring sports are done, and other than the BRL and a rodeo that another guy covers once a week, there's really nothing left.
  5. RedCanuck

    RedCanuck Active Member

    Yeah, that is a difficult thing when there isn't much in the area to cover. I don't know the Babe Ruth league or what it entails, and there's only so many individual athletes.

    I like forever town's suggestion about concentrating more on presenting your own stuff than trying to cram in wire though for sure.
  6. yeah, take some time to design your own features, maybe start sketching an idea days in advance or talk to the photog about the main image. Make your clips and your stuff look sweet. Don't sweat the wire stuff.
  7. Hackwilson191

    Hackwilson191 Member

    Honestly, it sounds like you could cover more than you are. Does your region have 7 on 7 summer football? How about American Legion baseball? Do any of the local athletes play summer AAU ball? If they do, let one of them write a summer column for you on what it is like to devote an entire summer to sports instead of relaxing a the beach like their friends.

    Are all of the coaches being renewed for next year? I bet there will be at least one or two new ones coming to the community you could do a short story on.

    I would scrap ALL national and AP wire copy at a 5,000 circulation. If you have a once a week Rodeo, do more rodeo coverage. Have a feature story to go along with the rodeo gamer every week.

    Is there anyone competing in summer league softball? Do a story on that, there is always something you can do to get names and faces in the paper. That is what low circulation community journalism is about.

    You are not going to have a lot of breaking news ever. It just won't happen. Focus on the people in the community and you will be fine.
  8. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I agree wholeheartedly. I'm an editor at a suburban 40K weekly. We don't have AP access and when we do use wire, it's mostly a university run wire service written by J-school students.

    Before I got here, it was no exaggeration to say the paper averaged five wire stories per week. Since I've been here, it's been no exaggeration to say it averages one every two or three weeks.

    Wire stories you can get anywhere, including the Internet. Thanks to student writers and what staff I've had, my shop has had far more original content you can't get elsewhere.

    That is what newspapers ought to be concentrating on: What can we give our readers that they want and they can't get elsewhere? How do we appeal to our readership to make them want to pick up our paper over anyone else's out there or in addition to the major daily paper nearby.
  9. jps

    jps Active Member

    It is nice to say to scrap all AP content ... and in the school year I agree entirely. Still, it's nice to have as essentially filler in the summer with not as much going on. Two or three local stories aren't always going to fill two or three pages no matter how big you run the photos.

    If you do have to run wire, make it a story worth reading. Probably not breaking news so much ... but maybe a Litke or Dahlberg commentary or a random, well-written feature or profile.
  10. Dickens Cider

    Dickens Cider New Member

    Dahlberg ... sure, but Litke? If there's a more milquetoast columnist in the U.S., I haven't found him or her.
  11. jps

    jps Active Member

    You're probably right ... always go to Dahlberg first. But Litke can put out some good stuff time to time.
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