Tennessee papers roll out redesigns

Kingsport and Johnson City update presentation


Readers of the Times News in Kingsport and the Johnson City Press, both in Northeast Tennessee, saw new looks on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The redesigns of the Sandusky Newspaper Group papers are somewhat different but the goal is the same: Make them easier to read.

But it's not just the design that has changed; it's also the ways in which stories are told, according to Times News Publisher Rick Thomason, who is overseeing the project.

"Our redesigns aren't just about fonts, rebranding and colors," said Bill Ostendorf, president and founder of Creative Circle. "It's really about changing newsroom culture and creating content that is more relevant, more interesting and easier to read."

The redesign really began nearly a year ago with regular training and feedback for the staff. "It takes a long time to change cultures," said Ostendorf.

"We're doing less just straight narrative copy and more grids, Q-and-A's, pros-and-cons, lots of pieces that will give the reader more entry points into the story and make them easier to digest and easier to read. We started doing this back in the summer," Thomason said.

Those changes have already been well-received by readers, he said. Single-copy sales are up and some former subscribers have returned saying they picked up a single copy and thought it had improved.

The redesigns by Creative Circle Media Solutions include new headline and body copy fonts, more airy layouts and new nameplates. Thomason, who came to Kingsport a year ago, said both papers had good content but the designs needed updating.

The Times News circulates 25,294 daily and the Johnson City Press circulates 19,550 daily. Both papers are printed in Kingsport and have some small circulation overlap. The copy desks were combined into a universal desk ahead of the redesigns.

One of the major challenges for Creative Circle, then, was to come up with different but somewhat interchangeable designs so that copy editors didn't have to rewrite every headline on every story that ran in both editions, Thomason said.

Headline fonts are different but are essentially the same size, he said. Both body copy fonts were difficult to read, particularly the old Johnson City font which Thomason called "tiny-tiny." The new font in Kingsport is actually one-tenth of a point smaller but looks bigger than the old font, while in Johnson City the new body copy font is a half-point bigger.

Headlines will depart from what Thomason said were no-no's for old school journalism, such as bans on "you" and "your" as well as question marks. "We will do those things because we feel it speaks to the reader and makes it more personal," Thomason said.

And all copy is now set ragged right, eliminating the unfortunate spacing and word breaks that can occur with a justified setting.

Overall, the Press design will be "edgier" than the Times News, because Johnson City is home to East Tennessee State University and has a younger demographic, Thomason said. "We went with a little more radical redesign there. The elements were a little edgier than Kingsport. Plus it gives us a little separation."

In Kingsport, he said, "The thing that people will notice will be our nameplate. We have a rather old nameplate with, I guess it's supposed to be mountains, at the bottom of the nameplate. The mountains look more like the Rocky Mountains than our mountains here. So those are gone. Our new nameplate will have just 'Times News.' It's in a blue."

Redesigns of the papers' websites, which Thomason described as "pretty bad," are in the near future, but print needed to come first. He said a couple of studies have shown millennials are moving back to print media, including books, as they get older and tire of reading on mobile devices.

"But print's still paying the bills. That's pretty much across the board. We have an older population [in Kingsport] that is our readership, and if we're going to keep them we have to stay viable in print. So for us, it just makes sense to invest in the product that still brings in the majority of our revenue." 

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.

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