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Early glimmerings of our new look

Along with a new masthead, Gayle has been working on a new overall look for The Journal. In addition to the qualities we talked about embodying (integrity, tradition, credibility, etc.) I have been stressing a look that has visual elegance and straightforwardness.

That sounds pretty subjective, I know, but I think our values as a newsgathering organization have to be embodied in how we present that news. To me, straightforwardness and integrity require that we  manipulate our content as little as possible. And that means as a rule, we avoid close-cropping or fading out photos, for instance, or introducing gimmicky typefaces that distract readers from the information. (Many of you in the newsroom have already heard this rant.)

Gayle and I have done a lot of work together over the years. She and I were colleagues for a couple of years at  The Gazette in Montreal, and we collaborated on a redesign of the Times Colonist in Victoria when  I was there. So when we talked about all of this, she understood what I meant. She has been playing with a number of different typefaces and styles that reflect what we are striving for as a new image, as well  your beefs about our current style, especially those of copy editors who had specific observations about the labour-intensive or problematic nature of some of what we do now.

Here is an early glimpse of some of her ideas. Please note: this is not the final design. These are not the final typefaces. This is not the new masthead. These are not the final styles. So please don’t get distressed by the fact that the decks are in italics or the headlines are in capital letters or other such matters. This is a highly preliminary version of what will eventually become our new design.

A redesigned A1

The front page we published June 18, 2011



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What the world’s best-designed newspaper looks like

Front page of i on May 3, 2011, when Osama bin Laden was found.

Gayle has been overseas for a family wedding, so while she was away, I looked further into the best-designed newspaper in the world as decreed by the Society for News Design, (of which Gayle is past president).

The SND is a highly respected international body dedicated to excellence in visual journalism. According to the SND, the best-designed newspaper in the world last year was i in Portugal. Here’s part of what the judges said in the citation:

It’s compact. It’s fresh. It’s consistent, yet full of surprises. Its magazine-like size allows the reader to hold the newspaper close; the format invites the reader to engage more deeply. The publication is packed with information, yet extremely well organized, using elements of layering and editing to draw readers into every page.

The full citation is here. But this is what the judges were talking about.

Front page today, Aug. 24, 2011.

Could we create a publication like i? Possibly, although the organizing principles are quite different. Including the format. It is a stapled tabloid, 56 to 64 pages long. According to art director Nick Mrozowski, “We want to try to set out to produce a magazine every day.”  That means lots of illustrations, lots of portrait photography and lots and lots of planning.

A front page about how to pick the best school for your child.

We have not made choices to resource our newsroom in a way that would allow us to produce this design-intensive format every day. However, as newspapers seek to differentiate between print and digital platforms, a magazine-style approach to presenting content in print makes sense.

For more front pages, see this blog post by Robert Newman at Grids, the official blog of the Society of Publication Designers. It has several examples of i’s  design, including explanations of what they represent.

Could i be the future of newspapers? a post by Emma Heald at the World Editors Forum, can be found here.

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Five-column vs. six-column grid, Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that many newspaper designers prefer a six-column grid because it gives you more flexibility in designing a page, particularly when it comes to displaying photographs. I asked copy editor and technological wiz  Donna Horvath to help me illustrate that by using the front page of the Thursday, Aug. 18, edition.

What you’ll see below are three versions of Page A1. The first is the one we published, with the main photo displayed in three columns on our current five-column grid. The second also uses the five-column grid, but displays the main photograph on four of the five columns. The third version uses the same photograph over four of six columns.

To my eyes, the photo has less visual impact in the first version (the one we published); looks very big in the second version (four of five columns); and has a more balanced combination of impact and acreage in the third version (four of six columns). And that doesn’t take into account the greater flexibility for writing headlines and adding other visual elements.

Is there more or less copy on the page? It depends. In Version 2 (photo four out of five columns), for instance, the photo has more impact, but it takes up so much space that it eliminates a second visual element for that story  (road projects). In Version 3 (photo four of six columns) you have less copy for the main story, but more for the bottom story (Cross Cancer breakthrough) because the photo that accompanies that story is smaller.

The big plus is that you have more flexibility in displaying both stories and photographs on a six-column grid. That’s why we asked Gayle to use six columns as the starting point for the redesign.

Published version: photo three columns on five-column grid

Alternate version: photo is four of five columns

Version 3: main art is four of six columns


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Five-column vs. six-column grid

Our current five-column grid

The grid is the building block of newspaper design. It helps ensure that all the pages look like they belong in the same newspaper, that the text appears in a readable width and not one big blob, and it allows the advertising department to sell ads in the same basic units.

The Journal now is based on a five-column grid. You can see what I mean on the right. Many newspaper designers and editors prefer a six-column grid, because it allows for more flexibility, especially in the display of photographs.

Most of the Top 10 best-designed newspapers in the world as determined by the Society of News Design are now using a six-column grid, although not all of them. We’ve asked Gayle to use a six-column grid as a starting point for our redesign.

Here are the SND Top 10 award winners from earlier this year:

  1. Los Angeles Times
  2. Times of Oman
  3. Washington Post
  4. National Post
  5. New York Times
  6. Politiken
  7. La Presse
  8. Boston Globe
  9. i
  10. The Virginian-Pilot

Courtesy of the Newseum’s daily collection of front pages from around the world, here are the front pages of some of those newspapers from Aug. 18 so you can see what they look like.

Boston Globe

Los Angeles Times

New York Times

The Virginian-Pilot

La Presse

National Post

Times of Oman

Washington Post


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Some possibilities for a new masthead

Gayle has been trying out some new looks and mastheads, based on the old Journal mastheads I sent her plus the list of qualities that we want The Journal to stand for. Publisher John Connolly, Gayle and I all particularly liked the 1904 masthead, so Gayle did some research on it. She discovered that it was a typeface that the Los Angeles Times had adapted and customized.

Based on our feeling that the new look should try to capitalize our long tradition of principled newsgathering in Edmonton, she tried out a number of typefaces that would evoke that 1904 masthead. Here are some of them.

1904 masthead

Electra (this is a typeface we already use for feature headlines)


Kis FB



Electra (coloured banner)

There are some interesting aspects of all of these typefaces (I’ve left out a couple that didn’t work at all for John/Gayle/me). I was particularly struck by how a couple of them echoed the original Evening Journal masthead — take a look at the serifs of the E and the J in Kis FB.

Slavish replication of the early masthead isn’t the point, of course. The key elements are the “feel” — the visual impact — and some practical considerations, such as how well it will reproduce in other settings (that’s why Gayle tried the Electra masthead on a blue background — a Journal hat or jacket is likely to be dark coloured with white embroidery, for instance).

We’ll be trying to zero in on the final choice within the next two weeks, so all feedback is welcome.


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A new masthead

Thanks for the feedback on qualities and values that represent us. I’ve forwarded these additions to Gayle: responsible, stimulating, fun, entertaining.

She is currently contemplating a new masthead/logo that will represent some of those values, as well as our community. To that end, I have sent her a series of Journal logos through the years. Here is what she is looking at to inspire her; thanks to the person who explained the mythology surrounding the “toxic yellow” logo of the 1980s.

A final observation about the versions of our earlier mastheads you see here. Don’t be alarmed by the fuzzy quality of the reproductions; they were scanned in from the pages of our Journal history book so they aren’t the best quality. We don’t have a receptacle that has all our former mastheads in one place, so that was the fastest way we could think of to give Gayle a historical context.










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Who we are

We are hoping to relaunch the print edition this fall during the NADbank period, which is at its peak between mid-September and late October. Designer Gayle Grin will visit the newsroom at some point in the redesign process, but she’ll mostly be working in Toronto and communicating with us digitally.

To get the ball rolling, I asked publisher John Connolly and some of the newsroom managers for their input and we put together this list of qualities that we thought applied to the Journal. Here’s the list we sent to Gayle so she could get her mind around our core values and identity. If you think we’ve missed anything, please chime in.

  • “Of” the city
  • Partners
  • Informative
  • Interested
  • Curious
  • Engaged
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Straightforwardness
  • Intelligence
  • No putting on airs
  • Community
  • Innovation
  • Quality
  • Northernness
  • Big sky
  • A city that cares about Ryan Smith (a hockey player) and Robert Kroetsch (a celebrated author)


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