The aforementioned new issue of McSweeney’s is beginning to cause a stir in the American newspaper world, as the advance spreads seem to be getting people interested anew in the possibilities of newsprint.
“Ah,” say the skeptics. “Easy for them – they’ve had months to work on it. You couldn’t do that kind of thing with a daily.” Except you can. I spent much of last week in the company of the team from i, a tabloid-sized Portuguese daily newspaper with a design team of five (including two infographers), and this is some of their work:
And here are some feature spreads (they lose something being reproduced so small, but you get the idea). The second one features the two leading national political leaders, by the way:
This next one I particularly liked. According to the paper’s American design director Nick Mrozowski (who is, by the way, 25 years old), they were watching the president’s speech to his party before the election, trying to think how to visualise it. Then they thought about the shape of the sound. Before the speech had ended, they’d called up the radio station and got them to send over a recording. They then used the below graphic to show over two spreads where (and why) he spoke louder and when he spoke softer, and when the applause came in relation to the power of his delivery. All turned around within a couple of hours. A lovely way to visually dissect politics.
And then there’s the announcement of the national ‘measures’ by the prime minister. Measures has the same double meaning in Portuguese – so they literally created measures, reprinting a true, life size image of him over eight spreads, with a measuring tape along the top. Here’s the first spread:
And here’s how they’d have looked if you’d have bought two copies and laid them all out.
(More of these over at Quinta Tinta)
The newspaper uses lots of illustration, and more interesting photojournalism, all on a very tight budget. It’s not perfect – the insides still look a bit too much like Monocle, the first section on breaking news tends to be a little more traditional, and, curiously, the weekend magazine isn’t as well designed as the newspaper itself. At its best, however, i suggests that there is still a vibrant future for newsprint, beyond minor tweaks of the same old designs. Being a brand-new newspaper must certainly have helped. A legacy can also be a millstone.
They certainly seem very open to playing with different ways of telling each day’s stories, which must make it a fun place for a fast-working designer with imagination. Their 100th issue, for example, featured a tiny pocket-sized souvenir version of that day’s edition in its centre pages, to cut out and fold for yourself. I also suggested a crazy idea to Nick for what they should do on April Fool’s Day next year. The fantastic thing is that I believe they just might do it.
What’s also great is that Nick tells me that everyone in the team is thinking visually now, and that journalists and editors come to him with visual-based stories as well as text-based ones. This is the kind of shift the newspaper industry has been crying out for – and one that most magazines underwent years ago. The hardest part comes in choosing what to put in.
The big question, however: is it working? It’s still too early to tell – i has been going for less than a year, and although sales are up every month, it’s still only the fifth or sixth most popular newspaper in the country. It’s been winning awards – most recently, best designed newspaper in Europe – but with no culture of newspaper subscriptions in Portugal, it also has to fight out the newsstand battle day after day.
Most interesting, perhaps, is this statistic: it claims that at least 20% of its current readership never used to buy a newspaper. And that they’re mostly 18-45 years old. That scraping sound you can hear is newspaper proprietors around the world suddenly sitting up a little straighter.