Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A dog you need to see...

It comes around once a year... the world's ugliest dog.

So on this Wednesday, here's something to cheer you up:

Thanks to the Tampa Bay Times front page on Monday. (And click on the photo for the larger picture of Gus. Beware.)

Enjoy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Opinion: Shame on you AP

Post Details:
• James reacts to an AP article about the newspaper industry

The Associated Press, known for its reporting around the world and supplying the news media with succinct articles, compelling photographs, graphics and multimedia, was a little too succinct (maybe even a little callous) in one of its articles published last week.

The article discussed the Chicago Tribune and its efforts to redesign and create a smaller paper beginning in mid-September continue to shoot itself in the foot.

Here is the article:

Chicago Tribune to use Saturday paper to try ideas
Associated Press
12:08 PM CDT, June 20, 2008

CHICAGO - The Chicago Tribune will be using its Saturday editions to test new ideas as it prepares for a smaller, redesigned newspaper starting in mid-September.

All Tribune Company newspapers are shrinking their news sections and trimming pages as part of a cost-saving plan announced earlier this month.

Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski discussed the coming changes in a staff memo Thursday but didn't say how many newsroom jobs will be cut. She told the staff that internal committees will recommend staffing levels within 60 days as they also evaluate what content to keep.

Tribune Company CEO Sam Zell ordered the cuts as part of efforts to pay off a heavy debt load at a time when the newspaper industry is in steep decline.

I will discuss the Tribune situation in another post, but I am upset at the AP for summing up the woes of the newspaper industry by saying it is “in STEEP DECLINE.” Sure, I know the AP writer meant something like “circulations, ad revenue and net income are in steep decline throughout the newspaper industry.” Why not just make a sweeping, misleading statement that the entire industry in general is in STEEP DECLINE? Save yourself some seven words!

I would like everyone to know the newspaper industry is NOT (!!) in decline, one definition of which is (by Dictionary.com) “a failing or gradual loss, as in strength, character, power, or value.” While the newspaper industry may be struggling (unarguably financially) to adapt to a world where “breaking news” and the Internet reign, it is NOT waning in value. Newspaper companies such as The New York Times continue to outshine other sources of news – even the AP at times.

I just wanted to express my disgust at such a sweeping statement and refute what may be the general notion that the newspaper industry is dead. And as for the AP for publishing such an article, I have to say, “Shame on you!”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Recent Star cuts represent growing trend

Post details:
• Kansas City Star announced job cuts
• Graphic designer creates Google Map to track cuts


On Tuesday’s front page (6/17), the Kansas City Star staffer Dan Margolies wrote the Missouri-based newspaper is cutting 120 jobs (about 10 percent of its work force) – about 20 to 22 positions are expected to be eliminated in the newsroom.

“These cuts are part of the way we must respond as we strategically realign our company for success in this digital age,” said Star Publisher Mark Zieman, who also called the move “a painful but necessary step,” in a memo to employees Monday.

Zieman cited reductions in revenue because of increased competition and the current economic downturn as reasons for the cut.

The Star is “struggling to replace lost print advertising revenue quickly enough with new online revenue,” the article stated. (Having one of the worst designed newspaper Web sites in the country and one that is hard to navigate, I can see why the Star is having problems online.)

Other facts in the story:
  • The cuts are part of the Star’s parent company’s elimination of 1,400 positions companywide:
    o The Star’s parent, The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, Calif., said the companywide cuts, amounting to a 10 percent reduction of its total work force, are expected to save the company $70 million annually.
    o It said in a statement that it needed to move more aggressively now.
    o McClatchy, the nation’s third-largest newspaper company, reduced its work force by 13 percent between the end of 2006 and April 2008.
  • The layoffs are biggest newspaper-wide staff reduction at the Star since mid-2001, when it announced plans to cut 125 positions, or 6.7 percent of its then-work force of 1,869 employees. Late last year, the Star announced a voluntary severance program, which 24 employees accepted.

In announcing the layoffs, McClatchy joins other major newspaper chains that have announced similar staff reductions in recent months.


Hearing about all of the newspaper cuts can drive one crazy. To get a better picture of all of the announced cuts, Erica Smith, a journalist and multimedia designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, started a project last year to follow the cuts visually. On her Web site, http://graphicdesignr.net/papercuts, Smith plugs in her collected data of U.S. newspaper layoff announcements into a Google Map. For June to December 2007, she noted 2,185+ paper cuts. Thus far in 2008, she has documented 4,434+ cuts.

Story of our lives, isn’t it? As a journalism student graduating next May, it is definitely discouraging – to say the least – to see such rapid change and job cuts in an industry in which I will soon be trying to get a job.


Find the full article about the Star here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Something to think about

Post details:
• Global gas Graphic in Virginian-Pilot
• Europeans pay a LOT more at the pump because of taxes


On Tuesday’s front page (6/10), The Virginian-Pilot published an enlightening graphic about gas prices around the world, based on Associated Press statistics from May 30. The AP article written by Angela Charlton in Paris featured the stats and discussed the main reasons for the vast differences: taxes and subsidies.

Surprisingly, the price at the pump varies greatly— “from Venezuela, where gas is cheaper than water [at 12 cents!], to Turkey, where a full tank can cost more than a domestic plane ticket [at $11.29!!],” stated the article.

Venezuela and China have no tax on gasoline; and there may be extremely high taxes in Europe and Japan but those prices do not take consumers on a roller coaster as much so as we have seen in the United States. While the prices there are still high and painful, the strong euro is helping somewhat, along with the fact that less expensive mass transit is more widespread – something I benefited from while abroad in France last fall.

"The pain of a rise in prices is much less in Europe, because we may be paying a lot more here, but the rise in a percentage sense is a lot smaller," Julius Walker, oil analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency, told the AP.

Some other stats from the AP article:
There are now 887 million vehicles in the world, up from 553 million vehicles just 15 years ago, and on track to nearly double to a billion by 2012, according to London-based consultancy Global Insight.

Something to chew over: the U.S. may not have the highest gas prices in the world, but it’s still hard to swallow.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rethinking Downtown Toledo

Post Details:
• Life in Downtown Toledo far from extinction
• New arena, opening fall 2009, design unveiled


2002 was a good year for my hometown, Toledo, Ohio. It was the year the new downtown ballpark –Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, our minor league baseball team – opened to much buzz and excitement. I was most excited, however, about the investment being made in a beautiful part of town, along the Maumee River downtown. What had seemed like a downward spiral to extinction for non-business-related events downtown was looking to spiral back up – at least to some extent.

Last summer, I worked downtown at the Toledo Free Press, a stone’s throw away from the stadium. At lunch, I would either walk down to the river to eat lunch with colleagues or find a nice eatery to satisfy my hunger. Downtown was bustling with people at lunch, but in the evenings or on the weekends, it was deader than dead – a ghost town just waiting for a new day.

The exception: when there are baseball evening games, like all this week; or an event at the convention center, such as a Carrie Underwood concert Tuesday night.

Beginning late next year, there should be even more exceptions, when the new arena opens down the street from the convention center and two blocks away from the stadium.


The design of the $105 million arena was debuted last week. The red brick exterior emulates a similar look to Fifth Third Field. Outside, there is a sculpture honoring Toledo jazz legend Art Tatum. The façade features an ivy-covered “green” wall that will help cool the building. The building price is higher than the originally projected price because of added features, including making it an eco-friendly facility, something county commissioners told local media they wanted in order to “do it right” and make the best arena possible.

Come fall 2009, we’ll see just how nice this new addition to downtown is and if the area can continue its spiral upward.


Links:
More images -
Arenaplans.pdf
Arena Web site

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rethink Overload

Post details:
• A look at the new "Early Show" graphics

CBS News has been trying to find its voice. Since Katie Couric debuted as the anchor and managing editor of the “Evening News” in September of 2006, the news division’s flagship program has struggled for ratings even hitting rock bottom with record low numbers towards the end of last month (May 2008), according to TVNewser. What began as a refreshing take of the news – meant, I suppose for a younger audience – changed into a somewhat lackluster carbon copy of its fellow evening newscasts – meant and mainly watched by a much older demographic.

I note that this twentysomething writing this blog is a huge fan of Ms. Couric and of the newscast – including the graphics package, set and music composed by Academy Award winner James Horner.

But today I’m not writing to focus on the “Evening News.” Instead, I want to look at another CBS News program: “The Early Show.”

The show is a youngling compared to NBC’s “The Today Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Early” premiered Nov. 1, 1999 – NBC, Jan. 14, 1952, and ABC, Nov. 3, 1975 – and is relatively still trying to find its voice.


On Monday (6/10), a new graphics package debuted, showing an investment by CBS into its morning news entity. Since I’m interested in news graphics, I have a brief history (see photo): The first logo for “Early” that I can remember was used from fall 2002 until Oct. 27, 2006. The soft logo and graphics set were replaced by a more hard-hitting look more closely resembling the newly debuted “Evening News.” I was not a fan of this period of graphics. Then at the beginning of this year, the show was rejuvenated with a nicer set and a three-dimensional, shinny logo which spun and swooped around. While an impressive logo, lower thirds were mainly static and a personal touch was missing from the graphics package, while the set was very nice and modernly designed. The new logo and open, along with lower thirds, are quite impressive. I particularly enjoy the half sun/CBS Eye logo over the title. The theme colors are vibrant and closely resemble (funny, not the “Evening News”) NBC and ABC – with used or reds and oranges; though the main logos are slightly different. The theme music was a decent upgrade from before, with hints of resemblance to James Horner’s theme. However, I would like to see anchor mugs in the open, but the anchor format is a little different than over at NBC or ABC, and there is a growing trend against longer introductions and TV titles longer than five seconds.

For all of these reasons, along with a plethora of executive producer and anchor changes, I titled this post “Rethink Overload,” for CBS is in this mode currently.

But maybe all of the changes are working…

For the 2007-2008 TV season, “Early” may have been a distant third with a 2.89 million total viewer average (compared with “Today” and “GMA” at 5.69 million and 4.76 million, respectively), but the CBS show grew the most of the three network morning shows, according to TVNewser.

With that, I wish CBS News luck. And I hope the current format of “The Early Show” will stick around for more than six months. If not, I’ll have to revisit the topic… and who wants that? :-)


Update:

I found a clip of the first 10 minutes of Monday's "Early" HERE.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A case of déjà vu?

Post details:
• A look at the similarities of newspaper design

Looking through front pages on Newseum yesterday (6/3), I found myself with a case of déjà vu? Or was it?

Starting alphabetically, I thought the Bakersfield Californian chose a great Associated Press photo of Hillary Rodham Clinton taken Monday by Elise Amendola in Sioux Falls, S.D., when Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., was coming from her campaign plane. The paper’s designer utilized great treatment of the photo putting text on top (“Will she stay or go?”).
Continuing my perusal of Newseum, I found the San Jose Mercury News went with an almost identical photo (the second in the series by Amendola) with similar treatment. This time the text was “Is this the end?” This was not the first time similar photos and treatments have been used on the same day’s front pages. Thus, I moved on.

Then I came across the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which used the same photo as the Mercury News, along with very similar text (“Is it over?”).

My reaction: great designers think alike. If you have a great photo, use it. The two photos were made for putting text on.

So déjà vu? Maybe not. It is more like well-designed newspapers thinking alike.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Online document creation in a Flash

Post details:
• Adobe introduces Acrobat.com
• A review of the features

Microsoft and Google, watch out for Adobe.

On Monday (6/2), Adobe released the public beta of Acrobat.com, a product for online document creation and sharing. Think Google Docs, but by Adobe and all in its powerhouse software Flash.

The new Web site allows users to create simple documents and collaborate with other users (using Buzzword) and when you are finished, you can export the file as a PDF, Word document, among other file types. With Share, you can upload up to 5.12 gigs of files, share the files with others and create PDFs. ConnectNow, the third part of the semi-disconnected set of offerings, allows users to communicate multifariously via different "Pods": chat, Web cam, file view, white board, screen sharing and note sharing - all at one URL. You can even use microphones to create a true conference. And remember, this is all done in Flash. No software required (except Flash, that is) and only one member of the group needs to be registered with Acrobat.com.

Create an account and you're off flying.

This year Adobe seems to be on fire online. With its online version of PhotoShop and its somewhat unknown media player, Adobe TV, the San Jose-based company is really pushing its online features.

After some shorts trials, Adobe's new online software offerings are impressive for what they do (the ease of networking especially), but I do not see them replacing desktop software anytime soon. And why would software companies want them to? These online ventures are free – for now – for the consumer.

Adobe's new online word processing software is taking on Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live Workspace to name a few of the top offerings. One of Adobe's issues with its new offering is that it is not in connection with some existing e-mail account (think Gmail, here), though registration is very simple and you can begin working in about a minute. Google Docs are connect with a Google account so it's one-stop shopping. Plus, with Microsoft's Office Live I would be sharing documents I created in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint so the idea is that it would be easier. Adobe just needs to prove itself.

But if the software is good, users will come.

Links:
Acrobat.com Information

Monday, June 02, 2008

A sign of the Times

Post details:
• Washington Times to stop printing Saturday edition
• Redesign premieres today
• Sunday Times makeover
• Web site overhaul


On its front page, The Washington Times announced Friday (May 30) that it would no longer publish a print version of its Saturday edition. Instead, subscribers will receive the electronic edition for free.

Blame it on poor circulation.

Executive editor John Solomon told the Associated Press that Saturday had the lowest circulation of the week.

But again, this is not surprising. Last summer, Tom Pounds, publisher of the Toledo Free Press told me that the Saturday and Tuesday editions of the daily paper were basically worthless. Think about the last time you actually read a Saturday edition of a paper – or even subscribed to one. One of my family members subscribes to the local paper and receives the Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions. I thought it was odd, but it makes sense.

This is not, however, the only change for the D.C. daily. Beginning today, the Times debuts its redesigned paper, which features blue “News Tabs” as eyebrows.


They are “one of the biggest innovations, and readers told us during focus groups they loved this new navigation tool,” the Times says on its site. “The tabs sit atop most stories and include a one- or two-word description of the topic, person, place or event that is at the heart of the story. At the beginning, these tabs act as a navigational tool to quickly help you to identify the subject of the story, even before you get to the headline.” This is my favorite new feature. They pop off the page and make navigating stories easier.

While today’s (Monday) redesign may not look too significant, another change is coming Sunday. We’ll have to wait for Sunday to see how significant it will be, but here is a preview: “The Washington Times' new Sunday edition will be a unique product in the newspaper industry. A tabloid news-and-features magazine will be wrapped around a traditional broadsheet with the latest news,” the site says.

And that brings me to my final point. The Times launched an incredible new Web site (http://www.washingtontimes.com/) around Friday after testing a prototype beta site which came online last Monday (5/26).
The “News Cube” on the homepage is the best feature, hands down. It allows the Web surfer to three-dimensionally spin the cub to select different top stories.
In general, the new site frees the space of clutter and makes the experience of reading the new enjoyable – from a design perspective especially. Compare the WT site to one of the worst – I think – newspaper sites out there: http://www.kansascity.com/ for the Kansas City Star. There’s no organization and if I were a regular visitor, I would have constant migraines.

Thank goodness newspapers are finally realizing Web sites, a.k.a. online editions of the newspaper, are significantly important. No longer can the media just post the printed story and a photo. But that’s another post topic all together.

That’ll do it for my first post. If you know of any awful newspaper sites, comment and share it so we can all be appalled together.

Links:
Read about all of the design changes here.
Here is a video which shows off the Cube:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Welcome to ‘Rethink.’

As promised, this Web log – http://jmolnar.blogspot.com – is back with fervor. It all begins Monday, June 2, 2008. In each post I’ll be covering the media and other news items I see in regards to the idea of “rethinking” traditional media or past ideas. I will also highlight designs in newspapers, magazines and other media outlets. I cannot promise that every post will contain excellent journalistic ideas or reporting (for example, there may be a few Harry Potter posts now and again), but I will try to stick to this blog’s topic.

If you have any suggestions or news items you want to share with me, comment on my latest post. What I want to create here is a forum about rethinking – you’ll see this word a lot – the way our society does business, the way news is presented, and anything else you can think of.

As you can see, the new design is in place and ready for Monday. Let’s begin this journey, shall we?