kimberley crofts

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an information and communication designer living in London

‘Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism’

So says Clay Shirky in a long post comparing the current transition period from print to internet to that of the period just after Gutenberg developed his printing press. Shirky uses examples from Elisabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change to illustrate how the results of such a chaotic transition are impossible to predict, but that what needs to be done is to experiment wildly and value the core essence of what a newspaper is about—good journalism.

What Eisenstein says in her book (read as part of my recent dissertation) is that problems occur when there is a change in the primary means of communication technology within society. These problems continue until the technology matures. This has occurred in the change from oral discourse to written language; from the manuscript to the printed book; and from the newspaper to the website.

Eisenstein proposes that the complications arise because a new technology is being used at a time when old consumption methods are still dominant. For example, the exquisite hand-rendered illuminations of manuscript books were not easy to replicate in print. In order to satisfy the reader who had become accustomed to beautifully illustrated books, printers were forced to either add illustrations by hand after printing or resort to crude woodblock prints. Both methods were unsatisfactory attempts at copying what had been perfected in an old technology. Just as is happening now with newspaper websites: they are working off old reading, consuming and production models that will not exist for much longer.

Who knows what the new journalism will look like, but to paraphrase Shirky, it will be important to savour those skills that society requires of its journalists: integrity, diligence, and a dogged determination to get stories out to the public that need to hear them.

Design and branding company iA have recently published the result of their failed pitch to redesign the print edition of Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger (thanks Swissmiss for the link). iA have more experience in online editorial design and wanted to bring some user experience methodology to the design of the print edition. For example, they wanted the reader to be able to scan articles more easily. They proposed that by using blue type for keywords would allow the user (reader) to more easily scan an article and then access more information based on searches of that keyword online.

blue

This is one example of a company experimenting wildly, as Shirky challenges us all to do. Yes, they failed in their pitch, but if newspaper design guru Mario Garcia was impressed, then this design team are one to watch in this transition period.

I would say that one problem with their design is that it was trying too hard to transfer something which is unique to the web—hyperlinking— to the very static print medium. Next time they should look to embracing what is good about the print newspaper: that it’s portable, adaptable, foldable, and very, very readable. Much more readable for long articles like Shirky’s than is the internet. I look forward to seeing what they do.

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