The New York Times has a rule about presenting opinions in its news columns: Henceforth, they must all conform to the left.
As of Sept. 20—this morning, if you’re reading a brand-new copy of The Observer—The Times has instituted a sweeping but subtle redesign, to emphasize the difference between objective and subjective journalism. Straight news will remain, well, straight: laid out in justified columns, with even margins on the left and right. Stories that have been colored by analysis, commentary or authorial whimsy will all receive the layout previously reserved for columns: a straight left margin and a ragged right one.
“It sort of grew out the concern that we hear from some readers that feel that our coverage isn’t necessarily objective,” said Times design director Tom Bodkin. “Our sense is that they may get confused as to what stories are meant to have an individual voice, and which ones are straight news stories.”
Earlier this year, executive editor Bill Keller asked Mr. Bodkin to convene a committee to study the treatment of news and opinion articles in the newspaper. After a half-dozen meetings, the committee came up with a report establishing new guidelines. The group—incorporating staffers from an assortment of desks and sections—concluded that The Times’ existing approach was a muddle: “We have too many labels …. We do not have clear definitions for all of our labeled forms …. We are inconsistent in our use of language …. We are inconsistent in our presentation … ,” the report said.
The reformers called for The Times to throw away an assortment of tags and rubrics, some of them so undefined that the paper itself seemed to forget whether or not to use them. Gone are “Letter From,” “Washington Talk,” “Fine Print,” “Sports Notebook” and “Appreciation,” among others.
Columnists’ and critics’ names, meanwhile, will be migrating into large cut-ins in the text of their stories.
The changes followed from the work of an earlier committee, led by then–standards editor Al Siegal, which was dedicated to shoring up the paper’s credibility.
“One of the recommendations of the [credibility] committee,” said Mr. Bodkin, “was making the distinction of what is a column and what is not a column.”
To judge by the sample layouts in the report, nearly everything is a column nowadays. The ragged-right treatment is extended to music, theater and other reviews, lest readers mistake A.O. Scott for a news reporter. The samples also show the ragged margin taking over “Reporter’s Notebook,” “Journal” and “Memo” pieces in the front section, where smooth margins previously prevailed.
The change will extend even to stories that run on the front page. Formerly, everything on the front was laid out with even margins, including columns—which then switched to ragged right after the jump.
“If we put a column on the front page,” said Mr. Bodkin, “we want it to stand out as something different from the rest of the pieces on the page.”
So: News has even edges; opinion has an uneven edge. Except, that is, on the opinion pages. There, the columns will be justified like news, as always.
Before the Times reader can be confused by that, though, the reader will have to spot the typographic treatments.
Mr. Bodkin said the change may not be that visible. “I think a lot of design is to address subconscious issues,” he said. “Even though people might not notice, they might recognize it subconsciously.
Condé Web Launches Line Up Behind Cookie
On Sept. 19, Condé Nast consumer-parenting magazine Cookie rolled out its new Web site.
Where the old site featured a drab gray background and lots of empty space, the new homepage is splashed with muticolored text and photos. Inside are two new blogs: Daysitter, a roundup of news about children, and Baby’s First Blog: Dispatches from an Outspoken 3-Year-Old.
The site is unmistakably Cookie, in voice and ethos. “She speaks, I type,” writes the anonymous mother-interlocutor of Sophie, the toddler-blogger. Sophie’s daddy, mommy adds, is a “6’1” litigator.” (But what’s the price tag on him?)
“There is a depth of content,” said Peter Feld, Cookie’s Web editor. “There is a philosophy of constant freshness on the site.”
Mr. Feld joined Cookie in May 2006, part of this year’s wave of Web-editor hires for Condé Nast titles. The company was bent on decentralizing Web publishing, shifting the focus from themed portal sites—mostly pushing subscriptions—to individual online versions of each magazine.
So over the summer, at 4 Times Square, Mr. Feld and the Cookie editorial staff pored through back issues to determine what content might work online and concocted Web classifications and headings.
But the work of building the site happened at 1166 Sixth Avenue, at the offices of CondéNet, the company’s online arm. And when it came time to go live, it was CondéNet, not Mr. Feld, pushing the button.
Freshness is fine, but Condé Nast is built on central planning. Despite the talk of autonomy, the company’s Web reform has been less a matter of letting a hundred flowers bloom than of punching out new sites one after another, on a factory line.
“It’s interesting watching this company transform itself,” said a Condé Nast staffer. “But it’s not moving at warp speed.”
Before Cookie, it was Men’s Vogue coming off the reassembly line, with Web-only features including an audio interview with novelist James Ellroy and a slideshow from the orgy-themed “Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s ‘Caligula’” by artist Francesco Vezzoli. There is a Men’s Vogue blog in the works, according to a Condé Nast source.
Three weeks before that, it was Glamour, which added an interactive feature in which readers give blogger Alyssa Shelasky’s love life the Subservient Chicken treatment. (“51% of you said to ditch this guy over email, so I did,” Ms. Shelasky writes.)
Still awaiting their turn are titles including Vanity Fair, which is due to relaunch next month, Lucky, Teen Vogue and The New Yorker.
Along with CondéNet, some of the redesigns are passing through the hands of Avenue A/Razorfish, the tech-boom-survivor purveyor of Web sites to the likes of Kraft, the U.S. Navy and Verizon. Razorfish had a hand in the Cookie and Men’s Vogue redesigns, and is working on CondéNet’s planned destination site for teenage girls, which is scheduled to launch before year’s end.
“Google has thousands of developers,” said Sarah Chubb, CondéNet’s president. “While we are not Google, we are playing in a space that is very aggressive, and things have to change fast. We had so many projects to get done, and a compressed amount of time to do them in.”
“The schedule has been a gradual rollout,’ said Ms. Chubb. As far as the sequence of titles goes, she said, some “had timing pegs that made sense.”
“It really varies,” Ms. Chubb said, “and it’s nothing all that revolutionary.”
Men’s Vogue got its August relaunch, Ms. Chubb said, in anticipation of the magazine’s switch to a regular, bimonthly schedule. The November/December issue, the first on the new plan, is due to close this week.
Once a site has been relaunched, the Web editors continue to work through CondéNet to publish content. Three-year-old Sophie and the rest of the bloggers can be updated directly, but the rest of the material goes through the central office on Sixth Avenue.
“All of the editorial content that is chosen for the Web sites is chosen by the editorial departments of the magazines,” said Ms. Chubb.
Hiring Web editors, Ms. Chubb said, “had more to do with things evolving than with the relaunches.” The important thing, she said, was for each title to have a Web-savvy staffer in-house.
“It’s hard to be thinking about [the print edition] all day long, and then say, ‘What am I going to do with the Web?’” Ms. Chubb said. “It made sense to bring in someone that was living and breathing the medium—and the brand.”
Mr. Feld had worked with the print edition of Cookie on the marketing side, during the magazine’s dead-tree launch. He said that though the site is up, Cookie online still has more developmental milestones to reach.
“We’ll have more bells and whistles,” he said. “There isn’t Flash on our site, yet. There isn’t podcasting, yet. There isn’t video, yet. It’s still a work in progress.”