Monday, June 2, 2014

The Tennessean: When MORE! Means Less

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 9:02 AM

Actions have consequences, sometimes unintended.

Ever since The Tennessean added a section produced by USA Today to its daily run earlier this year, two forces have been at play: 1) Because national and world news is compartmentalized into a second section, it rarely appears on the front page, even when warranted and 2) local news is frequently overemphasized.

Exhibit A, from today:

Tracy.jpg

So, today we learn that state sen. Jim Tracy is still leading Scott DesJarlais in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District. It's an interesting piece by Chas Sisk, but hardly breaking news. As a matter of fact, you could argue that of the four items on the front page, it's the least interesting. Vandy's late winner (below the fold) means that they advance to the super regionals; the invasive species story teased across the top has broader appeal; and Brian Haas' piece on exonerations certainly has more heft than Tracy's lead against an incumbent whose campaign was rated the "least likely to succeed."

Instead, the Tracy story gets played across six columns like Pearl Harbor.

Now, anybody who has ever put together a Monday paper will tell you that it is the dumpster fire of papers. Outside of sports, you've got leftovers that weren't good enough for the weekend papers and precious little news happening, so why lock into a design that magnifies those problems? Adding to that is the fact that there are two heavyweight national stories inside on the USA Today insert's front that, in a rational setup, would be on The Tennessean's front page — fallout from the release of Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl and the Obama administration's decision to unilaterally act against carbon emissions.

Gannett's push to go completely local on front pages means that actual news gets buried inside the paper and editors at local properties have lost the ability to modulate their front pages. Are national and world stories commodity news available everywhere? Absolutely. Are they still interesting and have the ability to impact the lives of local readers? Absolutely. For years, papers relied on national and world stories to fill their front pages, sometimes lazily and often at the expense of local stories. But this kind of whiplash to a local-only approach is just as bad and Monday's front page bears that out.

Further, The Tennessean's move to limit their front pages to just two stories per day means that the paper is over-designed almost every day, a cacophony of floating images, floating type and screaming headlines. If the front page is always shouting, how will we know to listen when the news is important?

The irony is that as circulation has pared over the last decade, the readership that the paper is left with is more conservative, stylistically, and wants more from the daily paper (1100 Broadway knows this, hence the ubiquitous "MORE!" campaign). But on the front page, The Tennessean is giving them less.

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