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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Clarence Dunnigan runs a densitometer on a page.

Smaller is big across newspaper industry

The bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Man’s first steps on the moon.

The Journal Gazette brought its readers these and other momentous stories on gradually narrowing pages. The newspaper has adjusted its page size over the years, keeping pace with industry trends.

The introduction of a $35 million printing press this week brought another size shift. Readers now see stories on 11- by-20-inch pages. A typical page is 2 inches narrower and 2 inches shorter than previously.

Newspapers from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal have made similar adjustments this year. By shrinking pages, newspapers can cut newsprint costs and provide readers with a more convenient product, industry experts said.

The Journal Gazette’s new width is becoming the industry standard, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. Many newspapers have shifted to smaller page sizes in the past three to four years. A few holdouts, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, made the change this year, he said.

Rising newsprint prices are driving the trend, said newspaper analyst John Morton, who heads Silver Spring, Md.-based Morton Research Inc. Shaving page size can cut newsprint costs 6 percent to 8 percent.

Many readers do not notice when a newspaper’s dimensions change, said Brad Hamm, dean of the Indiana University School of Journalism in Bloomington. Newspapers have gradually narrowed during the past century, and the changes had little effect on readership.

“Readers don’t really have a natural affinity to a certain size,” Hamm said.

Some newspapers, such as the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, are experimenting with even smaller sizes, Hamm said. The Lafayette paper was the first in the country to move to a Berliner format (12 by 18 inches). Many newspapers in London changed even more drastically, shifting to tabloids that proved popular with their readers, he said. Some readers prefer less bulky formats.

The Journal Gazette conducted focus groups and found that readers preferred the new size, editor Craig Klugman said. That factored into The Journal Gazette’s decision to come into line with other newspapers and print smaller pages.

“It’s done for ease of reading,” Klugman said. “It’s more compact, and people seem to like that.”

The Indianapolis Star switched to a narrower format within the past two years. Editor Dennis Ryerson said he has not heard any complaints from readers. The newspaper is able to present a full range of news stories in the smaller format, he said.

Changing newspaper styles may be influenced by the growth of Internet news sources, said Warren Watson, director of the Journalism Institute for Digital Education, Activities and Scholarship at Ball State University. Watson, a past president of the Society for News Design, said narrow and short columns appearing on Web sites may be inspiring the trend toward narrower newspapers.

“I think people are used to seeing something smaller anyway,” he said. “It’s an integral factor that people are looking to the Internet for news.”