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Jennifer George- Palilonis

Your paper: Welcome to the evolution

Call me naive. Maybe I'm biased. Perhaps I am just trying to convince myself that in 10 years, I'll still have a job. But I don't believe newspapers are dying. I think they're evolving.

Granted, newspaper journalists are struggling to attract younger readers. We're trying to find our way in the digital world. We're searching for ways to make our Web sites successful. And the cost of publishing a print product is higher than ever.

But, through all this, the greatest strength of newspaper journalism remains intact. Newspapers offer depth and breadth of coverage like no other form of media. For me, the newspaper is very much alive. It's a reflection of our culture. It's a living document.

So, when I was asked to lead the redesign of my hometown newspaper, The Journal Gazette, I jumped at the opportunity. I grew up with this newspaper. It was, in fact, one of the first newspapers I ever read. And although I have always been a fan of the paper's local coverage, it was, indeed, time for a new look. On more than one weekend visit home, I noticed that although the paper was very clean and employed obviously talented designers (one of whom is a former student), the underlying design palette was outdated and flat.

In general, the overarching goals of this redesign included being cleaner, bolder, more contemporary, compelling and distinctive; reassuring our in-depth readers that they are getting as much substance and value as before; and indexing, cross-referencing and previewing our best inside, online, late-breaking news and upcoming content.

More specifically, a new format prompted us to rethink some major presentation strategies. The move to a narrower page is a change many newspapers across the country have made in recent years. The rising cost of newsprint, as well as a desire to provide readers with a product that's a bit easier to handle and navigate, has driven this change in format. This is the third redesign I have worked on that included a size change, and with this dramatic conversion always come design challenges.

The smaller pages also necessitated a new way of thinking about the number and types of stories on a page. Early in the prototype phase, we realized that jamming the same amount of information onto a smaller page would not only be hard on the reader, it would be impossible. So we developed design strategies that would make better use of white space to help unclutter pages and better organize the content.

Finally, prior to this redesign, the paper lacked visual texture that is so important to today's scanning readers who are in a hurry and have lots of options for where they get their news and information. This redesign will make use of an increased number of visual entry points, typographic hierarchy and alternative story structures to make news, features and sports coverage more accessible to a variety of readers, from the in-depth reader to the scanner.

In essence, the design of a newspaper can dramatically affect readers' ability to quickly find the information that most affects their careers and lives and then put it into immediate context. The Journal Gazette is a sophisticated, authoritative newspaper, and design and presentation should be a reflection of the paper's dedication to quality journalism and reliable coverage.

One of the reasons I chose to focus on newspaper design rather than newspaper reporting early in my career as a journalist is the transformative and communicative power of visual storytelling. And, although every project I work on is exciting, engaging and fun, working with The Journal Gazette was especially gratifying. It's the paper my parents read every day. It's the paper that first illustrated to me the purpose that newspapers serve in their communities. And in many ways, it was an opportunity for me to contribute to a newspaper with which I have had a lifelong relationship.

Of course, as with anything, some readers will love the change. Some will hate it. And some will be completely indifferent. But my hope is that readers will give The Journal Gazette staff a chance to prove that their commitment to quality community coverage is as strong, if not stronger, as it ever was. This was not change for the sake of change. It was part of a very necessary evolution intended to help this keep this newspaper alive and kicking for some time to come.

Jennifer George-Palilonisis the journalism graphics sequence coordinator at Ball State University, an author and a media design consultant (www.jg-mediadesign.com). She is a 1992 graduate of Wayne High School.

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