All newspaper editors would like to think they shape their papers in their own image, but only a few get to do so in a literal sense. A change of format should be more than a simple downsize -- it's a opportunity to reiterate and reinvent a paper's purpose. The New Zealand Herald's move to a compact format on Monday September 10 has offered such an opportunity to editor Shayne Currie and editor-in-chief Tim Murphy.
I had the chance to look through the latest mock-up of the new paper and discuss it with Currie and Murphy. And I'm impressed.
The compact Herald makes sense. It's anything but a retread of its tabloid sibling the Herald on Sunday and, ironically, feels more serious in some respects that its broadsheet version. There's no scope to load the front page with goodie boxes, for one thing (the "time-poor reader" will find all the teasers inside on page A2). There are more Metro pages covering city issues, and what the editors describe as "commodity news" will be increasingly left to the paper's website, in favour of stories the paper can call its own.
It seems that you, the readers, can thank you, the readers. Since the project began in April, focus groups have been untroubled by the move to a physical tabloid format -- but resistant to the idea of a tabloid philosophy.
The new pages better accommodate the use of infographics -- and, happily, editorial staff will have received three training sessions in the use of statistics by the time the paper relaunches. This ought to be a more productive relationship between the Herald and the University of Auckland's Statistics faculty than the paper having its homework constantly corrected in StatsChat.
I'm not so impressed by the "dream team" of columnists. It's great to see Toby Manhire there, but it's stretching it to ask us to regard Deborah Hill Cone as an exciting new voice. Paul Holmes is plainly still there for the size of his celebrity rather than the quality of his arguments -- and I'll be (pleasantly) surprised if that's not the case in Rhys Darby's column too. Jeremy Wells stands a better chance of bringing some style to the sports section. Given the value Bryce Edwards had brought to the website, you'd think there might have been room for another bold new voice from the blogosphere, but it seems there isn't.
Mustn't carp, though. For all that the Herald cops it in internet chatter, it does have clarity and structure as a newspaper (compare and contrast with the formless Sunday Star Times) and I think that virtue has been emphasised in the new format. I'll look forward to reading it -- and to asking a few more questions of Shayne Currie in this week's Media3.
It's a big show for us this week. Along with our look at the reshaped Herald, we'll have a discussion with Alec Ross, the senior adviser for innovation to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Emily Banks, the associate managing editor for the tech and social media news site Mashable.com.
They're both here for AUT University's The Project [R]evolution conference on digital and social media, which starts tomorrow. I'll be chairing a discussion on "Consuming Media Digitally" with Paul Brislen and Fairfax's Greer McDonald tomorrow afternoon, before skipping away to prep for our TV show. As a primer, I can recommend Chris Barton's intelligent profile of Ross for the Herald.
If you'd like to join us for the recording, we'll need you to come to the ballroom at the Villa Dalmacija, 10 New North Road, Auckland, at 5.30pm tomorrow. You'd be most welcome to do so.