Previewing the New Columbus Dispatch, and Hoping for a Bright Shiny Future

Posted on July 12, 2012

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Columbus Dispatch

The offer came amid the copious content in my June 24 Sunday Columbus Dispatch:

Ben Marrison presents the new Columbus Dispatch.

In his column, “The Inside Story,” editor Ben Marrison said not a week went by that someone didn’t seek a preview of the upcoming format change for The Dispatch–and now was our chance.

“For those of you who are interested in getting the first look at the new Dispatch, let us know,” Marrison wrote. “The first 100 people to respond will get to join us on July 9 for a short presentation on the new format and to meet some of the people who run the newsroom. We’ll even offer some light refreshments at the gathering, which will be held at the fabulous Franklin Park Conservatory.”

Respond I did–with both an email and a phone. I didn’t want to miss out on this!

And when I arrived on that Monday evening at the conservatory, there were actually 200 people traipsing in with me–from as far away as Portsmouth. The response was significant enough that another 100 had been in earlier that afternoon.

We were joined there by the Dispatch movers and shakers, from to Vice President and Chief Marketing Office Phil Pikelney to managing editor for features Mary Lynn Plageman and, of course, Marrison, who unveiled for us what he called the future of publishing: a paper sized like a tabloid, sectioned like a broadsheet, containing elements of social media like information bursts, writer personalization and bright colors.

Marrison stressed this was not like the ice cream that packages itself as new and improved but is actually one-third smaller–this is the same amount of news packaged better, bright, stronger, faster. He equated it to a daily news magazine that is fun and functional, simple and sophisticated, with better organized content and pages that are easier to hold (also symbolized by our parting gift of a coffee mug that reads, “Now you can hold this in one hand and your paper in the other.”)

It was snazzy, to be sure, and clearly reflected months of work on design, layout and content.

The perks of the new pages, based on reader requests, include fewer jumps, return to a stand-alone business section, and better identification and compartmentalization of similarly themed content (like a College Football section separated from the regular sports section).

The ads have even been modified to be more modular to square off editorial space, and are stacked on the inside part of the page to provide editorial on the outside part of the page and, theoretically, increasing visibility.

It was surely a paper I would look forward to reading, despite the fact it means bidding farewell forever the broadsheet on which my writing teeth were cut.

It was clear during the presentation that Marrison was preaching to the choir–they eagerly fingered through the pages, following along with his Power Point presentation, and nodding their heads in unified bobblehead fashion. One person even asked why Ben’s sense of humor did not come through as well in the pages as it did on the stage.

But amid the chuckles and the wine and the gourmet slider burgers, there was a serious message to be had.

Looking around the crowded conservatory atrium, I was arguably  one of the youngest newspaper readers in the room at age 44. These are the converted. They love their newspapers–the feel, the smell and, most importantly, the news and connectivity they provide.

But there was a whole demographic not represented in this crowd, one which self selects its news content based on personal interest and has shown little interest in the mass information of conventional mass media.

These are the people who tweet about napping and what they had for lunch and how much they hate the guy kicking their seat in the movies, and think THAT is news.

And Marrison wanted to make sure the believers went out to spread the word to those people that there is a new newspaper in town–

one that satisfy limited attention spans and still informs, one that has lots of pictures and pithy quotes for the flippers and skimmers, and quality content for those who need to know.

The new Dispatch is one future for newspapers–one that caters to the new marketplace and, if there is a place for truth and justice in the world, attracts younger people to engage in the world around them and become the next generation of readers.

In the bright, shiny future tomorrow we saw at the Conservatory, reporters remain our trusted and well-trained friends bringing the news to us, and we greet them every day with our eyes and minds wide open to learning.

If it works, we are saved, and the Fourth Estate lives on to protect truth, justice and the American Way for another day.

The other, option, of course, is that we move down a far darker path where social media makes news one giant narcissistic pursuit with nary an attempt to experience, let alone understand, the world in which we live. In that future, objective news entities go the way of New Coke and rainbow suspenders–becoming kitsch, antiquated objects we keep in a time capsule for generations to unearth someday and exclaim, “How cute–people actually paid to read these! Can you believe it?”

What future do you see on the horizon?

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Posted in: Journalism