A couple of weeks ago, at the Anglo-American College roundtable on tabloids in the Czech Republic, along with Hospodářské noviny’s Jan Macháček and Blesk’s Helena Cejpová, much of the discussion was about the overall state of the Czech newspaper market.

One question Macháček had was about the future of Lidové noviny, especially now that it shares owners with MF Dnes. It wasn’t clear to him how the paper would be positioned, especially as he sees MF Dnes moving toward more of an “infotainment” paper.

Some clues might be divined from the redesign LN unveiled April 18. I wanted the dust to settle a bit before commenting on it. Attention conservation warning: Much of this will be excessively font-geeky.

The article explaining the redesign to LN readers was as follows. The translation is mine:

To be different. To emphasize its own face. With this goal, Lidové noviny will be published from April 18 with a new look. After several months of preparations, the LN editorial staff offers readers a number of content and visual changes. Their goal is to raise LN’s profile as a serious newspaper, to highlight its strengths and also improve readers’ comfort.

In addition to up-to-date news from politics, the world, business and sport, LN offers the most culture of all Czech dailies in its expanded daily section and in two new supplements. It is the only newspaper to offer a daily science page, which will be published alongside the Saturday supplement.

LN will contain more reading for a more demanding reader. This is why it will expand the Saturday Orientation section and provide regular opinion items in a more important place in the paper’s structure.

Supplements will also see a change for the better. LN will have a special supplemental section every day, and every week readers will get a total of 11 supplements and a Friday magazine.

LN Editor-in-Chief Veselin Vačkov had this to say about the Czech newspaper market, and LN’s place in it (my translation):

“Czech dailies have frequently been unbearably similar in recent years. This was partially due to a lack of experience, courage and invention, and partially due to the chaotic changes on the readers’ market, which has been afflicted by the coming of the tabloids. I am convinced that the situation will change. There are a growing number of readers who want a newspaper with character. The changes we have prepared are aimed at differentiating Lidovky from other papers, to highlight its own signature and, in a clearer way than before, profile it more as a serious daily that is also very lively and dynamic.”

I’ve been through a couple of redesigns myself, first as an intern for the team that brought the “faster-format” LA Times in the late ’80s, and then on the job that brought me to Prague in the first place, to redesign Prognosis. I have a great amount of respect for the task of redesigning a newspaper. It is a thankless job that exacts a toll in blood, sweat and tears.

Journalists hate redesigns because they’re lazy. Redesigns usually mean more work, especially in the first year, and also because they will also be expected to change their established writing style to fit the new look. Ad sales people are nervous about redesigns because there’s never a guarantee they’ll work.

And that’s not to mention publishers. In a crowded market, publishers are scared shitless because they know what faces them if the redesign – and all the resources that went into it – doesn’t work.

Those are insane demands to make of a group of designers. I’m hard-pressed to think of a redesign that readers loved to death. Yet there is a cult of the redesign that says it can be the saving grace for a struggling publication. And there is always a brave and foolhardy designer eager to make his mark on a paper.

The shiniest pebbles in the designers’ slingshot are the typefaces chosen. In the case of LN, they’ve chosen Walburn for headlines and Amplitude for sans-serif. Walburn was designed by Toronto-based Nick Shinn, who explaines Walburn thusly:

Walburn is an adaptation of a typeface by Eric Walbaum, c.1800. It was originally suggested as a headline face by newspaper designer Tony Sutton, and subsequently developed for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail. It has narrow serifs and sidebearings, for a tight fit; and a finely-detailed, stylized finish to add visual interest.
The faux finish discreetly mimics the look of letterpress typography; it is an effect that can be controlled, thanks to the variety of fonts. While the fonts are mainly intended for display usage, the Fine styles have smaller details, narrower serifs, and a tighter fit — for use at larger sizes.

The sans-serif face, Christian Schwartz’ Amplitude, is surprisingly versatile. Here’s what Font Bureau says about it:

A successful agate predicts the spread of ink on paper and effectively keeps legibility under less than ideal conditions. Fascinated by the visual aspects of these entirely functional compensations, Christian Schwartz designed Amplitude, an extensive sanserif series for text and display that turns function into style: deep angled cuts keep small sizes readable, while adding character at display sizes.

Schwartz himself has this to say about Amplitude:

In school, I often used Matthew Carter’s Bell Centennial, originally designed for telephone directories, as a display face. I liked the striking and unique forms created by the “ink traps”, spaces carved out where strokes converged that would later be filled in by the expansion of ink on paper. Without these notches, forms would fill in to the point of illegibility. While I was working at Font Bureau, we had a lot of newspaper projects come through the studio, and I got some hands-on experience with the specific demands of printing small type on absorbent paper. Amplitude is a reaction to these two factors, and is essentially an agate face drawn for display. The number of weights and widths kept growing as I worked on the family, and the final release will include 56 fonts.

Both are lovely faces, and are put to good use in LN. You can see the daily PDF of the front page here.

It’s an open question as to whether the redesign will mean a turnaround for LN. But the team responsible for putting it together – especially including the unsung heroes in their layout and production departments – have fought the good fight. They’ve done an admirable job.

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