‘Be open, surprise readers’
A GOOD design will help sell a newspaper, but great storytelling will help ensure the loyalty of readers to the brand.
World-renowned graphic designer Mario Garcia stressed this point during a recent informal meeting and discussion with Inquirer editors on the topic of newspaper redesign.
If you have a good story, people (readers) will “suffer” with you even if it’s not attractive or even not easy to find, Garcia said.
He cited the cases of the phonebook and the classified ads.
“The phonebook is not an example of beauty and design, the type size [is] 5 points. But if you’re looking for the doctor’s telephone number, you’ll look for it because you need that info,” he said.
“Classified ad pages have never been attractive, but if you’re looking for a job or car to buy, you’re gonna let your fingers go through all these small types,” he said.
“So if you’re looking for something you want, you’ll find it there. So I think the information that is needed is still the key today as it was 100 years ago,” he added.
Key to success
Still, Garcia maintained that a well-designed newspaper that carries good stories is the key to the success of a newspaper company.
He cited a simple analogy to illustrate this point: “A number of times you walk into a store [although] you don’t really need a new dress or a pair of shoes. [You go in] because that window display [is] so attractive. So we all do this. You go into the supermarket to buy just five things [but] you come out with 20 because [you’ve been] lured by the visuals or whatever.”
Garcia said a newspaper had to do today more than what it did yesterday.
“And that’s why the good editor always has a good story on page 1 of the print edition that nobody knew about before. You know stories that come from nowhere; they’re not the stories on things that were read yesterday,” he said.
He called such stories “invisible” stories, adding that print should always have such stories to continue to lure readers.
“These stories are everywhere. It takes reporters who are paying attention to conversations, hearing their neighbors, talking to people next to them, of being curious, to be able to do them,” he said.
“You have to surprise your readers. Great storytelling is where it’s at,” he added. “If you ignore the person sitting next to you, you sometimes might miss the most fascinating story you’d ever hear.”
Garcia recognizes the tough challenges facing a media company in coming out with a good design and compelling storytelling today, especially in the era of what he calls media quintet—print, online, tablets, smartphones and smart watches.
In a recent online report, the designer was quoted as saying: “A modern media house recognizes how news moves and designs it for a multiplatform media world. It took a long time for newspapers to embrace the basics of good visual journalism during the 1980s. Now we find that adapting to digital is just as difficult. Many editors come to work to plan tomorrow’s newspaper, instead of dealing with the realities of quality-now journalism, the constant flow of information, and the fact that we live in the midst of the journalism of interruptions.”
The report also quoted Garcia as saying that through 40 years of redesigning publications and consulting for more than 700 media companies in 121 countries, he observed that two of the recurring mistakes in doing such projects were fear of change and delays in adapting and retooling new and old concepts.
Garcia has a simple advice for media organizations wanting to take advantage of the design and storytelling potential of new media.
“Be open and be adventurous,” he said. “When someone says, ‘Why not do this?’ the answer should be, ‘Why not?”
Garcia is founder and chief executive of global media consultancy firm Garcia Media, whose clients include The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and South China Morning Post. He has worked with more than 700 media companies in 122 countries for the last 40 years.
He also teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.