A new look for the Empire

Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2002

God willin' and Murphy's Law in abeyance, the Empire will have a new look and some different content by Labor Day. - Me, Over-promising Out Loud, March 17, 2002

Thinking Out Loud

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.

Labor Day? Obviously, I'm calendar-challenged. I meant Thanksgiving.

The silence you hear is the staff of the Empire holding its collective breath. Conceived late last year, the Empire's redesign project has had an extended gestation period. On Wednesday, we'll induce labor.

If our offspring dazzles upon arrival, there will be no shortage of proud parents available at 3100 Channel Drive to accept congratulations. If readers gasp like patrons entering a carnival tent housing nature's oddities - never mind. I keep telling myself that's not gonna happen.

Having fielded hundreds of e-comments and phone and mail suggestions and having participated in group discussions with readers and having observed the indefatigable efforts of staff and, most importantly, having seen the sample editions, I'm set to hand out cigars.

Does Murphy's Law observe national holidays?

If we stub our toe in distributing Wednesday's newspaper, we'll understand if the faux pas colors your opinion of our fresh look and improved content. Who cares how wonderful the paper is if yours doesn't arrive or if you have to retrieve it from a puddle in your driveway.

We haven't made it easy on ourselves. On Wednesday, the Empire will be delivered to every household in Juneau - subscribers and nonsubscribers. Let's see, thousands of extra papers added to homes off the subscription grid divided by the number of delivery personnel times the hours required to saturate every neighborhood equals, well, trust me, it's one of those math formulas that qualifies for Nobel Prize consideration.

The practical application of the Empire's delivery formula falls to Bob Jacobson, our new circulation director. Bob and his staff and contract employees are good folks who value you, our customers. They've been planning and preparing. On Wednesday, they'll start early and work late to make sure you receive your Empire.

The practical application of the Empire's new look and improved content falls to Design Editor Lori Thomson.

As I mentioned a few months ago, Lori designed the page judged by out-of-state experts as the best of any page in any Alaska newspaper in 2001. The winner was her Sept. 11, 2001, front page - evidence Lori produces under pressure. In 2002, we turned up the pressure.

Last November, Lori traveled to the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla. Surf, sun and sand aside, Lori was on a mission. If the Empire was going to undergo a makeover, somebody had to be the hands-on agent implementing the changes.

To Lori fell the task of interpreting our sometimes-vague vision as well as reader suggestions - even when the comments were contradictory. Examples: "More national news." "Less national news."

Makeovers being a really big deal that comes along once every decade or so, most papers assign a team - or at least one person - to work on nothing else. The Empire is not staffed deeply enough to provide such an arrangement.

No, all we asked Lori to do was to produce a makeover worthy of our readers, a makeover that reflects contemporary journalism's highest standards, and to do so as soon as possible as her time permitted.

In theory, Lori was supposed to set aside one day per week to work exclusively on the redesign. In practice, well, you can imagine how things worked in practice.

Yet here we are, present at the creation.

The safe thing would have been to do nothing. The decision made by Publisher Don Smith to provide readers with a better-looking, more navigable and more impactful newspaper represented the more challenging route. Greater challengers are accompanied by the potential for greater rewards.

Many changes and improvements will be apparent on Wednesday. Others that are appropriate to seasons or events - legislative roundups, for example, will follow.

Your feedback helped us chart our course. The lines remain open.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. Contact him at streed@juneauempire.com.

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