Page Two

Page Two
by Louis Black

Dear Mr. Black,

I feel I must comment on The Austin Chronicle's format change. I have two general observations. First, I am an avid fan of Ken Lieck's "Dancing About Architecture." The reason I liked it is because with one quick glance, it tells you everything you need to know about what is going on. It even has names and bands in boldface so that one is encouraged to skim through and get the scoop on your favorite band or personality if you were lazy or in a hurry. Now, it is broken into four tiny columns that completely stifle the short-attention-span nature of the column.

My second observation is a little more troubling. While The Austin Chronicle claims that the new format is motivated to "offer more information" and "more opinions" to its readers, my seasoned eyes do not detect a noticeable increase in the information content. What my eyes do see, however, is a very uniform and dominating advertising format (look what has replaced "Page Two"). After you read this letter, please skim through the pages of this publication. What you will see is a page layout pattern dominated by advertisements, with a uniform pattern on each page. The right-hand-side pages are consistently dominated by advertisements. As no surprise, the ads many times seem to overwhelm the printed word. No doubt, advertisers probably enjoy this new format, and probably will not mind paying a little extra to have their ad dwarf "Environs." I do not have a problem with The Austin Chronicle changing their format to increase advertising revenue. I do not have a problem with being told that the format change has been implemented to accommodate "more information." If, indeed, the main motivation behind the format change is to make more money, and if the editors of The Austin Chronicle are not being straight with their faithful readers, then your publication is no better than the Jim Bob Moffetts or any other abusers of the public trust.


Tyson Slocum

Don't respond to letters, I always tell the staff. Invariably, when I've re-read impassioned responses to readers' attacks years later, I'm ashamed and embarrassed and thinking I just should have shut up. "Only correct factual mistakes," I tell writers.

Yet, this is a response to the above letter because the concerns about the redesign and how we conceive of the Chronicle are worth addressing. The redesign is still in flux, as it will always be more or less in flux, because the Chronicle is always, in some font or proofreading quirk, changing. Case in point: A number of people had the same reaction as Slocum did to the format of Ken Lieck's column. The staff was split. The music staff made the final decision. The idea behind the redesign was to provide more information but also to give each section a structural coherence. Every aspect of the redesign has been discussed and rediscussed. But we are still listening and still in evolution. Starting this issue, "Dancing About Architecture" will run in the same format as "Naked City," jumping only once, from the front page of the Music section to its own page.

The redesign of the Chronicle did not at all affect the advertising-to-editorial ratio -- roughly 50% advertising to 50% editorial, not counting the classifieds. In the past, more often than not, we've run with that ratio tilted slightly more towards editorial; with the recent extraordinary increase in the cost of newsprint, we've had to be tighter on that ratio, where possible. As we've been selling more advertising, though, we have been running bigger issues with more editorial. Accommodating those ads into the design is a fact of the business.

In the overall redesign we switched two pages of advertising. The lead pages of the Politics and Music sections both moved from right-hand pages to left, to be consistent with the rest of the paper, to get the section headings out of the center gutter where they had been appearing, and, yes, to eliminate two pages of awkward ad placement. You might be surprised how many advertisers specifically request right-hand placement; after all, readers may not be searching for their ads in particular, and placement is important to them. A well-designed (well, we hope it is, anyway) Politics or Music page, on the other hand, works as well on the left as on the right.

Aside from those two pages, however, the editorial format change has had virtually no impact on advertising; it was motivated, as stated, by a desire to add some arts and media columns and features -- to provide more information for our readers. "Environs," for example, is laid out in exactly the same page geometry as it was before the redesign.

"Page Two" is the name of this editorial column; usually -- not entirely coincidentally -- it appears on page two of the issue. During the last half-decade, it has also appeared, more irregularly, on pages four, six, and eight. When we sell a number of full-page ads, we tend to run some of them at the beginning of the issue because advertisers like them there, and it helps the editorial layout because we get a better edit-to-ad ratio in the middle of the paper.

One of our purposes, however, is to make more money and carry more advertising so we can pay our staff and writers more -- more advertising also means more editorial. If a reader has a problem with the Chronicle carrying more advertising, given this, we'd be curious as to why.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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