The first issue of The Austin Chronicle appeared on September 4, 1981. We were bi-weekly; it was 24 pages (soon to drop to 20). There were 20,000 copies printed, though a lot less than that were actually effectively distributed. In the beginning, no one thought we were going to make it. We, well, we didn't think, we just kept going, putting out the next issue ... then the next ... for years.
A publication is a lot like a child. It has a life of its own, and though you may guide, scold, teach, and criticize, it goes where it wants to go. This paper has always been its own entity, defying control from editor and advertiser, writer and reader alike; it heads in the direction in which it heads. Nick Barbaro and I have often stood there, on the sidelines, astounded at what was going on, our mouths open as the paper rolled by us in some new, unexpected way.
Now The Austin Chronicle has turned 17. This issue we offer an extensive redesign, engineered by the staff. This initiative came from neither Nick nor I, but was instead spearheaded by art director Taylor Holland and editor representative Robert Faires, with the classified redesign managed by Carol Flagg. So many staffers worked on this design, this new issue, that you are now holding in your hands, that it would be too hard to name them. This redesign came about not from a desire for change for change's sake, or a management mandate, but because the art and editorial departments didn't think the Chronicle was serving readers as well as it could. Though design was of course a strong consideration, this redesign was very content-driven.
The redesign is aimed at making the Chronicle more coherent, accessible, and helpful. The front section, outside of some cosmetic changes remains basically the same, with the same departments and the same amount of editorial. The whole back of the paper ó the Calendar and Classifieds sections ó are significantly changed, however. (So is the Web site, but that's another story.)
The driving idea is to offer more information and opinion in a better organized manner. The events in this city deserve more than just bulletin-board mentions. The art shows, comedy performances, theatre presentations, poetry readings, and community events that we list in "Calendar" are a crucial part of this city. We wanted to make them less editorial-classifieds, and more part of the story we are telling each week.
Longer than anything else, we talked about doing a recommended section that was not music-specific. This is what we had done in the early years, a listing of the special events of the week that included a true cross-section of subjects: music, film, fine arts, politics, everything. Our Calendar section now begins with such a page, which will include all kinds of recommended events for the week, noted by various Chronicle editors and writers.
The listings themselves now kick off with a new section ó the "Community" page, with J.C. Shakespeare handling various events ó including civic interest, kids, sports, and other public events that we haven't really had a place for before. The Benefit listings, which used to be in "Public Notice," migrate to this community section, as well.
The Arts section is beefed up somewhat, as well. Sam Martin (author of this week's cover story on murals) is now annotating the Visual Arts listings. The Honorable Ric Williams will continue with the Litera section. The aforementioned J.C. Shakespeare will be handling Comedy. Arts Editor Robert Faires will annotate the listings for Performance, Dance, and Classical, finally giving up the Theatre listings, which he wrote from 1984-91 and for the last five years, to someone else. That someone is Sarah Hepola, who is also the editor for the entire Arts listings section.
Following the Arts listings now are the film reviews and complete movie times, followed by the Music and Club listings section, which includes an expanded music recommended page. By concentrating the feature and column editorial in the front of the Chronicle, the Calendar section in the back will now truly live up to its name and its mission, to provide Chronicle readers with information on as many of the things going on in this city as we can fit in an issue.
Classifieds have been redesigned as well, along with the editorial features in the back of the book. Starting from the back and moving forward: "Coach's Corner" is now in Classifieds. "Day Trips" has moved to the new Community section. There is now a full comics page that features Lynda Barry, "Mr. Smarty Pants," and Matt Groening's "Life in Hell," as well as other strips and panels which will appear on a rotating basis. Classes and Instruction listings, which used to be in Arts listings, have been moved to Classifieds.
Obviously, we expect these changes to draw a strong range of reader reactions, as well as to take some tinkering and hammering to get right. Of course, we welcome any and all comments.
The Eighth Annual Hot Sauce Festival last Sunday was an amazing event, hot and packed with thousands of people and hundreds of hot sauces. We thank everyone who made it happen, especially Elizabeth Derczo of Austintatious Events, Robb Walsh, and Tommy Ferguson and Deborah Wilson of the Chronicle, our great co-sponsors ó The Capital Area Food Bank, KGSR 107.1 FM, Taco Cabana, Guiltless Gourmet, Ziegen Bock, Sprint, Jose Cuervo ó plus all the judges, and especially the 300 or so individuals and institutions that entered the contest.
So, we begin the 18th year, new clothes, same paper. The kid is of age, has its driver's license, and is ready to go. We thank all of you because if it wasn't for you, we'd be redesigning beer displays in convenience stores. We hope you're enjoying this ride as much as we are. Please let us know what you think of the redesign.