The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Program Notes

'Chronicle' changes, present and future

By Louis Black, July 15, 2011, Columns

The Austin Chronicle has long been an entity unto itself, with those of us who seem to be at the helm actually having only limited control. At its best, rather than being specifically authored to reflect the opinions of only a very few, the Chronicle happens, created by staff in the rush and chaos of unending publication, week after week after week. Consequently, instead of being a tailored polemic or a narrowly focused diary, it is an ever-changing mosaic of collected bits and pieces of ideas, services, goods, issues, concerns, and happenings that emerge from the community, our readers, and our advertisers.

Still, the overall structure and patterns are more carefully created. They are constantly being adjusted in both major and minor ways. The paper comes out of the community and its own history, but, living as well in the present, it never really stops evolving and changing. Often this just means tweaking – an ongoing effort to fine-tune the paper.

There have been many times, however, when the paper has been more seriously redesigned. On a number of occasions, the changes have been so dramatic as to constitute a major overhaul of structure, content, and intention. Currently, we are in the midst of a long-term, comprehensive consideration of every facet of the paper. The idea is to clear one's head, shaking off the idea of the paper as it is in order to reimagine it. This involves thinking about what the paper is supposed to be – what serves readers, as well as what they expect – which means considering not only the overall construct but all the different, significant parts of which it is composed.

As extensive and thorough as this major consideration is, it doesn't necessarily mean there will be dramatic structural changes. The idea is not to do things differently but to make sure the Chronicle reflects the best paper that we can produce.

Critical to every step of this process is really thinking about what the paper is and the purpose it serves in the community and in our readers' lives. The staff's shared mission at this point is to concentrate time and energy on reconsidering and, hopefully, improving the Chronicle.

It would be disingenuous to ignore the major changes and technological innovations that are affecting print media. Certain editorial content that has been integral to the paper since it first started no longer serves the same function, given the range and extent of new media.

In this context, the goal is to make sure that the weekly printed edition is reader-friendly, clearly focused, and relevant, with editorial content that is interesting, accessible, informative, and fun. This also means evaluating the relevance of all editorial and listings content. One thing we agree on is that we need to include more reader feedback in each issue. There is concern that the "Postmarks" title itself is archaic, implying that it includes only snail mail. We may not be changing that name, but we will now be running more feedback from online posts and readers' comments.

Concurrently, this means conceptualizing the online version as almost a different publication (though, of course, with shared qualities). One of the problematic areas is that there is a truly staggering and extraordinary amount of information available, as all of our issues dating back to 1995 have been published online. These 16 years of Chronicles represent an embarrassment of riches in the realm of information and content, especially in regard to Austin. We are now looking at ways to improve access to all of that content.

Think of it: There are archives of everything that was published during that time in the Politics and News, Arts, Food, Screens, and Music sections. But not only that – there are also film, video, and DVD reviews; the Short Story Contests; Restaurant Poll results; info on all the Hot Sauce Festivals; the Restaurant Guide; and a listing of happy hours. There are all the South by Southwest issues, as well as the results of the annual Austin Chronicle Music Poll, the Austin Music Database, the Musicians Register, and "Best of Austin" issues. One can also access all the regular columns and the many different features that have been published from 1995 on. There is probably no more complete collection of information, history, and opinion encompassing the last decade and a half of Austin theatre, food, film, art, and music available anywhere.

One of the changes already decided upon is that this column will run in the issue at about half the length it has in the past. My thoughts and opinions will still be as voluminous and accessible as ever, because as soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll be starting my own blog.

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