Sam Zell

Abrams memos again

This time the Tribune innovation guru explains why the Orlando redesign will work. Again, nothing about higher quality or better, deeper, smarter stories. It's all about the presentation and marketing. From Lee Abrams' internal blog:


The Orlando Sentinel has launched their re-designed newspaper. I think it is a bold, expertly coordinated move that signals a new era in newspapers that clearly reflects the personality of Central Florida and the vision of their staff. Here's why I am confident it will succeed:

The attitude of the people involved is one of WINNING. Not tweaking...not "hoping they can turn it around"...not all consumed in the unfortunate but realistic economic realities. They are looking at it with a realistic eye and an attitude that is 180 degrees from the protective, 'we'll never succeed because of the economy' defeatism.

The graphics and overall layout will bring readers INTO the content, but the real story is in the content itself. It's smart but unconventional. For example, on the front page, they not only LOOK like modern Orlando, but the content itself, right down to the details necessary to compete in today's CNN/FOX/ESPN world are there. For example:

Timely front page editorial Cartoons. A forgotten art. They can electrify a story. Maybe it's just me. I remember the day after JFK was shot, the Chicago Sun Times had a classic Mauldin cartoon that was an entire page. That cartoon had more impact than any headline. Rare example, but symbolic of the power of the pen.

Key writers treated like personalities instead of faceless bylines. Instead of assuming writers are known, they're making sure they are.

The gas crisis box...highlighted and easy to digest.

Tons of charts and visual aids to support and animate stories. We ARE in the age of the eye. What the Sentinel has done is made these visuals an integral part of the overall look and feel.

The swagger; 1.3 million! What a concept, they mentioned their combined web/print circulation.

The blatant web push. Big...bold. Hardly an afterthought.

The headline. Compelling local story..."Exclusive"

Save $174. Turning ads into a positive value proposition.

This is great content...afdi to details...and you see it on every page....meaty/easy fun and compelling...and smart!
And presented with brilliant graphics and design..
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future of newspapers.

...Of course, there will be people who assume that this is THE "template". Nope. It reflects the personality of the region...but it does it on TODAY'S TERMS. If every newspaper can totally, completely and without bias, reflect the 2008 personality and character of their market, history can be made.

...a few other thoughts:

NEWSPAPER OPPORTUNITY: Something we might look seriously at during the "re-designs" is a REAL "Web Guide". Not a guide to OUR web, but THE web in general. Reasons:
1. When Radio emerged, it was newspapers that printed the guide to programming
When TV emerged, it was newspapers that printed the guide to programming
When Cable TV emerged, it was newspapers that printed the guide to cable, shouldn't newspapers be a guide to the web?

Cool sites
"Best of" etc...

"Interesting" sites that EXPAND stories Part of "owning" the web information. Young techies may not use it, but think "natural" target of 40+ that may NEED this information in a place they are already living in---the newspaper. NOT a throwaway...but a REAL guide to everything YOU think readers need to know about. A 21st Century TV guide. EVERY week. Reliable as TV Guides have always been. I'd think there's a strong ad appeal....

BUFFETT AND BARTOK MUST UNITE: : It seems like music coverage is not complete. There seems to be outstanding coverage of High end music, but with mass appeal artists, I notice that there's cursory pre event coverage and often a review AFTER the show. All good, but I wish we'd treat Jimmy Buffett, or Toby Keith, or any of the mega artists with the same informational tactics. The Morning Call in Allentown recently adapted such an approach. In their GO section they went deep into what to expect. Tools for a decision. Predicted set list, tips on what to expect, etc...My point here is that I noticed a paper doing a massive story on a local Opera. That's fine. Then there's a long story about an emerging alternative band. That's fine. But then when Pop music superstars are coming to town, that reaches a far larger audience, you don't see the same coverage. As if we're "too cool" to go big with Rascal Flatts or Genesis.

And now, Comments and ideas from the men and women in the trenches...:

I think I would add two more points to your list.
16. Think like your reader. Were does the paper intersect you reader's life? If you had a real job what stories could we collect that would make your live easier or make you smarter..
17. First read. What story in the paper do you need to read BEFORE you go to work? WSJ has the briefs, what do we have that screams read me? If we had a story on the front everyday that you had to read first thing, we would increase readership and be more relevant.
My big ideas, or just the scotch talking- you decide.

...Then there's...Bill Childs in Allentown, sending out his daily "Thought Bombs" (a few below)

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over
if you just sit there."

...Will Rogers

"Anyone can set a goal. It's seeing that goal through
that sets you apart from everyone else."

...Tom Peters
"What's missing isn't the ideas, it's having the
courage to execute them."

...Seth Godin

And...from Chicago:

If you could get the newspaper to feel like the WGN Morning News, i.e. news, features, etc. but delivered with personality, some irreverence, and with a lot of interactivity. I'd think you'd get people to take notice. Make the masthead green on St. Patrick's Day, orange on Halloween - as you keep saying, have some fun with it!

BTW, one other telling (elitist) comment I meant to email you about. There was an article in the Business section about a week ago that basically asked "Who pays the most for gas in the U.S.?" The answer was "You do." That seemed like an odd answer because, if I was truly reflecting back the community, I would have answered, "We do."

11) If you put a gas update on the front page, can you blow it out every week or so and tell us where that $4.20 a gallon goes, i.e how much are we really paying for the gas and how much are we paying for taxes, etc.? Actually, don't divvy up the $4.20 (since no one can relate to a gallon of gas) but extrapolate it to how much it costs to fill up a typical gas tank (or, better yet, choose the car/truck of someone famous in town - the mayor, Todd Stroger, Barack Obama, Harold Ramis - and project it based on that). And, maybe, since I think many of the taxes are percentage-based instead of fixed, tell us how those dollars have increased over time (okay, maybe that one's every six months). You could even have an interactive version online where you could plug in you fuel tank, how many times you fill up in a year and the price of gas. Talk about some pissed off people!

And...Also from Chicago:

You don't have to go back too far. I remember when USA Today made its debut. Two things in particular stick in my mind, both quotes from its conceptualizer, Al Neuharth. USA Today had been derided by most newspaper journalists. Imagine a newspaper whose most important stories began and ended on the front page (i.e., no jumps)! How could you tell an important story in 300 words? And all those crazy color boxes and graphics, which just took up space that could have been used for more black-and-white text. In response to such critiques, Neuharth said, "We don't want to put out a newspaper that journalists like. We want to put out a paper that readers like." He also said, "We wanted to design a newspaper that looks like TV." Needless to say, USA Today was dismissed by the industry as pandering, a naive embarrassment--except for those who bought Gannett stock.

Finally, there's a pretty funny parody of these blogs at:

We will turn this thing around if we let it.

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