Newspapers have to do better than this

July 3, 2013

By Ed Henninger

It wasn’t an email I enjoyed reading. Here are the essential paragraphs:

“He [the editor] pretty much admitted they don’t know anything about design, just basic layout and what you so aptly called ‘assembling the paper’ each week. They appear to have never thought about what readers respond to at all .... I don’t think they’re even aware of the many readership/visual impact studies that have been conducted over the years.

“In fact, get this (bold is the writer’s emphasis): the writers do all the graphics and the layout on each of their pages/stories!!! They are in charge of the design.

“Their fonts are a mess, a pull down menu of 300 fonts to choose from every time they do anything. They have no templates, no stylesheets, nothing, except the nameplate and bottom footer.”

The illustration with this column replicates an inside page. I replaced the headlines, text and ads with blocks so as not to embarrass anyone.

The page was assembled, I assume, by the writer. Two headlines, two stories. A sea of gray and—get this!—the stories jump.

No subhead. No photo. No pullout. Not even a mug shot.

It’s pretty bad. Actually, it’s worse than pretty bad—it’s a disaster.

Sometimes, I’m afraid I’ve become little more than a scolder, pointing fingers at people and telling them they gotta do better—but without telling them how. And then I see a page like this and I realize there are some newspapers and some publishers and some editors (you know who you are!) that I just can’t help.


Because this page speaks to me of an editor and a publisher who just do not understand the critical importance of design. They see design as an extra, something they can do without. They actually believe that their stories are so important to the community that design just doesn’t matter and that readers will read the stories all the way through even if they were printed upside down. In mirror image. In magenta ink.

That’s not so, and any editor or publisher who thinks so is fooling him/herself.

So, how can I help you?

By insisting, pleading—begging if I must—that you begin to give design its due. That you leave designing to the designer, and not to your writers. Either that, or get design training for your writers. And begin to realize that design is not about pretty baubles and gaudy bangles—that it is about thinking and planning and placing the reader first because your reader and your advertiser are the same person.

It’s the 21st Century.

And we just have to do better than this.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at or at 803-327-3322.

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at © Ed Henninger 2013


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: On the Web: Phone: 803-327-3322.

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