Maine group redesigns its three papers

Jun 12, 2017

By Stanley Schwartz

Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

PENOBSCOT BAY, ME—Realizing that the bulk of the company’s revenue continued to be from its print publications, the owner of the Penobscot Bay Press, Nathaniel Barrows, knew it was important to focus on the company’s core products.

About three years ago, said Managing Editor Faith DeAmbrose, she and Barrows saw newspaper design consultant Ed Henninger at a New England Newspaper Publishers Association convention after a blizzard had snowed them in.

Henninger was doing page design critiques at one of the convention workshops, DeAmbrose said. “He noticed that we could use a little help.” That started the process of them hiring Henninger to redesign the Island Ad-Vantages, one of the three newspapers in the group. The other two publications, the Castine Patriot and the Weekly Packet, would also benefit from the redesign process.

About a year ago, Barrows, DeAmbrose and Jeremiah Savage, the group’s graphics and technology manager, began working with Henninger for a total redesign of the papers and the company’s supplemental products.

All three of the weekly papers are run out of the same office, although they carry their own local news for those communities. DeAmbrose said the staff handles all three papers like they are one giant publication. All the standards developed for one paper could be used in the other papers, making them easier and more exciting to read with a unified style.

One big thing that changed during the process, DeAmbrose said, was the amount of space they had for text. Henninger’s page designs, she noted, incorporate a lot more white space and larger graphics. That consequently reduces the newshole.

“But it gives a nice, clean, up-to-date look,” she added. “We learned from (Henninger) what makes for good design.” Her staff also worked with Henninger on how they present their stories with graphics. As part of this process, everyone on staff had some input into the redesign.

“Everybody brings something to the paper,” DeAmbrose said. She’s been with the newspaper company for 15 years. Barrows, she noted, bought the first paper in the group in 1968 when he was still in his 20s. Little had been done to the paper’s design during the intervening years, she said, except for some tweaks here and there.

But she noted that Barrows believes newspapers are still important to their communities. No other media outlet on their island carries the amount of local news they do.

Henninger never had to be there in the office with them, she said. He was able to work remotely with company’s staff.

They developed page mock-ups and slowly refined what they wanted in the papers and what they would look like. A style guide was created so that all design elements would remain standard for the three publications and other products the company produces.

There was only one small hiccup, DeAmbrose said, when they finally revealed the new design to the readers.

“That’s when we learned that the font was too small,” she explained. A lot of times people will just complain about anything when a newspaper makes a big design change, she said Henninger told her, but all the complaints were about the readability of the text in the news stories.

“It wasn’t until we looked at the paper on newsprint that we realized that the font was too small, especially for our older readers,” she said. Once they bumped up the font size from 9 point to 10 point, the complaints went away, and readers remarked how much easier it was to read the newly designed paper.

Advertisers have expressed their like of the new design, too, DeAmbrose said. And another positive aspect of the new dynamic look—there has been an increase in circulation. She noted that more people are starting to buy the papers because of the increased circulation promotions, using the new design to build readership.