One-Track Mindset

Brevity is the essence of wit, Twain said.

And in Waco, the hometown Tribune-Herald is finding that simplicity pays off.

An interesting story out of Texas in the American Journalism Review, discusses how the newspaper's publisher had a revelation about how front pages should look:

That's when it hit him: The front page should be dominated by an attractive display of the most compelling story of the day, no matter where that story took place.

After conferring with the paper's top editors, he found them willing to give it a try. Thus began a transformation of the Tribune-Herald, an end to its circulation losses and a rethinking of just about everything else the newspaper was doing.

The change to the front page began in September 2006, but only in the edition sold on the street. The impact was immediate. Instead of trailing year-earlier street sales by 7 percent to 8 percent, the numbers almost immediately rose by 7 percent, a startling improvement that has continued.

Rather than have the front page be a menu of items – stories the reader can choose according to his or her taste – this paper has taken the job of prioritizing stories out of their hands. And readers in Waco are responding.

Promisingly as well, the Tribune-Herald isn't allowing this tactic to give them carte blanche to hype some lurid stories. According to the AJR report, the paper has given prominent play to community stories and the paper's investigative work. (Also important to note, the newspaper gives a quarter of the page, below the fold, to other stories inside.)

MediaLand experts are always talking about the lessons that one medium can teach the others – how TV can be more like the Internet, how papers can incorporate podcasts, etc. But here is one old school newspaper deciding not to 'tech-up' its presentation but borrowing an idea from another media dinosaur: magazines.

You look at Time or Newsweek or US News and the cover story is built to grab you. And it works. So why shouldn't a newspaper try out the same concept, especially if they're aiming for the head with their stories – and not the tabloid sex scandal of the week.

So kudos to the Tribune-Herald. And not just for being a place where people can read Ted Nugent's weekly column (you'd think that would be a unique selling proposition by itself) but a place where they're breaking out journalistic test tubes and doing some mad scientist work of their own – work that's paying off while not selling out.