Bakersfield's bold redesign boosts readership and revenue
The Bakersfield Calfornian launched its visually dramatic redesign on March 1. Early results are overwhelmingly positive.
According to Executive Editor Mike Jenner,
subscription starts are up 15-1 over stops and single-copy sales are up 8-13%. Classified Advertising Manager Sally Ellis
reports a jump of one thousand additional inches of advertising in the redesigned Real Estate tab.
These numbers are particularly gratifying because Bakersfield's redesign
is not typical of the facelifts that most American newsapers undergo. The Calfornian took some risks, choosing change with a capital C.
This redesign began more than a year ago with a phone call from Jenner to Brass Tacks Design.
Jenner said, We're not interested in merely rearragning the deck chairs.
As someone who cares about newspapers and design. this is exactly what I love to hear. The next thing I heard was much more daunting.
The prototype you deliver should make me saw Wow. This admonition came from Richard Beene,
president & CEO of The Calfornian, its former editor and Jenner's current boss.
So that was our task – to make a 30-year veteran of the newspaper business say Wow! about our proposed changes for his newspaper.
Where do you begin? How do you impress someone who has probably seen it all?
First, you do the research. We reviewed the quantitative research conducted by American Opinion Research (AOR); we gathered qualitative reseach by conducting focus groups on site with readers; we met with all stakeholders in editorial, advertising, circulation and corporate; and we toured the market to see what it looked like to the people living there.
We learned what was unique about the Bakersfield market. This informed our design strategy.
- Bakersfield is the reddest spot in the bluest state.
- Bakersfield had the second hottest real estate market in the United States.
- Families were moving to Bakersfield because it offered some of the most affordable housing in California.
Next we considered the conventional wisdom about newspaper design – and ran in the opposite direction. Here's how the redesign of the Bakersfield Californian (TBC)
defied the Conventional Wisdom (CW):
The most important stories get the best play
Importance is merely one consideration. Stories that are relevant, compelling and/or interesting deserve equal consideration.
Use of color
Create a color palate of soft, subtle shades that reflect the community
Liberally splash bright, intense colors across section fronts
Pick a modern interpretation of an elegant, Oldstyle serifed font for headlines, then use a sans serif head on no more than one story per front.
All heads use a simple sans serif font
Placing main art above the fold
Make sure the main art appears above the fold on fronts
There's plenty of art in the nameplate and section flags, so there's no need for lead art – above the fold or anywhere else.
Use of photography
Every page should have a dominant element probably a large photograph
Photos cropped for impact need not be particularly large to communicate
When we embarked on this project, we set out some important goals, said Jenner.
First, we wanted our front page to be striking – even arresting. The new look involves design techniques more commonly found in magazines than in most newspapers, but quality photographs and the ability to print great color are two of our strengths. We think the new approach makes the page more visually appealing.
Second, we wanted to address the issues of time-starved readers. More and more readers tell us their lifestyles are busier than ever before. Many aspects of this design address this reality.
Two months after our initial meetings I returned to Bakersfield armed with nine prototype pages
based on nine published pages. We spread the befores-and-afters on the floor of a conference room. Richard Beene walked in at 10:00 a.m. At 10:01 we heard what I traveled coast-to-coast to hear – Wow!
Then the real work began – turning this redesign into a reality. We worked with the staff to produce more pages.
We built an entire prototype edition, revisiting every editing decision on every page to produce a better Californian.
Then we shared this prototype with focus groups so they could compare an actual, published edition with our new vision for the paper.
Focus groups of advertisers
overwhelming preferred the new design. Readers differed in their opinons.
Many readers thought the front page had gone too far. Other readers, particularly younger ones, preferred the new design overall. One woman said, I used to subscribe but I stopped. I'll resubscribe if I can get the paper in this new format.
That's focus group gold.
Adjustments and improvments to design and content were made during the winter. The new design was launched March 1.