COMPACT is the word at front of mind of three editors in the region as they review options for the transformation of their papers from broadsheet to the smaller format to boost circulation and readership.
Publisher APN News & Media describe the change as the biggest in the paper’s 150-year history.
Fairfax broadsheets The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will follow on March 4, 2013.
The benefits of the compact are seen as reduced production costs and a more user-friendly format – particularly popular among commuters. However, compact brings with it connotations of tabloid, sensationalism, and reduced quality.
Former editor of The Advertiser, Steve Howard, oversaw the paper’s switch from broadsheet to tabloid in 1993. The change was implemented to increase readability and appeal to female readers.
“It has its advantages but the disadvantages are you are possibly alienating your older, more traditional core readers,” Mr Howard told The Bulletin.
The success of such a change depends on how it is implemented, he says.
It was important to assure The Advertiser’s audience that the paper was not going to become a London redtop tabloid, according to Mr Howard.
“We deliberately toned things down to ensure there was no accusation that tabloid equalled sensationalism and we opted for a conservative tone and the reaction to it was excellent.”
“Really for most readers and certainly our staff, it’s no surprise we would make this change now. It’s sensible.”
The New Zealand Herald’s switch is not an economic decision but an opportunity to reinvigorate the paper, according to APN New Zealand Media chief executive Martin Simons.
The paper considered the change on-and-off for seven years before deciding to go ahead this year.
APN is making the switch now after overcoming a production hurdle that means it can sectionalise the paper into main news, a business liftout, and a special interest magazine.
Three rounds of reader focus groups found the format was most preferred because it was accessible and portable.
“Overwhelmingly the feedback from readers was that – provided you give us a quality product – we are happy to change format,” Mr Simons said.
The publisher is using the opportunity to review its content, as much as its format and design.
“The thing that will drive the success of this particular project is the content – our readers know it’s not a redtop tabloid; we’re not going down market”
After reader feedback, changes were made to initial mock-ups including reducing info-graphics and pictures, and maintaining a focus on words.
New Zealand Herald editor Shayne Currie said: “The thing that will drive the success of this particular project is the content – our readers know it’s not a redtop tabloid; we’re not going down market”.
In Australia, reader response to mock-ups of the Herald and The Age in compact form received similar feedback.
“The critical element for them is that the move to compact doesn’t in anyway reduce the quality of the journalism. They see it as really important that The Age doesn’t become that sensationalist, lowbrow sheet that is sometimes associated with tabloid,” said Mr Holden.
Mr Holden says the change is about readability of the print product rather than a deliberate change to the way the news is reported.
One concern is how journalists will be able to write to the same length on issues of importance.
“That’s a fundamental question and I don’t at this stage have a firm answer,” said Mr Holden.
“We need to build our compact form and then establish where key parts of the paper sit within it.
“It might seem very prosaic but it’s very important to print readers that they know where their regular sections are.”
The New Zealand Herald editorial team is currently overhauling its rounds, introducing more areas of interest, and making them more relevant to readers.
The paper has four key planks to its “new form journalism”: accountability journalism, data journalism, investigations, and campaigning.
Editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald, Sean Aylmer agreed the paper’s format change will also result in content changes.
However newspapers should be rethinking their content model every day not just when changing format, he says.
“We should be doing that all the time anyway. If there’s things we think are important but readers don’t then we need to take them out.”