Photographer-turned-editor Denis Finley to leave the Virginian-Pilot

I loved working for Denis Finley at the Virginian-Pilot. He was a terrific managing editor and then an even better editor.

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But after 28 years at the Virginian-Pilot — the last ten as the top dawg — Denis is leaving the paper.

My former colleague Joanne Kimerblin reports:

Finley has led the 150-year-old Pilot during some of the industry’s most challenging times. As traditional newspapers struggle to navigate the digital age, layoffs and downsizing have become facts of life. The Pilot has not been immune.

That “tremendous pressure,” Finley said, is one thing he won’t miss about his job: “It takes its toll on a person. I’ve been thinking about this for a year or so now. I resisted because I wanted to be here for my staff.”

Evidently, it’s been very tough lately there at the Pilot. Despite the cutbacks and layoffs and buyouts and whatnot, the staff there put together an earthshaking series of investigative reports on the mayor of Virginia Beach that caused the mayor to step down from his day job at a local bank. The Columbia Journalism Review lauded the Pilot for its work despite the layoffs.

Just two months later, that same CJR reporter wrote a piece about how ownership at the Pilot subsequently put pressure on the newsroom to dial it back a few notches.

Was it really as bad as all that? It’s not for me to say. I can tell you, though, that the owner of Landmark Communications put his entire company on the block in late 2007/early 2008. He sold the Weather Channel to NBC, and his other two dailies — the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record and the Roanoke Times — to Berkshire Hathaway.

The Pilot still sits there in the petshop window, all forlorn, staring at potential buyers with puppy dog eyes. Yet, no little boy or girl has come along, willing to adopt it.

And despite all this — the Pilot is still consistently the best looking newspaper in the country.

A 1975 honors graduate from Temple University in Philadelphia, Denis worked as a cook, a pastry chef and a bartender before heading to the University of Missouri to earn a master’s degree in photojournalism. Which he did in 1987.

Joanne reports in her story:

In [the Mizzou] library, he saw his first copy of The Pilot.

“That was it,” he said. “I knew right then I wanted to work here.”

He joined the Pilot that year as a photographer and then worked as photo editor, features editor and news editor before becoming deputy managing editor for presentation in 1999. He was later promoted to managing editor and then editor in 2005.

He hired me to be his graphics editor in 2003. I worked there just shy of five years.

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Find Dennis’ Twitter feed here.

Find the Pilot‘s story here. And while you’re there, make sure you shuffle through the 14-part photo gallery to see a few of Denis’ old pictures and at least one old picture of Denis himself.

He had hair at some point! Can you imagine that?

Food for thought regarding the future of journalism

Either you die a hero or you live long enough to become the villain.

Should we journalists embrace or even encourage the wave of “citizen journalists” that seem poised to make our jobs obsolete?

Here’s some interesting food for thought by Matthew D. LaPlante, a former journalist for the Salt Lake Tribune and now a professor at Utah State University.

This is worth the 14 minutes and six seconds it’ll take to watch it.

Find LaPlante’s web site here and his Twitter feed here.

Thanks to Ashley Tarr for the tip.

If it LOOKS like a sticker ad but is NOT a sticker ad, is it still just as obnoxious?

You’ve seen those lovely sticker ads, of course.

But have you seen fake sticker ads? They are designed to look like sticker ads, but they’re actually printed directly on the page.

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That ran yesterday afront the Herald of Ottawa, Kansas, circulation 3,891.

I’m sure these have been out there a while — this is, in fact, the second one I’ve ever seen. The first was last August on page one of the Saratogian of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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Average daily circulation for the Saratogian is 6,812.

Thanks to my anonymous tipster for the photo.

‘End of an era’ — MCT Graphics to shut down, lay off artists

You may have seen the news Thursday: Tribune Publishing is buying out McClatchy’s stake in McClatchy Tribune Information Services.

  • Here is a press release from the new Tribune Content Agency.
  • Here is a TCA Q&A.
  • Here is the Chicago Tribune report.
  • Here is Jim Romenesko‘s take on it.
  • And here is a report from the Poynter Institute.

The question those of us on the visual side had to ask: What’s going to become of the MCT graphics operation?

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Here’s what I’ve been told by people who know:

  • The graphics service will survive, but it will move to Chicago.
  • None of the eight current MCT graphics staffers will make that move.
  • Layoffs are expected to take effect on or by July 3.

I made the rounds for comments on what is truly the end of an era for the old Knight-Ridder/Tribune graphics service. Several folks — understandably — didn’t want to reply on the record and a few others couldn’t get back to me right away.

I’ll post a few here and perhaps add to it later, if more thoughts come in…

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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

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Ron Coddington worked at KRT in 1992 as an illustrator, was promoted to art director in 1994 and helped with the launch of KRT’s Faces in the News caricature service and KRT interactive. He left for USA Today in 2000.

When I began my career in the mid-80s, KRT was the nation’s graphics leader. The dream team headed by visionary George Rorick was second to none. He and the rest of the staff churned out amazing maps, charts, diagrams, and explanatory graphics each day. They really raised the bar on quality, both visually and journalistically. They showed us what informational graphics could and should be. Those of us who work in data visualization and multimedia today can look back at KRT as pioneers who were in the vanguard of visual journalism.

I was a visiting artist at KRT, on loan from the San Jose Mercury News, for a brief stint in 1989. I worked alongside George, Bill Baker, Paul Soutar, Marty Westman, Judy Treible, and the rest of that great staff. I knew then and there that if the opportunity ever presented itself to work at KRT, I’d take it. It did come in 1993, and the seven years that I worked in the National Press Building were some of the most memorable of my career.

I was devastated when the news came in today. My heart goes out to the many wonderful and talented people who are affected. And I’m deeply saddened to witness the end of an era.

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Juantxo Cruz spent two years with KRT from 1993 to 1995, before moving to Madrid’s el Mundo.

He writes:

KRT Graphics was my first real experience with a graphic information team. And what a team!

Jane Scholz was the Editor-in-Chief of the Knight Ridder Tribune Information Services and George Rorick, the leading director. He created a sophisticated but simple department to develop infographics for print, television and web. It was 1994. Nobody had talked yet about integrated newsrooms or digital journalism. But KRT had a seminal group of talent people working together to serve all media. They were and still are some of the best information journalists in the USA.

Amazing. Crazy. I always think of George Rorick as a visionary.

I knew KRT from the print pages of the Spanish newspapers that published their graphics. On 1992, Jeff Goertzen moved to Spain to develop a Information Graphic team at el Mundo. Jeff had worked with George in KRT and had a solid background in graphics. I didn’t work at el Mundo yet; I was studying Journalism at the University of Navarra and met Goertzen and Rorick at the first Malofiej awards.

So, in 1994, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in journalism in my hands, I was ready to work in graphics. Rorick wanted to create an European division of KRT graphics: KRT Europe. I met him and Ole Rode Jensen, talent editor from Denmark, in Washington DC and we started to do the job with the help of all the KRT team.

The overall group was organized on small sub teams: Edition, Research, Illustration and Print Graphics, TV motion Graphics (News in Motion), Web and KRT Europe. I remember Wes Albers, the leading editor and nowadays the deputy editor of McClatchy, Patricia Carr or Brenna Maloney (now graphics editor for the Washington Post).

Bill Pitzer and Bill Baker was in charge of News and Motion. From the infographic team I have to mention Ron Coddington, now deputy managing editor at Chronicle of Higher Education, and Jeff Dionise, now vice president of design at USA Today. They help me a lot with my poor English and information graphic skills. A million thanks to them.

Years later, George Rorick moved to Spain too to lead el Mundo team about 2001. It was great to meet him again and work together.

Not only was KRT a school of journalism and graphics in the States, but also in all the world.

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Pai, graphics director of the San Jose Mercury News, worked there from 2000 to 2002. He tells us:

KRT has always been my go-to wire service. Unlike AP, it shared graphics from departments all over the world, so it was a great way to see how your peers were doing. Plus, MCT’s archives are so deep, it goes back to the 90s. It’s a virtual time machine.

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Tom Priddy goes back a long ways with the folks at KRT. After several years as photo and graphics editor of the State in Columbia, S.C., Tom moved to Presslink in 1989 as managing editor. Presslink was Knight Ridder’s first foray into online news services. After 12 years there, Tom moved into KRT proper as assistant systems manager. Three-and-a-half years later, he became product and customer communications manager for Newscom. He moved back to South Carolina in 2006 to become online manager for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Tom tells us:

I felt sick when I heard the news. I’ve never worked with a bunch of people who were more professional or more talented than the staff at KRT. They were the best of the best. I made some lifetime friends there, and I feel so bad for them all.

It’s the end of an era, and a sad commentary on the changing economics of the news business.

UPDATE:

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Bill Pitzer writes in the comments of this post:

Sad news indeed, and my heart goes out to all the folks I worked with at KRT/MCT over the years.

When I was newsroom artist at the Lexington Herald-Leader, I was brought to D.C. (1985, I think) to help Roger Fidler setup PressLink and the beginnings of what would become KRT and later MCT.

Over a couple of days, we unpacked Macinotsh’s and I created a set of graphics on the National Budget (McDraw graphics) that were sent out on PressLink – I think the first such graphics to be transmitted. I flew home to Lexington the same night the graphics were finished, hand-carrying a copy for the newsroom on a floppy disk as we didn’t yet have a modem for receiving PressLink.

Shortly afterwards, I created my first syndicated graphic, Science Facts, that I self-syndicated through PressLink. Over the years in Lexington, at The Virginian-Pilot and at the Charlotte Observer, I had the pleasure of seeing a large number of my graphics distributed via KRT and MCT.

In 1988, I did a full-page graphic for George Rorick and KRT on the National Cathedral that included a detailed drawing of the cathedral as it neared completion. We worked as a virtual team, with Pat Carr and others in D.C., Meagan Jeagerman in Chicago, who helped with visual research, and me working from my home studio in Virginia Beach.

If you’re an real old-timer, you’ll appreciate this. I did the entire graphic in MacDraw II on a Macintosh SE. It took three tries and several hours for that little SE to render the final file because we had to “smooth” all the lines in MacDraw. Then I Fed Ex’d the final file off to D.C. for posting. (That was my last MacDraw II graphic, I switched to Illustrator 88).

Judy, Helen, Tim, Pat and all the other fine visual journalists at MCT, best wishes and good luck. To George, Bill, Rod, Juan, and others I worked with over the years, thanks. We’ll all cherish warm memories of a lot of hard work and innovation that came from intersecting at KRT and MCT.

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Longtime Chicago Tribune artist Dave Jahntz writes via Facebook:

The three weeks I spent with the graphics team at the National Press Club Building east of the White House almost 25 years ago was one of the most memorable experiences of my life because of the folks there. George, Judy, Wendy and the rest of the gang were wonderful as I worked on the Gulf War and sports graphics for the service. And lunch with some of them in the Old Post Office wasn’t bad either. Regrets, though, about this news.

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Longtime news artist John Telford adds:

KRT/MCT always had way better graphics products than AP. Well, maybe not always. The stuff from their Presslink days was pretty crude, but then so was the stuff AP had back then. Still, for a young artist like myself who was just breaking into the business, I loved Presslink’s jobs bulletin, which was the precursor to the SND job board in those days.

From the early 90s until the mid 2000s, you could just tell KRT poured more money into, and seemed to care more about offering a quality graphics service than AP did. In the early 2000s, the AP graphics got so bad I recommended to Bob Rose, the AME for visuals at the Post-Dispatch, that we cancel our subscription. If we wanted to actually run an AP graphic, it would be cheaper to buy them individually, and besides, we still had the KRT/MCT service that was doing much better stuff.

Bob looked into dropping AP graphics, but we never did cancel the subscription because of some deal the P-D struck for other AP content, but we used way more KRT/MCT stuff.

I have no idea what the MCT graphics service turned into once I left the newspaper business in 2008, but I definitely remember the heyday. Lots of really talented folks doing great work.

And, via Facebook, Bill Baker sends along this photo of a KRT reunion, around 2003 or so:

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Wow. That’s George Rorick standing in the left center. Tim Goheen is at lower left. I see Ron Coddington in the back, with a dark blue shirt. Who can help us identify the rest?

Did you work for KRT or MCT graphics? Did you use KRT or MCT graphics? Send me your thoughts or your favorite anecdote and I’d be pleased to add it here.

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A HISTORY OF KRT GRAPHICS

Now comes the part of this post where I’d recount the history of KRT Graphics, which became MCT graphics in 2006. A friend, however, shared with me an interesting in-house Knight-Ridder document — in fact, a nomination for an award for George Rorick — written in 1994 that recounts the history much better than I ever could.

George Rorick led KRT Graphics into new worlds and new dimensions in 1993 with the introduction of three new products:  the European Graphics Service, the Faces in the News caricature service and the News in Motion television service.

His goals: to enhance KRT Graphics’ already high reputation, to create new  revenue sources and to position KRT Graphics at the on-ramp of the Information Superhighway.

None of which comes as a surprise to anyone who knows this ad-salesman- turned-journalist who has the savvy of a small businessman and the credentials of a leading graphics specialist.

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Rorick, who designed USA Today‘s color weather page, came to KRT Graphics from USA Today via The Detroit News in 1988. He immediately set about the business of building KRT Graphics from a small operation producing mostly business indicators to an industry leader known for the quality and range of its work.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Rorick worked in 1993 to find new markets for KRT Graphics and to mine old ones.

NEWS IN MOTION

Rorick’s experience with News in Motion supports the dictionary definition of “entrepreneur”: One who launches a business venture, often assuming risks.

Rorick thought television wasn’t living up to its potential for clearly showing how things happen. He was intrigued with the idea of bringing informational graphics to television in animated, 3-D form.

He saw a business opportunity as well: The primitive graphics that television was using were being created with a $1 million machine called a Paintbox. Rorick believed he could produce better graphics using $5,000 Macintosh computers.

In 1991, the hardware and software needed to do that successfully wasn’t even on the market yet – but Rorick knew it was being developed. To be ready when technology caught up with his dreams, he brought in freelancers and visiting artists, freeing KRT Graphics’ art director and illustrator to learn 3-D animation. The Super VHS VCR and Macintosh computers they started with made the first television people who saw the product laugh.

Meanwhile, Rorick set out to learn the television business. His first hard lesson: TV people seemed perfectly happy with the crude graphics they had.

In 1992, the two illustrators, joined by a third hired specifically for the project, began working exclusively on developing the technology, delivery methods and overall “look” of News in Motion. By November 1992, they were delivering daily animated, 3-D graphics to 12 stations who had agreed to test the service.

This initial test period was a learning experience, just what the team needed. The News in Motion staff began tailoring its service to meet station demands.

In March 1993, confident that the product had been refined, Rorick and his team announced that News in Motion was available for subscription. For three months, News in Motion produced and transmitted daily graphics while salespeople went from station to station trying to drum up business.

Finally, a Tampa television station signed on. Shortly thereafter, all 10 Gannett television stations became clients. Rorick’s goal of 20 clients by the end of 1993 was soon exceeded. At year’s end, 47 television stations were on board.

Since then, the number has grown to more than 50, including television stations in 19 of the top 20 U.S. television markets. Based on executed contracts, News in Motion‘s 1994 billings will near $500,000.

Perhaps more importantly, KRT Graphics is ready to ride the Information Superhighway: the animated graphics News in Motion is doing today are just what prognosticators say readers will be able to call up on the electronic newspapers of tomorrow.

The News in Motion staff, which has grown to include an executive producer, a producer/editor, a researcher and four animators, fields 30 to 40 calls a day from television stations with suggestions or requests. Clients wanting to have an animation from News in Motion‘s archive have to call by 1 p.m. each day or the satellite time is already booked.

During January’s California earthquake, News in Motion was flooded with calls from TV producers. Clearly, they viewed the new service as essential, not experimental.

FACES IN THE NEWS

The Faces in the News caricature service debuted in January 1993.

Seventy-five caricatures – from Woody Allen to Boris Yeltsin – were immediately available on a PressLink electronic archive, and Senior Illustrator Ron Coddington began creating three new caricatures each week.

In just a year, the service has grown to 20 U.S. customers and several overseas customers.  At current subscription rates, Faces in the News will generate more than $25,000 in new billings for KRT Graphics in 1994.

The key to the birth of Faces in the News: Rorick’s recognition that caricatures are distinctly different from KRT Graphics’ main product, informational graphics. Caricatures can be sold separately, generating new income.

The key to the success of Faces in the News: Rorick’s realization that KRT Graphics has an advantage over media syndicates offering caricature services – Macintosh computer technology.

Competitors mail out printed copies of caricatures; their clients wait for them to arrive, then run them as-is or stuff them into a file folder in hopes they can find them for later use.

Faces in the News sends caricatures electronically, via PressLink or AP GraphicsNet. Today’s celebrity can be in the client’s hands tomorrow, not next week. Because the client has the actual computer file, the caricatures can be resized without loss of quality; caricatures not already done in color can be colorized.  All of the caricatures – more than 275  by March 1994 – are at the client’s fingertips in a keyword-searchable electronic archive or on CD-ROM.

EUROPEAN GRAPHICS SERVICE

As a leading graphics specialist, Rorick sees the work of artists worldwide.

In the past few years, he noticed that European newspapers were becoming more visual: using more color, using more graphics. In some cases, particularly in Spain, newspaper illustrators were creating work that rivaled, or exceeded, their American counterparts.

Rorick sensed a potential new market, and a huge one at that.

KRT Graphics have long been available worldwide through Editors Press Service and Bulls Press, but they had limited appeal to Europeans who viewed the service as “too American” and too expensive to receive.

In fall 1992, while he began to explore possibilities for a European Graphics Service, Rorick commissioned a group of Spanish illustrators to provide KRT Graphics with two graphics of European interest each week. In early 1993, he  asked Senior Illustrator Ron Coddington, who was drawing three caricatures a week for the Faces in the News caricature service, to make one a week a European; Rorick knew this would give him an archive of European caricatures when the new service began.

To give the new service instant credibility, Rorick hired Danish journalist Ole Rode Jensen, respected for his work with graphics in Europe. Jensen moved to Washington, D.C., with his family in November 1993. Rorick assigned Senior Illustrator Ron Coddington to work with Jensen on the content and look of European graphics, and Jensen immediately began putting together a string of European-based freelancers.

To make the service more affordable, Rorick and Resource Manager Dennis Haas explored the possibility of transmitting graphics over ISDN telephone lines, widespread in Europe but a new technology in the United States. ISDN transmission is scheduled to begin in March 1994.

The European Graphics Service debuted in December 1993. Fifty-eight graphics produced specifically for Europeans were posted that month. In January 1994, the service posted nearly twice as many, including graphics on President Clinton’s trip to the European Union summit.

KRT Graphics, once thought too American, is truly providing European graphics, prepared by Europeans for Europeans – as the service’s nearly 100 clients will attest.

George, of course, left KRT in 1999. He spent a year as a consultant and then joined the full-time faculty at the Poynter Institute in 2000. He retired from Poytner in 2004 and was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2005 from the Society for News Design.

In 2004, KRT shut down News in Motion.

In 2006, the McClatchy company bought Knight-Ridder. KRT became MCT.

In 2009, MCT ended the European Graphics Service.

For your consideration…

In case you didn’t see this yesterday, check out the ad stripped across the bottom of the front page of yesterday’s Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

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It was a mistake, said Howard Greenberg, publisher of the Sun Sentinel. He told Jim Romenesko:

The ad was supposed to be in sports, where it normally runs. Erectile dysfunction is not a new revenue source for us [on page one]. It was an honest, embarrassing mistake.

Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon asked Greenberg what kind of reaction he got from readers, Greenberg responded:

I have gotten zero.

Mistake or not; reader reaction or not: Folks were quick to jump all over it yesterday. Alt-weekly Broward/Palm Beach New Times wrote:

Sun Sentinel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper, wants to give you wood.

…Now, first and foremost, YES, this is the pot calling the kettle black. You flip through New Times, you’ll find ad for just about every strip club and transsexual Asian massage service in town. But at least we keep that stuff in the back of the paper.

Tina Nguyen of Mediaite wrote:

Look, we get it: When your front page is covered in depressing news, like school budget cuts and the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, you need something, um… uplifting. Something to raise spirits and excite readers. So it makes sense for news outlets to keep pumping resources, no matter how dirty and filthy, into their rock-hard journalism, in order for reporters to continue penetrating into the darkest corners of society, relentlessly hammering away at corruption and crime, eventually building up facts and narrative and exploding groundbreaking reporting all over the faces of their readers.

And then there was this smart-ass comment, via Facebook:

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I couldn’t wait to see what kind of ad the Sun Sentinel put in that spot today. It turned out to be a jewelry store.

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If the jeweler had a sense of humor, it might have been fun to duplicate the ad from the previous day with similar colors, typography and that same sultry woman asking: I’m ready for some diamonds. Are you ready to buy me some?

Those front page images are from the Newseum, of course. Which, thankfully, did not name the Sun Sentinel to its daily Top Ten on Wednesday.

Two recent infographic fails you ought to know about

A couple of charting debacles popped up this week of which you might want to take note.


POSITIVE VS. NEGATIVE SPACE

First, Reuters moved this fever chart showing the number of gun deaths in Florida going up after the state enacted its “stand your ground” law in 2005.

Just one little problem: The artist — for some unknown reason — elected to build the chart upside down from the usual way a fever chart is drawn.

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Meaning the chart appears to show the number of gun deaths going down… if you focus on the white territory and consider the red to be the background of the chart.

After a lively discussion on a number of forums — most notably at Business Insider — a reader volunteered to flip the chart right-side around for clarity’s sake.

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Is that better? Most folks seem to think it is.

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Three important rules about infographics that I’m making up right here:

Rule 1: A graphic must be clear. If it’s not clear, then it’s not doing its job and should probably be put out of its misery.

Rule 2: It’s OK for a graphic to offer the reader a longer, more complicated view that requires more time spent observing a piece. But that’s not typically the job of a freakin’ one-column graphic.

Rule 3: Occasionally, it’s OK to flip a graphic upside down. But you’d better have a damned good reason for doing it. Other than, y’know, “I thought it’d look cool.”

This graphic fails all three: It’s not immediately clear — at least to many readers — and it’s a small graphic. So it has no business getting fancy. If the artist had a reason for turning it upside down, that reason eludes me.

Read more about the debate over this piece at…


UPSIDE DOWN YOU’RE TURNING ME

Full disclosure: I feel a little guilty criticizing this piece because I myself did something funky last week: I turned a map upside down:

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That ran in the middle of a page about John Steinbeck‘s the Grapes of Wrath. The intent was to show the route the fictional Joad family took in the book from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to what they hoped would be a better life here in Southern California.

But vI really wanted to get those two pictures in there, which needed to read from left to right. I wanted those to sit atop my map showing the journey. I tried mapping it the usual way, but it was difficult to get the reader to stop — and then read this one segment of my page from right to left — and then resume reading the rest of the page from left to right.

This would take quite a bit more vertical space and some very careful use of labels. And I was plum out of vertical space.

So I elected to flop the map upside down. My logic: This time, it was more important to follow the narrative — to feel the twists and turns in the Joads’ journey — than to take in the geographical details of the trip. If the upside-down map was vetoed, Plan B would have been to kill the map and run the list of cities in a timeline-like format. There was just one problem with that: I already had a timeline on the page, just above the map:

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We debated this and decided I was right to flip the map — This time. I can’t imagine too many times we’d ever want to run a map with the north arrow pointing down.

And, y’know, perhaps we did the wrong thing. Another editor might have made a different choice.

But the point is: We made a conscious decision here to let the map support the narrative. I don’t know what point Reuters was making with its upside-down fever chart. Whatever it was, it’s not apparent to me.

It’s OK to make unusual choices. Just make sure your data is clear, your story is clear and readers don’t walk way from your piece puzzled as hell.


WHEN IS A MAP NOT A MAP?

This seems like a good time to present the other infographics debacle this week: This one is by NBC News.

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Oh, dear. I was just talking about using a map when the map wasn’t the most important element.

What we have here is another fever chart, but this one has been pasted inside a map of the U.S.  This has a number of effects that harm the greater good we do by presenting the data in the first place:

Fever charts (and pie charts and bar charts and most other charts, for that matter) are all about showing proportions. If the proportions get screwed up — by, say, varying the widths of your bars or by covering up part of the chart — then the reader can’t make the visual comparisons you’re asking her to make.

And that’s the case here: We see territory marked as “Asian” in the upper left of the chart and also at the upper right. But where is that set of data in 2010? I’m guessing it’s there, but it’s hidden outside the area of the map.

Rule 4: If you’re going to hide important parts of your chart, then your chart is no good. And, yes, it should be put out of its misery.

The data is displayed over a map. What is the artist trying to tell us? Where white people live in the U.S.? That Hispanics only live near Canada and Asians in Washington State and New England?

No, the map is merely a decorative element. It has nothing at all to do with the data.

Rule 5: If you don’t need an element to tell your story, then eliminate it. Or I will.

Rule 6: If your decorative element gets in the way of your story, then not only do I demand you eliminate it, I also insist you come over here so I can smack you upside your head.

Rule 7: Don’t use a map if you’re not telling a story that includes some type of data that needs geographical context.

Oh, and don’t forget this last one:

Rule 8: Don’t tilt a map or turn it upside down. Not unless you have a good reason.

Go here to read more about the perils of rotating maps.

Thanks to Nicole Bogdas and Jim McBee for bringing these two graphics to my attention this week.

What’s a bubba to do?

The good news: You win the Masters golf tournament for the second time in three years.

The bad news: Your hometown newspaper puts you at the top of page one the next day and then covers you up with a dang-blasted sticker ad:

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Well, it certainly defeats the purpose of putting him on page one — that’s for sure. I doubt this helped Gannett sell copies of the Pensacola News Journal this morning.

As someone pointed out via Twitter: The insurance ad says “Call me for a free consultation” and then doesn’t even cite a phone number. If you’re going to have your face on page one blotted out by an ad, at least it should be a competently designed ad.

Thanks to ESPN’s Darren Rovell for retweeting this today. And to my old colleague Eddie Wooten of the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record for retweeting that.

(Full disclosure: Many papers use these types of sticker ads, including my current one.)

  • Sticker ads can sometimes cover up a vital part of your headline.
  • Sticker ads can also create uncomfortable — but hilarious — juxtapositions with editorial content.
  • You know what’s even worse than a sticker ad? A Spadea around page one and a sticker ad, on the same day. That team-up covers a good 65 to 70 percent of your above-the-fold presentation. The Virginian-Pilot did that here and here.
  • Last August, we saw something new: Fake sticker ads.

What readers think about those free newspapers forced on them

A group in Tacoma, Wash., is protesting against a twice-weekly free publication of the Tacoma News Tribune that is thrown into the yards of residents.

We used to call them “total market coverage,” or TMC papers. Many readers throw them away. But I’ve always been told they’re a necessary evil: Some advertisers really want to be delivered to everybody in a city or zip code, whether those readers want those ads or not.

I always hated these things. I can call and halt delivery of my newspaper when I go out of town for a week or two. But you can’t halt delivery of these cursed things. They keep coming and coming like an Energizer bunny rabbit possessed by Satan himself.

The group in Tacoma is called Return to Sender, and their tactic is right there in their name. They collected weeks worth of free papers and they dumped them in front of the News Tribune building Saturday morning.

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The results weren’t pretty. There were about a thousand orange-plastic-wrapped papers there, a local TV station reported.

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The group says these papers were collected from street and storm drains, where they tend to collect.

If you want a good feel for what our potential customers think about these free newspapers, go to the Return to Sender Rally Facebook page and read the comments. I think you’ll find it interesting. And horrifying. Would an opt-out option really be so bad?

For what it’s worth, readers feel much the same way about pop-up ads on news web sites and spadea ads around the newspapers they buy. But you probably know that already.

Visual journalism loses another great one: Denise Reagan leaving the industry

Longtime visuals editor Denise Reagan and currently the editor of Folio Weekly — an alt-weekly tabloid newspaper in Jacksonville, Fla.– is leaving newspapers.

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Her paper announced last week:

After 18 months of advocating for Downtown Jacksonville and the arts through her columns, Reagan has taken a job as communications manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.

A 1990 graduate of the University of Florida, Denise spent four-and-a-half years as a designer for the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., before moving to the Detroit Free Press as a features designer. In 1996, she became art director of the Friday entertainment section of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

She moved to the Morning News of Savannah, Ga., to become planning editor in 2002 and then again to the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as director of news design in 2004. She was named assistant managing editor for visuals at the Florida Times Union of Jacksonville in 2006. Denise became editor of Folio Weekly summer before last.

Her paper reports:

She focused on increasing the publication’s credibility through tight editing, story choice and distinguishing between news and opinion. She launched the popular Specktator blog by Kerry Speckman (winner of Best of Jax Best Blog), the Bite-sized column by Caron Streibich and the controversial but entertaining Crime City column by Wes Denham.

She helped design and launch a completely revamped folioweekly.com in January 2013, increasing the publication’s reach and readership.

 

She told her Facebook friends:

I’ve still got a few weeks left at Folio, so if you’re a freelancer, get your stories in on time!

Her last day at Folio Weekly will be Friday, Dec. 6. She’ll start at the museum the following Monday.

Denise spent five years directing Quickcourse seminars for the Society for News Design and currently serves as the president of the SND Foundation. She also teaches news design on an adjunct basis for her alma mater.

Find Denise’s Twitter feed here.

‘Digital first’ does you no good if you make errors like this

I’m perfectly aware of how important it is to get breaking news stories written and uploaded to a web site.

I’m also perfectly aware of how easy it is to have a story edited after it’s posted. Updating news stories online is a snap.

But editors need to be aware of how comical they look when readers see jawdropping errors and typos in those prematurely posted stories.

Specifically, I’m thinking it might have been better had the Lafayette, Ind., Journal and Courier taken the time to catch these two goofs that appear within four sentences in the lead story about tornado damage in the area.

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The first is a brain-fart resulting in the opposite of the desired word used. The second is a simple typo.

And, as any copy editor can tell you, both of these happen routinely. The difference is: In the old days, we used to edit copy before we turned it loose.

Both of these were fixed within minutes. But, still. I’m not convinced “digital first” is a good thing when we publish stories like this.

Thanks to my anonymous tipster.

D.C. shooting non-photo used on the cover of two UK newspapers

The Atlantic Wire published an article Tuesday telling the story behind this “citizen journalist” photo from the D.C. shootings this week that turned out to not actually be related to the shootings.

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Eric Levenson writes:

There were actually two photos posted to Twitter [Monday] that depicted a man on the ground surrounded by medical personnel in the area near the Washington Navy Yard. Because of the location and timing of the incident, most people, including the person who took them, assumed it was related to the nearby shooting. [Tuesday], both a spokesman for the Associated Press and the tweeter of those images, Tim Hogan, told The Atlantic Wire that the man on the ground was, in fact, unrelated to the shooting. Both expressed remorse at the actions that led to the error being picked up and spread by so many media outlets and Internet users.

Levenson goes on to explain how the pictures were first taken and tweeted by Hogan — a Congressional aide — and how they were picked up by the media. Hogan had urged caution with the photos, admitting he didn’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the man on the ground. But, as Levenson writes, those subsequent tweets didn’t get near as much traction as did the photos themselves.

Levenson notes:

The CVS pharmacy in the background of the photo is a few blocks away from Building 197, where the shooting took place — 0.4 miles to be exact, according to Google Maps. How did a gunshot victim end up there?

The Associated Press distributed the photo at 11:22 a.m. EDT.

At 1:05 p.m., the AP issued a new disclaimer with the photo. “Please be advised that the Associated Press is further investigating the details in these photos … We are working to determine the circumstances surrounding the person’s collapse,” the message read.

It didn’t pull the image until 5:53 p.m. EDT, nearly five hours later.

ELIMINATION US Shooting Military Building

By that time, sadly, it was too late for folks on the other side of the Atlantic. The picture was lead art for the Independent of London…

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…as well as the Independent‘s youth-oriented tab, i.

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Although one could easily argue that the Independent papers should have seen the 1:05 p.m. EDT warning the AP sent out and simply not used these pictures for the cover. Even at that relatively early point in the story, there were plenty to choose from.

Find the Atlantic Wire‘s report here.


UPDATE – 1:26 P.M. EDT

A colleague points out that (at least) five U.S. papers used this picture on page one today, including a number of GateHouse papers.

Oh, boy! A new type of obtrusive page-one advertisement!

Q: What’s worse than a sticker ad on the front page of your paper, covering your nameplate and skyboxes?

A: A sticker ad that’s not a sticker ad.

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The beauty of a printed sticker ad: Your marketing folks can still sell a sticker ad position. Meaning readers will see a sticker ad, pull it off and there’s another ad underneath.

Yes, obtrusive advertising had reached another low. Thanks to Diego Sorbara of the New York Times for the tip.

Average daily circulation for the Saratogian is just 6,812.

Important: ‘File art’ is NOT the same thing as ‘stock art’

If there’s one thing that cheeses me off these days, it’s the proliferation of bubble charts in which information is rendered unreadable. Especially when a bar chart would make the data so much easier to decipher.

If there are two things that cheese me off, however, the second would be ethical lapses in the use of photos. By news agencies that really ought to know better.

This week’s case in point: CNN.

Surely you saw the story about the 100-lb. snake that escaped from its cage at a pet shop in Campbellton, Canada, crawled through a ventilation shaft into an upstairs apartment and strangled two young boys as they slept.

Tommy Christopher of Mediaite reports:

It’s an incredibly sad story, but in covering it, CNN couldn’t help but sensationalize it. CNN Around The World anchor Suzanne Malveaux began the report with the absurd observation that “It happened less than a hundred miles from the U.S. border,” as if we need to start building a snake fence, and in a telephone interview with famous Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna, speculated about what might have happened.

…During their interview with Hanna, though, CNN played a slideshow of stock images, one of which could seem, to the average viewer, like a chilling photo of the two victims holding a python.

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Except, of course, those are not the victims and that is not the snake in question. That is a file photo from Getty Images of a father, two sons and pet python in Acre, Israel, last year.

Here’s the video itself, should you want to see it:

Using file art like this is not only in poor taste — really, really poor taste — it’s also downright stupid.

Here’s a similar example from my visual ethics slideshow

In 2005, Harper’s magazine published a story on soldiers who go AWOL. Suitable photography for a story like that, however, is difficult to come by. And apparently the magazine is too lazy — or too cheap — to commission an illustration. So they picked up a Getty image showing Marine recruits at boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., faded one guy out as if he were disappearing and let it rip on the cover.

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A decision Harper’s came to regret when some of the young men in the photo found out how their pictures had been used.

The St. Pete Times reported at the time:

“We are decorating pages,” said Giulia Melucci, the magazine’s vice president for public relations. “We are not saying the soldiers are AWOL. Our covers are not necessarily representative.”

A media observer said using real people as “decorations” for a story about deserters might go too far.

“Going AWOL is not a favorable or positive thing,” said Kenny Irby, visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.

And, of course, Getty wasn’t too damned happy about it, either.

So our takeaways from this little episode…

1) Don’t decorate stories. Feel free to illustrate stories. But don’t decorate them.

2) If you don’t know the difference, then don’t do either. Hire a professional.

3) File art can be used for certain types of stories. But it’s not the same as stock art. Stock art is a completely different type of thing.

4) If you don’t know the difference, then hire a professional.

5) Be extra careful when illustrating a story in which two little boys are killed.

6) Better yet, don’t even try to illustrate a story like that. Sometimes, you just gotta go with only text — or, in the case of TV, just a talking head. This was one of those times.

7) Someone at CNN needs a good, sharp smack on the side of their head. I mean, really.

Find the Mediaite story here.

Read more about Photoshop ethics here and here and here.

Find my Visual Ethics powerpoint slideshow here.

Embarrass art directors who use too much Photoshop? There’s an app for that.

This new video campaign from Canada has been making the rounds. Take a moment and check it out — especially if you’ve spent any time as a features or magazine art director.

Fast Company‘s Joe Berkowitz reports:

Dove Canada’s latest endeavor is a sneaky way to hit the perpetrators of such ads right at the source–their computers.

The team at Ogilvy created the Photoshop action “Beautify”, a downloadable file that makes a change with a single click, in this case aimed at photography creatives who might be shaving the curves off of a not-even-curvy model right this very second. The company hopes to spread “Beautify” by leaving it on sites like Reddit which art directors and the like are known to frequent–presenting it as an aid for retouching.

The idea is that art directors — always hot-to-trot for free tools, plug-ins and whatnot, will download the “beautify” filter and then apply it to a heavily-photoshopped photo of a woman. Instead of doing what it’s advertised to do, the file undoes all the photoshopping, with the intent of shaming the art director.

If this sounds a lot like a trojan horse virus, then you’re right on track. Except the non-“beautify” itself isn’t permanent. The user can then undo the undo.

Personally, I wonder how many art directors out there really download and install Photoshop filters that they know nothing about. I also wonder how effective it is to hold art directors themselves responsible for ongoing Photoshop abuse in the magazine world. They’re only doing what their publishers hired them to do. Show me an art director who suddenly refuses to over-retouch a photo and I’ll show you an art director who’ll be replaced before lunchtime.

So I suspect Dove doesn’t really expect to “catch” anyone red-handed with this faux app. I suspect this is just a publicity stunt. Given all the shares I saw for it last night — and the fact that we’re talking about it right now — it’s a pretty effective one.

Meanwhile, Dove’s U.S. arm also pushes the company’s “natural beauty” theme. This ad — first posted in the spring — may bring tears to your eyes.

Interesting stuff. Thanks to the several folks who posted and tweeted about this last night.

Laid off Thursday by Gannett: Green Bay cartoonist Joe Heller

Reading about the 200+ folks laid off Thursday by Gannett has been awfully painful.

Name after name of quality journalists, shown the door. This by a company that says it’s due to “local market conditions.” This from a company that announced, less than two months ago, it would pay $2.2 billion for 20 TV stations.

This sort of thing makes me angry. I hope it makes you angry, too.

One of the jaw-dropping names that rolled out of Thursday’s debacle was that of Green Bay, Wis., Press-Gazette editorial caroonist Joe Heller. Joe has worked for the Press-Gazette for 28 years.

 

A 1979 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Joe spent six years at the Daily News of West Bend, Wis., before moving to the Press-Gazette in 1985.

Now, being an editorial cartoonist in a town like Green Bay means one must develop an expertise on topics like football. And, uh, football. And, of course: NFL football.

But he also takes on other sports. Here’s a piece on the World Cup of soccer, a couple of years ago.

Here’s a two-themed Christmas cartoon: Shopping and travel.

Here are a couple of political pieces from last year.

Joe also handled high-profile illustration assignments for the paper. Like, for instance, this series of super-hero-themed posters that inserted with great fanfare during a run at the playoffs in January 2012.

 
 
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The Press-Gazette promoted heck out of these posters. They even produced a video to get folks motivated to buy copies in each day’s paper.

When Donald Driver retired from the Packers with great fanfare earlier this year, the Press-Gazette made sure to include a tribute from Joe in its 12-page wraparound special section.

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If you’re thinking Joe is only about big sports cartoons, though, you’d be wrong. Joe created this fun data visualization piece that ran atop page one last November.

There are lots of fun little moments in this illustration.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Joe also worked on the occasional multimedia graphic. Like this interactive map from July 2010.

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As you can see, that’s just a screencap of the interactive map. Find the real one here.

Wow. What a multitalented guy. What a content generator. If Joe’s not the kind of guy Gannett wants to keep around, I really have to question that company’s commitment to newspapering.

Alan Gardner of the Daily Cartoonist asked Joe a few questions yesterday after the news broke. An excerpt:

Q: Have you had time to formulate what your plans are now – near term and long term?

A: Since I’m self-syndicated with more than 350 newspapers, I will continue to draw my editorial cartoons at my home studio. I’ve dodged the axe so many times, that when it did happen, I was prepared.

Q: You’ve had for years a self-syndicated operation of your cartoons. Will that continue and if so, do you think you’ll expand?

A: Without the restrictions that my former paper put on me, and there a too many to note. I can now expand my empire to online and circulation areas that were off limits.

Find the entire Q&A here.

And here’s a story the local Fox affiliate did last night on Joe and the layoffs.

Find Joe’s personal home page here. Find a nice story about his work methods here.

When readers notice production hub errors

It’s not often that I hear directly from newspaper readers — as opposed to newspaper employees — but that’s just what happened Monday.

A reader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., sent me a link to a story in which the Times Leader executive editor Joe Butkiewicz explains how the paper is now being designed at a production hub in Miamisburg, Ohio. The paper’s regular designers declined to move to Ohio to continue working on the paper, Butkiewicz writes.

This Times Leader reader tells me:

A current subscriber here…

I’ve noticed sometimes sloppy layout since the type changes a month ago and my wife has mentioned the same. The front of sports the flag was cut off in Saturday’s edition.

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Wow. How does that even happen? Are the page templates too deep? Did the pressroom not notice?

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Also, should that Wimbledon headline have an apostrophe in “mens“? Or just say “men,” perhaps?

Butkiewicz’s Sunday column reads almost like an apology:

Our page designers had developed a style honed over years and at the training of numerous professionals. Our page designers were mostly journalism school grads and all were seasoned journalists – copy editors and wordsmiths. They did great work.

They are also local folks. When the design work moved to the hub they were all invited to keep their jobs with the same benefits if they moved to Ohio.

Just as Lindsey [Jones, about whom Butkiewicz wrote earlier in the column] did, they felt the tug of home. Rich, Joe, Irene and Rick said “no” to jobs in Ohio in order to stay here in Pennsylvania without a job, but with friends and family.

That’s a loss to our newsroom and our readers and a tale familiar throughout the news business and many other businesses that are navigating change. That change is rarely easy and it is forever inevitable.

In the meantime, pardon our dust. Editors here who do the assigning and assembling have an idea of what needs to be gathered for the presentation of a story in print and online. Getting our vision onto that final page has been elusive.

But we continue to try.

And that’s the shame of it. I don’t see how a dumb mistake like this could possibly be on the folks at the Times Leader. That’s pretty obviously a hub error. Elusive indeed.

It’s sad when readers notice stuff like this. It’s even sadder when they feel they have to seek out someone who blogs about news design in order to let somebody know about it.

A surprisingly sad story behind an already famously sad photo

I read a great story Monday about a famous photograph — a story that I’m sure has been out there but one I had never seen before.

And, of all places, I read it at Cracked.

You might remember this famous picture taken shortly after the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, 18 years ago. Sadly, the little girl in the picture died. But Newsweek used the photograph taken by Lester LaRue, an employee of a gas company.

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LaRue licensed the picture to the Associated Press and to other outlets.

Cracked‘s Eric Yosomono writes:

The mother of the infant, Aren Almon, voiced concerns that her child’s death was being commercialized. Perhaps sensing a media disaster, the company that LaRue worked for stepped in and claimed ownership of the photograph (he was on the job when he heard the blast and ran to the scene). The argument was that, because the photo was taken on company time and using the company’s camera, LaRue took it in his capacity as an employee, and so the photograph belonged to his employers.

After refusing to cede copyright to the gas company, LaRue was fired and entered into a long legal battle with Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the big corporation won. To their credit, the company donated all profit from the photograph to charity, while LaRue lost his job and reputation and was left with nothing but a massive legal bill.

But wait, it gets even stranger.

We mentioned that you’ve likely seen that famous photo before, but what you actually saw was probably not LaRue’s photo. Another photographer named Charles Porter was standing just 3 feet from LaRue when they both spotted the fireman and sensed a photo opportunity. Both snapped photos at the exact same moment:

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Sure enough, the pictures are nearly identical. At least, the foreground of the picures is nearly identical. That’s your clue: Check the backgrounds.

Yosomono writes:

Porter’s nearly indistinguishable photo went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, while LaRue only won a destroyed reputation and an unemployment check. Two people, in the same spot, taking the exact same action at the exact same moment. One is celebrated with worldwide acclaim, the other winds up ruined.

Go figure.

A great story. Check out Six Images that Ruined the Lives of People they Made Famous at Cracked.

New Orleans Times-Picayune’s new tabloid edition launches

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, La., today launched its new tabloid edition. The edition will publish on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday — the days the standard broadsheet no longer prints.

On the left, here, is a Times-Picayune front from April. On the right is today’s Times-Picayune Street front.

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In a front-page column in Sunday’s paper, editor Jim Amoss writes:

When we reduced our print frequency last fall, many of you told us that, even if you understood business realities, we were no ordinary business to you. You told us how The Times-Picayune is intertwined with your lives, your routines, the priorities we set for ourselves as a community. Even many of you who live in the digital world and follow us every day on NOLA.com told us how much you missed holding the printed Times-Picayune in your hands every day over coffee.

The newspaper we launch Monday responds to that yearning.

Interestingly, that column didn’t jump. As a result, it took up fully one-third of the front-page newshole beneath Sunday’s nameplate.

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Also worth noting: I downloaded that Sunday PDF from the Times-Picayune‘s own web site this morning. But it’s not actually Sunday’s front page. That’s from Saturday’s “early edition.” Presumably, the Sunday front would have had a different ear in the upper left.

The new tabloid is available today at newsstands in the New Orleans area, but was not delivered to subscribers. Interestingly, Amoss spins that as a throwback to olden days:

Like TP Street, the Jan. 25, 1837 first edition of The Picayune was printed in one section. The size of its pages was nearly identical to Monday’s paper. And it was distributed in the streets and stores of the city, as TP Street will be.

In case you’re coming to this story late…

1. Last summer, Advance Publications — the owners of the Times-Picayune — announce it will cut back print production to three days a week. This is the case also with three papers it owns in Alabama.

2. The paper in Mobile refers to this announcement — on page one — as “exciting changes for our readers.

3. 84 positions are cut from the Times-Picayune newsroom — a reduction of 49 percent. Read more about that here.

4. Readers and local leaders are not happy. 60 Minutes does a big story on the paper’s plans.

5. A number of people — including the owner of the Saints NFL franchise — step up and offer to buy the Times-Picayune in order to maintain daily publication. But Advance refuses to sell.

6. So a New Orleans businessman buys the Baton Rouge paper, the Advocate, announces plans to expand into New Orleans and begins snapping up Times-Picayune employees and former employees.

7. Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review writes a lengthy and fairly unflattering report of Advance’s changes in New Orleans. Amoss whines that Chittum didn’t come visit the paper itself. Never mind the fact that Amoss had ignored Chittum’s request for an interview until just before the piece was published.

8. The New York TimesDavid Carr writes about the entire debacle:

The name Times-Picayune, which had stood for quality and civic constancy for decades, does not mean the same thing anymore. The vaunted Web site that was to be the lifeblood of the new enterprise remains a creaky mess, and the newsroom has been denuded of remarkably talented people.

…Advance made its decisions up against some very dark trends in the business, but they were made with the dead-eyed arrogance of a monopolist in a much-changed world. Columbia Journalism Review described The Times-Picayune’s strategy of the last year as a “rolling disaster.”

It’s been a jaw-dropping blunder to watch. Advance misjudged the marketplace — the whole city and state went ballistic when the changes were announced — and failed to execute a modern digital strategy. Now it is in full retreat with new competition.

9. The Times-Picayune announces it’ll produce a tab on the days it doesn’t publish. Amusingly, its initial stories about this new project refer to the tab as “innovative.” Because, y’know, a newspaper hasn’t published a tabloid edition before.

10. Today, that tab debuts.

Read the local alternative paper’s take on the new tabloid here.

Find Amoss’ column here.