I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning, made some coffee and took a seat in my living room, facing my front window. Scanning the snow-covered, empty pre-dawn street (no cars – this is Shorewood, after all), I sipped and waited. This was going to be good, I thought. I wanted to be one of the first to see It, to touch It. In fact, it was such a peaceful and lovely morning that, despite my best intentions, I soon nodded off.
I awoke to the light thump of a baggie hitting the door and falling to the deck outside. Breathlessly, I darted out to the porch – and there It was. Wrapped loosely in blue plastic, I could see the outline of strange design and fonts. The newly-designed Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (or so I thought) was finally here.
For weeks now, the editorial “we” at the paper had been warning, er, informing us of the redesign. A smaller paper footprint and other changes were promised, including “more local news and [wait for it] more local perspective on national and international stories”. Given the recent drift of the paper into talk-radio-driven hysteria, this is not necessarily a good thing.
As the noticeably smaller newspaper settled into my lap, my bleary eyes took in the wonder of the “new” front page. The biggest surprise was right at the top. It seems the newspaper has changed its name to the “Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel”, with a little non-keyboard diamond between the “Milwaukee” and “Wisconsin”. Now, the newspaper with two names, apparently, has two locations. And they’re not kidding either – the two-word identifier is right there, complete with the little diamond, on the official masthead on page 5.
Editor Martin Kaiser explains the dramatic change on the front page: “We have added ‘Wisconsin’ because that’s where we’re from and that’s what we cover…” Well, whatever. But the M-W-J-S abandoned most of Wisconsin years ago, at least as far as distribution is concerned. If you don’t believe me, try getting a fresh version of the paper on your next trip to anywhere north or west of Green Bay. Putting Wisconsin in the title isn’t a commitment to the state – it’s a sop to the suburban areas where the paper imagines it can stop (or at least slow down) its dwindling subscriber and advertising base. “No,” the paper now says, “we aren’t from that nasty, dirty city, we’re from all of Wisconsin. Get it?” Is this the first step in the J-S abandonment of the city? Is this the precursor to a move of the editorial offices out of the city?
But, you have to wonder if they really serious about this. Are the reporters going to identify themselves as from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel? If so, how many of the news sources will remind them that everyone knows Milwaukee is in Wisconsin? This is the first I've heard of such an ambitious reidentification of a newspaper's location. I just know I would have heard about it if it were happening elsewhere. I mean, I read the New York New York Times almost every day.
As it has in the past, by making their very name even more confusing (why not just call it the Journal or Sentinel and be done with it?), the M-W-J-S has now made their very existence more clumsy by trying to get too cute, marketing-savvy-wise. I give it about six months before they drop this ridiculous experiment in re-branding, if only because of a revolt in the newsroom. And the diamond will go along with it.
As for the new visuals, the each section of the paper takes up the top sixth of the page with a title of the section and fancy photos poking out of the bottom border. That way, you can just look at the page without reading and find out that there is a story about, say, man-chairs in women’s clothing stores or a column by suburban matron Laurel Walker inside. The font used for the headlines is lighter, thinner and, yes, friendlier. Even more death in Iraq goes down easier when brought to you with diamonds (!) instead of dots over the “i”. In fact, the headlines are so non-threatening, you can now avoid them altogether if you want, which is probably more the point.
In its re-branding and redesign, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel takes another giant step backwards from the respectability and relevancy it has lost in the years since the two papers merged. The look of the paper now follows the content of recent years – desperately patronizing a suburban readership that has already moved on to other content-providers. By making its look less urgent, the paper has become more disposable.