Wick Communications

USA, yesterday and today

In journalism on September 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

Thirty years ago, USA Today was a revelation. It was a national newspaper that was colorful, breezy and definitely not a gray lady like The New York Times. You can argue whether the changes it brought to the industry were good for us, or whether they were more like an entire meal of ice cream and cookies, but the folks at Gannett were definitely ahead of the curve. A generation later, newspaper stories everywhere are shorter and include news-you-can-use boxes, zippy graphics and multimedia stuff. As our colleague Pete Bakke pointed out in an email, the bite-sized news packaged in USA Today 30 years ago was “the evolutionary ancestor of Twitter.”

Well, like an aging beauty queen, these days USA Today was feeling a bit rough around the edges. So last week it unveiled a makeover. The company promises more color pages, a new business page, opinion pages designed around online commentary and some other tweaks. To my eyes though, the changes are largely cosmetic. Ever more color and even bigger graphics are not the not the quantum leaps of 30 years ago.

This time around I’m struck by the marketeering more than any substantive changes. Reading between the lines, it seems that even the reporter who wrote the story of the changes in USA Today was rolling his eyes:

USA Today unveiled today new designs for its newspaper, website and mobile apps in time for its 30th anniversary this weekend.

The complete overhaul of the newspaper is designed to showcase USA Today’s prowess in visual storytelling and bring “stronger voices” to its stories. The new logo reflects “the pulse of the nation,” the company says in a statement.

Stronger voices! Visual storytelling! Pulse of the nation!

The company released a YouTube video extolling the changes. The narrator breathlessly intones, “We are reclaiming our leadership in visual storytelling with a new brand identity that’s as dynamic as the news itself, that’s an expression of our editorial voice, and vice versa. …” Like Andrew Beaujon, who posted the quote on Poynter before I found it, I don’t have any idea what that means. (Incidentally, for whatever reason, Gannett pulled the video from YouTube after Beaujon’s post.) …

The press release announcing the changes includes the above new logo, which the company says “will be used to express USA Today’s editorial spirit.” Maybe. But true editorial spirit isn’t the result of focus groups or color schemes. It’s something that can be planted and nurtured but you can also overwork the soil. Sometimes brand concerns drown what would otherwise be fertile ground.

Clay

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