‘An issue with management in the newsroom’

THE sudden departure of Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, caused a torrent of comment in the blogosphere. The first assumptions were that she never would have been sacked if she were a man. The publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, after an opaque announcement, added some reasons for firing her: “Arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

That did not get him off the hook with the women.  Norah O’Donnell of CBS This Morning asked Ken Auletta, sweetly, “Were there other editors of The New York Times who were difficult-to-work-for hotheads?”

Well, yes. Abe Rosenthal comes to mind. My own departure from The New York Times newsroom in 1985, although self-inflicted, was described by Ruth Gilbert: “There is a report that you were seen running from the Times followed by a gigantic explosion.” After I told Abe that I was quitting to go to Newsweek, he became enraged, pushing me out of his office, and then running after me through the newsroom, yelling, “You ungrateful bastard!” 

Friday's New York Post front page
The Post is enjoying the story

I remember journalists looking up from their desks, shocked. But they didn’t look surprised. Abe was a notorious hothead, but the most brilliant editor I ever worked for. And The New York Times of that era made enormous, exciting improvements in all areas, including design. (For example: The crusades like the Pentagon Papers, the investigative teams that brought in prize-winning stories like the Marine Barracks bombing, and the four-section daily.) Abe believed that pictures could tell news stories, too, and moved Lou Silverstein, the greatest art director in the history of newspapers, to a position of trust and power.

Roy Peter Clark of Poynter asked on Twitter, “Who would you prefer as your boss, a great journalist or a great manager? If u can’t have both.” My fulsome answer: “The one who’d make a great news publication.” David Hyder, tweeted back from Yanbu on the Red Sea, “You can only manage what you understand.”

So it is. Occasionally you get a great manager who is also a great editor. I worked for John Carroll at the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times. He was a thought leader. And he had vision. Thought leaders are more effective if they can do as well as think. And John could do it better than anyone in those newsrooms; he made brilliant assignments, and he would work into the night polishing a story himself. Moreover, after the first year at the LA Times he had quietly rearranged the news department in a way that would make Machiavelli proud. The truculent old guard was sidetracked. Desks disappeared like Trotsky in official Soviet photos, so that you couldn’t quite remember who had been there. And the paper won seven Pulitzer in his first full year.

His successor, Dean Baquet, could not turn back the aggressive billionaire stupidity of Sam Zell, and quit. People liked Dean, too, but some of the energy went out of the paper. For one thing he moved the designer Joe Hutchinson from Deputy Managing Editor to Creative Director. If you work in an ad agency you may not think this is a demotion.

Tyrannical monsters like Abe, or Jann Wenner, my boss at Rolling Stone in the 70s, step on a lot of feelings. They unnerve employes with unpredictable, bull-headed orders. They play favorites. I enjoyed pet status with both, which did not make me popular, but I learned a great deal, and benefited from the constant pushing. These tyrants enabled my success, as a designer. And with an uneven staff that wasn’t easy to replace (Abe because of the union, and Jann because of inexperience and budget), favorites may be the only way to go.

In my mind they are both great managers. Look at they way Abe created stars like Joel Brinkley, John Darnton, Tom Friedman, Paul Goldberger,  Alan Riding, and John Nobel Wilford. As Jann did with Tim Cahill, Cameron Crowe, Joe Eszterhas, Mikal Gilmore, Kurt Loder, Joe Klein, Greil Marcus, Matt Taibbi and Charles M. Young,

Ask these guys (noted, all guys) how they found Abe and Jann as managers. And ask the readers what they thought of the publications. No one remembers if Harold Ross or H. L. Mencken or Walter Lippman or Harold Hayes were “good managers.” But anyone who studies the history of the media must regard the New Yorker, American Mercury, New York World, and Esquire as the best publications in the 20th century.

After Abe retired (interestingly no Times executive editor since has made it to the 65-years mandatory retirement age), he was replaced with the smiling, distinguished Max Frankel, Abe’s old rival. Punch Sulzberger, Arthur’s father, wanted him to “make the newsroom a happy place again,” according to Frankel’s memoirs. No doubt a bit of healing was called for, but his impending arrival and his lack of interest in visual journalism (reflected in his years as Sunday editor), lead me to consider the Newsweek job in the first place. Sure enough, Frankel took a while to even appoint a single design director, Tom Bodkin. And longer to put him on the masthead. Watching masthead moves is a kind of Kremlinology, but the result could be seen in the paper, which visually kept losing energy for more than a decade, despite Tom’s considerable efforts.

Howell Raines, appointed as Arthur’s Patton, brought back some visual energy. It coasted under Bill Keller (although, to be fair, there were enormous distractions as advertising declined and the business side tried to figure out a new model.) Jill made Bodkin a deputy managing editor. His redesign of the IHT (now the INYT) culminates the work he’s done with the typography of the paper. And Jill pushed Ian Adelman, a genius of digital publication designer, on the effort to rethink the digital product. Both Tom and Ian are good managers, and they’ve made the visual brand shine like the glory days of Lou Silverstein.

•    •    •

AND now we have Dean Baquet. He’s a team player, and will try to calm the waters. His arrival puts him at an unfortunate disadvantage, but Dean is no slouch at newsroom politics, either. I remember how he moved aside his co-managing editor rival, John Montorio (now at Huff Post). But what about the overall presentation and visual content of The Times?

David Carr weighed in, surprisingly, on the side of the boss: “To the extent that The New York Times does anything remarkable, it emerges from collaboration and shared enterprise. It’s worth remembering that its legacy begets an excellence that surpasses the particulars of who produces it.”

Well that may be. But who is managing the managers? It seems to me that if you have an executive editor who is scaring people, the publisher needs to fix the situation. And it’s a lot easier to build communication skills and collaboration in a direct-report than to build talent and zeal. This firing was more Arthur’s failure than Jill’s. This 30-year cycle of crazy energy followed by well-managed lethargy must be obvious to the owners.

The proof is in the paper. You get a great publication with an editor who makes things happen. Jill Abramson (like Abe Rosenthal and Howell Raines) may have rough spots, but what a great news publication the Times was in their years, in print and now in digital. And how good has it looked!

The mortality of empires

A TRIP to Yangon has set me thinking about what endures in a culture, and what we want to save. I wrote a post for Hi, that starts: . . . This weekend I’m staying at the Strand Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar, a classic British colonial hotel (1901) once connected with Raffles in Singapore. Dark wood, cream walls, stone trim, a gentle staff. Restored but not Dorchestered.

When it was built, this was Rangoon, Burma. Here in the oldest part the British city, right on the river, you get an idea of what it was like 100 years ago when their empire was heading toward its zenith and the port was one of the biggest in Southern Asia.

British Secretariat, Yangon

The hotel is on Strand Road, and the grid of streets around it, superimposed on the ancient city, are lined with colonial buildings, most in a terrible state of repair. A block north on Merchant Road, I saw a big crumbling blue building with corner turrets that I found out had been the tax office. Walking up Bo Ang Kyaw Street (formerly Sparks Street) I came to the giant Secretariat (1902), the colony’s administrative complex, occupying a large city block. It was the site of the first parliament where Aung San, father of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was assassinated in 1947.

More on Hi.co . . .


The redesign of a printed magazine in 2014

WHAT year is it now? Seems inconceivable that anyone could spend the better part of a year working (hard) on a redesign of a printed magazine. I mean, aren’t magazines over? Passé? Finito? A thing of the 20th century? Don’t we want to spend our time weaving our own magazine content from readers like Flipboard? Or just dial in from a link in a tweet?

And aren’t they all going out of business anyway?

Well, maybe some of them are, and maybe there are lots of ways to browse content using your friends’ suggestions and the curation of bloggers and new social tools. And there are several cool digital magazines (I always cite Verve and Vice, and am taken with Hi.co).

None of these accomplish what a great magazine does: Bring together an an interesting, carefully chosen variety of articles and pictures. The French word magazine means storehouse. Merriam-Webster defines the English, “a part of the gun that holds bullets.” I like both.

But nothing digital has yet matched the experience of reading a magazine. We all love good stories (witness the faithful movie audience), told with a beginning, a middle and an end, and there is something wonderful about the collection of stories brought to life with great photographs, and arranged in a beautiful way. Designed.

A prejudice has crept into our thinking about media, since McLuhan, that if it’s not interactive, it’s no good. Okay, but magazines (and movies) may be one-way, one-to-many media, and not a social scramble like Facebook. But the good ones are evoke all kinds of participation from readers and viewers. You have to follow the story, read it or watch it, and bringing all kinds of knowledge and experience for it to absorb you. It’s like a great meal. The chef “curates” all kinds of ingredients, prepares them in a deft way, and creates and experience that is both satisfying and delightful. You don’t have to have read Proust for the smells and tastes of the dinner to bring out all kinds associations of culture and your personal history. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel. D’où avait pu venir à moi, cette joie toute-puissante?


When I was 12, I subscribed to Show magazine, designed by the great Henry Wolf (working for the prototypical billionaire Huntington Hartford). It was like taking a warm bath. You just let it wash over you. The combination of images, layout and writing, gave me an insight into the adult world that I never forgot. And the tactile quality of reading Show, I’ll never forget. The glossy paper, and the scratchy layer of color ink. And the smell.

And if you think that’s not interactive, then you’ve missed the joy of reading a great magazine.

Well, in several years of searching for a viable, immersive digital platform that could give a true magazine experience (I’m still working on that, still believe it can be done) I had gotten away from print design. But when I heard that Edipresse was looking for a creative director, I came out to Hong Kong and quickly made a deal to serve as “creative director” (a title I’ve never liked) on an open-ended contract.

This is the the group that publishes the Tatler magazines in Asia. They are oversized and printed beautifully on thick white paper. A typical issue has nearly 400 pages. They’re filled with luxury advertising and picture of high-end parties.

These are the ingredients that make for a robust business plan when the mass-media models in the U.S. and Europe are fading. By concentrating on the top end of the market, the upper end of the 1%, and offering an artisan product, they can attract advertising from the luxury brands, mostly European brands, that have enjoyed enormous growth in Asia over the last decade. Carter, Chanel, Hermes, Rolls Royce, Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chopard, and on and on.

But lots of magazines want to appeal to the high-net-worth audience. How do you actually connect? The Asia Tatlers (they’re always modified with a place name, after an agreement with Condé Nast which owns the Tatler in London) have an editorial principle that is like the old saying of newspaper publishers:

Try to print the name (and photo) of every reader at least once a year, not including arrest stories or obituaries.

By being smart, attractive and available, Hong Kong Tatler and the editions in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand get invited to all the great parties in town. Each has its own social-season-opener, The Tatler Ball. They run tons of event pictures, many of them exclusive. And then they profile the most interesting and prominent of these wealthy and successful folks, in short articles, in big features, and on the cover.

Since this coverage is good and the pictures are rich and flattering, these one-percenters are happy to get the magazine (it’s just mailed to them, and the Asia Tatler lists are one of their biggest assets). They’re eager to look through each issue and see who they know inside. Or, who they might want to know. It’s fun.

The editors add much coverage of fashion, high jewelry, watches and the luxury lifestyle. The style is clever and light, and it is all readable. They don’t waste a lot of space on serious matters of state, so it’s all upbeat. The result: A big success.

*  *  *

The March Hong Kong Tatler
The first Hong Kong Tatler with the new design. There’s a French gatefold ad that makes it seem like its opening the wrong way, but the printing, with the silver foil logo and headlines, is excellent.

The previous design of the Asia Tatlers was done by two former colleagues, Maryjane Fahey and Mariana Ochs. And they did a great job, taking a somewhat random publication and enforcing a lively hierarchy with big vertical section titles set in a typeface I had never seen before, Corundum.

Indeed, when the marketing folks at Edipresse asked for before-and-after comparisons to promote the redesign, I told them that was the wrong approach. The “after” doesn’t necessarily look better than the “before.” It’s calmer, yes. More elegant, with a greater emphasis on visual content. But times have changed, the magazines have new editorial leadership, and the Tatlers needed to change, too.

Instead of an upheaval, a redesign for a successful magazine should keep it recognizable to readers and advertisers. “The question is, how do you make Tatler, more Tatler?,” I asked in a promotional video.  “How do you intensify Tatler to make it more interesting? And a little easier to read?”

One asset to build upon was the Corundum. This was designed by Josh Darden, first as a text face which you can see on his site. Maryjane and Mariana got him to make a display size, and then a banner size. The font is based on the typefaces of Pierre Simon Fournier in the mid 18th century. Fournier was the inevitable next step in French type design, moving from the classical old styles of Claude Garamond in the 16th century, through the higher contrast of Phillipe Grandjean in the 17th, on the way to the extreme contrast of Didot, who came just 30 years after Fournier.

Modéles des Caracteres, the Fournier specimen book.

The Fournier specimen book of 1742, in the collection of the National Library of France.

Type design always seems to lag art movements, and Corundum is really a Baroque style, coming at the end of that era. The neoclassical style of Didot displaced the pre-Revolutionary type of Fournier.  It was not until the 20th century that it was revived (by Stanley Morrison at Monotype). But Darden’s version is historically sound, and it’s a remarkably readable, but stylish typeface. Beats Bodoni and even Caslon hands down.

To the optical sizes Text, Display and Super, Darden added a high-x-height “News” size for M & M (as the folks in Hong Kong call them). A little more contrasty than the Text, we tested the two side by side, and decided to stay with News (after moving the kerning default from “optics” to “metrics”in Adobe InDesign, of course). Missing was a deck size, something for standfirsts (decks), so we used the Text.

Following the old studio’s practice of specking a serif, a sans serif, and a “fancy” M&M brought in three more Darden faces: Freight, a very purposeful sans; Omnes, a sans with rounded corners; and Julie, a contemporary slab. This seemed like too much to me. Any of the styles were a bit busy to work well with Corundum, and too noisy to sit in background on the fashion pages. But all three?

Cover of a Forma brochure c. 1970

Cover of a brochure from the Nebiolo foundry, promoting Forma, c. 1970

I thought of simplifying things with my regular default, Benton Sans, but then I remembered Forma, the midcentury Roman design by Aldo Novarese, which had disappeared with the end of metal type. Convincing Edipresse to commission a revival, I got David Jonathan Ross at the Font Bureau to design a digital version. The whole story is on the Font Bureau blog, written by Indra Kupferschmid, who not only did the research, but found foundry metal and proofed it for David to work from.

To keep it simple, I commissioned just two weights, light and bold. But as Indra, DJR and I studied the proofs, we realized that there were several sizes of the master drawings for the font. The details that made Forma lively and different, the tapers and rounded corners, were more pronounced as the sizes got smaller. So David made five sizes of the new Forma—Micro, Text, Deck, Display and Banner.

*  *  *

As fonts are the basis of typography, typography is the basis of any redesign, since it is the typefaces, the type specs and typographical structures that can go on, from issue to issue. For the redesign, we followed my usual project plan: brief, design, prototype, implementation . . . and assessment. The brief was pretty much as stated at the beginning of this post.

There was some discussion of art direction as well. A new emphasis on narrative photography was called for in the feature section (and Gillian Nadel was given the title, director of photography). I wanted to see more direct portraiture, with less reliance on sets and props, and more natural hair and makeup.

The key here is that the focus of the Tatler art direction is real people, not movie stars or models.

Right after I arrived in Hong Kong, I met Kim Robinson at a dinner party thrown by Bonnae Goksun, the queen of cakes, and subject of the first cover I worked on for Hong Kong Tatler. Kim has been the most sought-after hair stylist in town for years, and his salon in the Chatar House in Central would make Oribe jealous. His feeling was that if you put a regular woman, however stylish and poised, in a formal gown, covered her face in makeup, and surround her with gilded bibelots and velvet draperies, she would look . . .  old.

In the effort to luxurious, Tatler could look stuffy, older-generation. With Kim Robinson’s help, we could bring in some fresh air, and a bit of youth.

The Edipresse brass, led by CEO Barrie Goodridge and editorial director Sean Fitzpatrick, had been working for a year on a redesign before I got there. They had hired another New York designer who produced a lot of good pages, and had pushed for clear covers with great portraits and simple backgrounds. For one reason or another, that design never got to a round of prototypes, but not to the point of approval, so a task for me was to see what could be saved from all the effort.

I like to create a design space, with a number of pages along a linear axis. We called the poles: Gold and Red. For the “Gold,” I got Hong Kong Tatler art director Nazri Razak, who had been working on the first design, to continue in that direction. And I did the “Red.” As is often the case, the decision was to blend the two, with the knob on the slider bar closer to Gold than Red. (Of course, it behooves a publication designer to know this could happen, and to design the poles from the beginning so they could be interpolated.)

Fashion spread from the
A Red feature using the Corondum type.

The “Red” design allowed proposed a wide range of typographic treatments, from 70s-style modern with Forma, to late Baroque oldstyle, using Corundum and Monotype Fournier Ornaments.

Concierge section opener—the

The “Red” section openers contained content, but it was decided to with “Gold” double-page-spread images.

By the end September 2013 we had a design direction decision, and began to work on a prototype. Paul Kay, a former editor of HKT was brought in wrangle the content, and we had a printed prototype in November, and meet in Singapore with the chairman of Edipresse, Pierre Lamuniere.

Green light for the March issues.

So now we needed templates in a big hurry. There were five other editions that launching at the same time, and I wanted to move the group to a template-based design system so the designers could spend more time on visual content, and less building pages. Robb Rice, who developed the methodology for Ready-Media with Eduardo Danilo, was engaged to show us how to make InDesign templates. And then Nazri plunged in building them. Christmas and Chinese New Years seem to get in the way, but we were well into the first issues by mid-January. The close was the end of the month. Press dates began around the 15th.

Behind the Scenes.

Great Debate.

New departments, all left-hand pages, were added in the front-of-the-book to create ad adjacencies with richer content than the old house ads.

Faces opener.
Concierge opener

The section openers are all spreads, where previously they were single right hand-pages. But advertisers didn’t want left-hand pages, and so most of the time they ran with house ads . . . lowering the content density and confusing the design.

Girl About Town, fashion feature.

About Town, fashion feature.

New fashion features show off the Forma display type.

Features opener.

Cover story about Jaime Ku.

Asia’s Most Stylish opener.

AMS, closed gatefold.

AMS gatefold.
AMS Jaime Ku spread.

The annual Asia’s Most Stylish feature, brings together leading ladies chosen by each of the Asia Tatlers. This year, the session was in Macau, with Kim Robinson providing overall style direction, and Sean Lee Davies the photography. Davies, a former editor of Tatler, is the perfect partner for these assignments, since he is part of the Hong Kong scene, often appearing in front of the camera, in the Faces section. Kirsten Doak was fashion editor. Note, the small horizontal group shot shows a gatefold.

Polo opener.

Sean Lee Davies not only photographed but wrote this travel piece on polo in India, a recalling the high society of the Raj era. The headline design is a nod to the the M&M typogrpahic style, which favored Italics and some added swash characters..

Nelson opener.

Nelson, 2nd spread.

Nelson, 3rd spread.

Nelson, 4th spread.

Nelson, 5th spread.

Tatler excerpted Jimmy Nelson’s book, Before They Pass Away. More of a gallery than a photo story, but great photography and a good balance for all the luxury.

Finer Things opener.

Food department in The Finer Things.

The back-of-the-book is now called “The Finer Things.” Short features in the previous “Life” section are augmented by more service components, tables and maps. There’s now a big wine section, and coverage of real estate, design, travel, art and a new department on philanthropy.

Back-page column.

The back page has a new closing column, with a fine illustration by Jeffrey Smith, who will be contriubting every month.

And there you are. Another magazine redesign. My first big one since the Scientific American in 2010. And from all I hear, it’s working well. You can see a video about the redesign on the Tatler site. A higher-resolution digital replica of each edition is available at Magzter.com. Registration is required, but there’s a low single-copy price. You can find all of the editions there.

Launch covers.

Of course the proof of a redesign is over time—how the logic survives a number of different situations. I have enormous confidence in the abilities of the Hong Kong editor, the brilliant Sheena Liang, who provided great support and enthusiasm throughout the project and who rallied the staff to execute a fine 354-page premiere issue.

The readers of Tatler are saying this is still Tatler, just a little richer, a little cleaner, a little better. And that’s the goal. Let’s see what they’re saying in 2016.

A big move for me

THIS summer, I am moving to Hong Kong. And I’m changing, after 25 years from consulting to working for one specific, expanding publication group: Edipresse Asia. With publications in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Edipresse Asia has a small and talented team led by Barrie Goodridge, CEO and Sean Fitzpatrick, group editorial director.

Since print is still robust in this booming part of the world, they are getting a chance to get the digital transformation right. And, I’ll get a chance to do what I’ve always loved doing, design magazines.

I’ll tell you more about it as I make the move. Meanwhile, following is the release sent out today.

Keep reading...

Plug-in sport sedan publishing

IN a new year it’s always tempting to think about new beginnings, only later to realize that the calendar is arbitrary, and change is non-linear. This year in publishing there is great hope for new beginnings, and the fear if we don’t find the restart button, we many not have the established magazines and newspapers much longer.

Tesla Model S

Late in 2012, the death of the print Newsweek and the all-digital The Daily caused much harrumphing from the I-told-you-so crowd. “Print is dead, and the old guys just don’t get it.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. But these casualties were more the result of bad business models, bad management and bad content, than the general decline of the media.

Newsweek failed to preserve any of its equity under the Daily Beast regime, discarding the “news” part of its name. It lacked a multi-platform strategy (the Newsweek.com site was actually shut down when Tina Brown took over), and the rethought magazine seemed too little, too late. The Daily came on as a megaton app, with some interesting breadth, but with none of the depth of the great news sites. Distribution was limited to iPad, which even now misses 80 percent of the market. Strange that Rupert didn’t repackage the WSJ and the London Times instead of starting from scratch. It was more of a case of too much (in the sense of download time), too soon.

We should avoid generalizations about these deaths, but there are important object lessons, as we push along toward new models. While funeral notices flooded in, we started to hear background murmurs of a counter-trend. This was the arrival of some new stripped-down digital publications, led by Marco Arment’s The Magazine .

The idea is to put together a simple collection of articles, each with a bit of artwork, and wrap them into a small iPad app. Fast to download, and easy on the credit card. (The Magazine is $1.99/month, with a seven-day free trial.)

The estimable Craig Mod calls this form, “subcompact publishing,” named after the first subcompact, the Honda N360, a welcome rethink of the automobile after Detroit bloated their cars with so many features it is surprising they could even move.

Mod defined subcompact publishing in a November post with these characteristics:

• Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)

• Small file sizes

• Digital-aware subscription prices

• Fluid publishing schedule

• Scroll (don’t paginate)

• Clear navigation

• HTML(ish) based

• Touching the open web

Hamish McKenzie, the alert reporter at Pando Daily, jumped on this idea, and pointed to a new example, The Awl’s Weekend Companion, an app spinoff from the content-rich website, The Awl.

“Premium micropublishing” is the term offered by McKenzie.  “Premium” means “not free.” A low-priced subscription model may allow bloggers to move up a step in the media food chain and get a little compensation. “Thanks to our increasingly mobile-centric reading habits,” he says, “subscriptions may be making a comeback.”

McKenzie cited the announcement of The Periodical Company, which started in a hack-a-thon and was inspired in part by Mod’s subcompact idea, and perhaps by Arment’s 60s-style generic brand name. Periodical is planning to offer “digital magazines as a service,” with a CMS and design themes, distributed to the web and to the iOS Newsstand.

Cool. It will be interesting to see the design. Mod’s model makes sense (except of course for the “scroll, don’t paginate” part). Mod likes readable publications in the way that Readability is readable. Nice, almost pretty Typekit fonts. Good margins. Lots of leading. One column.

The Magazine, iPhone version

iPad version of The Magazine
The iPhone version and the iPad version of The Magazine.

The Magazine is designed in this style. It depends on the writing for excitement; it looks more like a journal or a diary than a magazine. In fact it is a reader, with the UI derived from smartphones. Simple one-column layout, and so stripped-down, to get to the nav on an iPhone, you have to scroll back to the top. On the iPad, the TOC scrubber is a drawer that rolls out when you hit a little icon in the upper left corner. Nevertheless, I like this experience better on the phone, which it is clearly designed for. The iPad version seems a little, uh, bland.

Mod got a great reaction to the subcompact idea, and he replied to some of the feedback, around the time The Daily perished. That thing was a boat, a 70s Mercury Marquis, fully loaded, and it deserved to be towed to the junk yard. But is the subcompact the answer, or just an answer?

1976 Mercury MarquisThe 1976 Mercury Marquis. I was going to show a 1967 model, but I kind of liked it!

Dan Neil’s review of the Ford Focus ST notwithstanding, what I want is an Audi 6 in metallic gray, or maybe a Cayenne Turbo with 500 horses and tough off-road tires. Particularly for a long trip, on and off the blue highways.

The subcompact is like a shower. It’s efficient and economical. But sometimes what you want is a Jacuzzi. Magazines are like that, too. While a brisk five-minute glance of sThe Economist in print, with its classic newsmagazine layout, can be refreshing and helpful, sometimes you want to dive into a more beautiful body of water, like Esquire, or Vogue., or the FT’s How To Spend It.

Mod is a fine designer (look at that web site!), but he may have been conditioned by growing up with a web that is a rushing stream of items. We’re used to this river of stuff from everywhere, served up raw by Google News, or nicely repackaged by Flipboard (where he worked for a while). You could get drowned in this flood of content, and never get clean.

Web sites have not provided that gourmet bathing experience (remember Wet magazine?!). Nor do the digital replicas of rusty old Mercuries that you see in the Next Issue app. The water comes out too slowly, and by the time you get in, the bath is cold.

This subcompact model won’t provide that either, useful though it may be very useful, for emerging digital-only publishers . . . and readers. In order to attract and keep an audience, publications, even niche publications, have found that they need more stuff: a variety of approaches and story lengths, and some strong visual content.

Mod doesn’t want to bulk up his little vehicle with a bunch of crap, but, as Mario Garcia pointed out in iPad Design Lab, people have come to expect a little digital fun in an app, every so often. (And advertisers do, too.)

Savory, our Treesaver-publication-as-service startup, has the ambition to be more than just transportation from Point A to Point B. Once we get a lot more themes and iOS and Android wrappers—planned for 2013—a Savory pub can be immersive, fun, and it will run on all platforms. The idea is to have a rich, immersive experience, which you don’t get on a Kindle, or The Magazine—except if you get swept away by the writing.

Okay, so maybe the Cayenne metaphor is a bit heavy, and eco-unfriendly. How about a plug-in Tesla Model S? Three-hundred mile range, and 0-60 in 6.5 seconds. That’s the digital publishing model I’m looking for.

Why Romney lost

BAD branding, of course. This is a design blog, so I won’t go into the confused voice and personality of the campaign. But Romney was cooked as soon as they unveiled that toothpaste RRR logo. It had all the quality of a logo on the “For Sale” signs of a big realtor in Ohio. (Maybe that was the idea.)

But after the widely praised big O of the Obama 2008 campaign, we are expecting better design from our politicians. A great leader in this Steve Jobs legacy era would have taken one look at the R’s and told them, “Get outta here.”

Of course a practiced corporate art director would counter, “It’s all about the applications.” Staging this logo successfully would have required a white, or near white background all the time. In a red-white-and-blue universe, you only get white one-third of the time.

Romney sign going up at the GOP convention

A sign goes up at the Republican convention in Tampa last August. (Getty Images)

So the art department started adding a white border around the logo, creating an awkward shape that has all the grace of a dead catfish.

Typographically the Romney effort was a step up from McCain’s bland Optima trademark, last time around. That must have been specked by a left-wing mole who was told to come up with something well-designed and familiar. Like the Helvetica and Times Roman used for thousands of campaigns, the real problem with Optima is that is too familiar. The result, though, is a timid design that adds nothing to the effort.

Romney, taking more than a page from the Obama type book, came on strong.

Romney Ryan

After the convention, Romney-Ryan’s branded aircraft.

* * *

Those disenchanted with Obama over the past four years can point to the softening of the President’s own visual brand. Charged with the big Gotham “CHANGE” posters and the street-ready Shepard Fairey icon, it would have been hard to keep up that energy, particularly after four years of soft-and-elegant Whitehouse.gov typography.

But the slogo, (as David Berlow calls workmarks) became “FORWARD.”  Not so strong. (And wasn’t that period oddly small?) The last-minute addition of the bang at the end, the correct punctuation for this imperative, was the typographical October Surprise. It may not have been responsible for the last-minute uptick in the polls, but it could not have hurt.

The Obama team, which believes that that the groundwork is what counts on election day, deployed thousands of cards set in Hoefler Frere-Jones fonts. But so did the Romney people.

Michelle Obama at rally, with

Michelle Obama at a Forward! rally

Romney at rally with

A Romney rally has plenty of type signs, too

Romney matched Obama’s HTF Gotham with HTF Whitney. (The logotype is set in Adobe Trajan, to give that nice Presidential dignity.)

While Obama used a serif font a lot more in 2008 (with a Perpetua logo), we didn’t see much of the HTF Sentinel, chosen for 2012. It was all Gotham. But there was plenty of it.

In Salon David Rainbird wrote about the strange move by the Romney campaign to block his opponent’s messaging—with fonts from the same foundry. “Whilst Obama freely admits to borrowing some of Romney’s ideas, like Massachusetts healthcare reform, Romney wouldn’t dare admit to stealing anything from Barack. But the Massachusetts governor is clearly cribbing from Obama’s campaign typographic strategy.”

When Obama’s squad rolled out a non-HTF script font, so did Romney—Wisdom Script (evidently failing to get a license for it, according to a report in the Content Strategist. Obama also added the gothic, Revolution, perhaps to provide a little relief from all this “good design.” It’s based on old Cuban graphics.

[This paragraph was updated on Election Day. Revolution and the script, MVB Mascot, are described in a post on Types in Use.]

* * *

The end result we’ll know election night. When you have millions of people out of work, and big structural problems in Washington that are preventing any solutions to our problems, the choice of fonts and the visual branding of candidates may not seem to be important.

But in an election this close, bad branding may have been the stick that broke the Republican elephant’s back. On one side we have a comprehensive, relentless, “good design” approach that makes the brand police and the Design Observer bloggers happy. On the other an imitative typographical program that failed to create “Real Change.” Can a great nation elect a President with a bad logo and copy-cat typography?

I left it to the people to decide.

10 rules to work by

AT the Cleveland conference of the Society of News Design this week, I was honored with the SND Lifetime Achievement Award. I was surprised, since I am not one who has toiled in newsrooms my whole career. Which is maybe why I can keeping putting energy into news design. And I am truly grateful for this award. The SND is the one organization devoted to the idea of visual journalism, which is something I believe in.

I got to thinking about what’s worked for me in this field. It’s always been a struggle, never more than now, to get publishers and owners to understand that readers want visual content in their news publications, as well as text. And to get them to understand that the art director’s role is more than just “presentation,” important as that is.

Here are the ten work rules I’ve collected over the years that may serve the new generation of publication designers.

As Grocho said, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

1. Pages.
News design is not just about page design anymore.  I’ve been thinking about the design rules—the relationship between text and pictures, headlines and text, and the styles that mark different kinds of content.

2. Content.
As Lou Silverstein said, “Ask yourself what is the news content before you take a design to the desk.”

3. Information.
To succeed as a visual editor, you have to be as well- or better-informed on the news and political issues than the text editors. The way to stay ahead of changes in the media world is to be a reporter—observe everything as you go.

4. History.
I wanted to know the history of newspapers, printing, type and graphic design. By standing on the shoulders of others you can see farther, and avoid starting over.

5. Design equity.
Hold on to the good parts of a publication’s design. Some papers and sites have redesigned so much, readers can’t recognize them.

6. Inspiration.
Design ideas come from the real world—the city, art, and nature—not just the design world.

7. Technology.
Technology is your friend. A designer doesn’t have to code, but I had to know understand how code works, and what I can do with it, to make the transition to the new world.

8. People.
The best news design happens when the process is open and the best ideas get published. I never just handed out sketches, but worked with the team. And if the team is happy, you get great design.

9. Readers.
The best publication designers think of themselves as the agents of readers. They are in the newsroom to get the content across to the end users.

10. Life.
With all the stress around deadlines, the meltdown of the media and the economy, it’s easy to get lost in your work. Somehow I’ve been able get outside often enough—for me it’s to the ocean or the desert—to keep a little perspective, and have more fun. And to spend some time with my partner in life, Foster.

An app, or not

THE New York Times released an HTML edition for the iPad this week, without much fanfare. Of course, the HTML crowd was enthusiastic. Mediabistro (not as breathless as the clipped headline on Google News indicated—“The New York Times’ New iPad Website Could Mean End of Apple. . . .”) wondered if this meant that the paper would phase out its iOS apps.

TImes web app home page

The Times’s new web app home page

This HTML app takes it place beside the daily paper, the web site, the iPad app, and mobile apps for iPhone and Android. They share design elements, but there are interesting, sometimes annoying differences. I use all of them, and am as any critical as any reader who started reading the paper in the days when the logo had a period, when many of my friends preferred the Herald-Tribune. I bow to long-time readers as the ultimate judges of publication design, and I qualify as a sharp critic as a subscriber to The Times for nearly 50 years. Plus, I spent four years at the paper in the early 80s.

The Times iPad app home page

The iPad app home page

In printed publications, a brand is made from the written voice, the editorial perspective and the visual personality of the pages, including the type. As a typographer I’ve always felt that the core element is the body type, and my job as a designer is to make a publication easy to read. In the case of The Times, Lou Silverstein chose the Intertype font, Imperial, while he was still promotion art director. It never occurred to me to change it, since it printed as well as anything on their ancient letterpresses and cheap paper. By then, Imperial was The Times, at the reading level.

In the digital arena, a reader’s direct relationship of the brand is similar to print, and the body type is a readers direct connection to the content. Of course on the web you didn’t get much choice of fonts until recently, and The Times picked Georgia, when Microsoft introduce it with the web “core set” in 1996. The same typeface was used on The Times  iPhone app, and then the iPad app, and it seemed that Georgia, too, was The Times—until the Android came out, and they had to substitute Droid Serif. Whatever you think of Droid Serif, it is not The Times.

There is an additional branding component: user interface design, UI, or user experience design. (I reject the UX term on the grounds, as I have said before, because if design is not about user experience, then what the hell is it?)

So while the designers can strap together cross-platform products like the newspaper, the web site and the apps, the UI is going to be different due to constraints of the OS and the devices—and different definitions of the products.

*    *    *

This new product is more like the mobile apps than their native iPad app. It has a one-column layout with scrolling stories, which I hate since I always lose my place. There are UI experts like Oliver Reichenstein who swear by scrolling. Nevertheless with scrolling you can’t do multiple-columns without enraging even Reichenstein. This new web app sidesteps that issue. When you turn the iPad to landscape view, there’s enough room for another column, but the app fills moves the story index to a sidebar, and starts the first story in the remaining space. There should be an iPad law:

Content in landscape view = content in portrait view.

These landscape section fronts look cluttered, particularly if there is an ad. The landscape story pages get crowded with an ad, sidebar on the left, and vertical chrome on the right. The web app begins to look like, uh, a web site.

Web app landscape section front

The section front portrait, and landscape

Worse, it places ads at the top of stories, not just the section fronts. It’s like the whole news report was written by . . . Lincoln. (And that is one ugly grill on that car.) In the old days of church-and-state, this would never happen. (I’m lighting a candle for the late Punch Sulzberger.) It’s even worse than the the two-column iPad pages I complain about it, where you see ads at the top of a page—next to a picture.

It’s a relief when you get to a full-page ad, which you can swipe past. Sadly, it’s the same Lincoln, and the same ad, page after page.

Full page ad

A full-page ad

Ignoring that car, let’s start reading. You can swipe sideways to get to a new story. To get to a new section front you tap on a little grid icon that you find in the side chrome. (The Times is consistent across platforms with icons.) A list opens on the right side. On the iPad app, you tap the screen to reveal the chrome at the bottom, hit the grid icon, and get a section list—on the left side of the screen. Hmmm. The web app sections are one-column lists; to get to the next sections you swipe horizontally. On the iPad you swipe vertically to get to the new sections.

Did the designers imagine that readers would use just one of their products? You can argue about the mobile style here versus the ebook-like approach to the native app. But here’s another universal truth that they missed:

UI = your brand.

Readers (customers) move across platforms. I pick up TThe Times on desktop, mobile and tablet. I can’t be the only one who expects that the interface that I learned on one should be useful on the next one.

*    *    *

Let’s back up for a minute.

Ten years after I left The Times, it became an early entrant on the content web, and has since made steady improvements, including the gratifying success with the paywall. It’s worth a spot check of the Way Back Machine  to see how they’ve moved the ball down the court. The site continued to change as screens got bigger and content more complicated. The last big redesign was done with the help of Razorfish in 2006. The work is often credited to Khoi Vinh, but he arrived at the end of the project. Some say that the final result was produced more in-house that with the outside agency. The design added more structure, smaller display type, and more items on the home page and section fronts. While it has been tweaked by Vinh and his successor, Ian Adelman, it’s remarkable that it has not needed to change more. The mark of a good design.

With the authority, scope and range of The Times, NYTimes.com became the most important news site in the world, yet many in the newsroom were not satisfied because of the tension between newspaper values and web values. The design differences point out the conflict. The layout of the print product is able to show the editors’ priorities. There are nuances of presentation according to importance and tone of each story.

The web site seems the same every day, and by the time you see it, the moment-in-time of the last night’s “close,” has passed. So the breaking news headline . . . is gone.  Frequency and currency trump perspective and background on the web. It’s more a matter of “this just in” than “you gotta read this article.”

The day after the first Presidential debate, the paper ran a five-column headline in Cheltenham Bold Italic. This signaled it was an important story, but not earth-shattering news. On that kind of day, the type is bigger, and Roman caps, not Italic upper and lower.

On the site, you lose those priorities and nuances, and the same with the iPad app. The home pages on the mobile apps—and this new HTML app—are little more than story list. (For a number of news web sites, I’ve designed alternate “big news” home pages, but they always forget to use them.) Every home page looks much like the last one. And very story—news, opinion or long feature—looks alike.

I have a different experience with each product. If I happen to pick up a printed newspaper after I’ve “finished” reading the paper on the iPad, I find things I missed. And I enjoy the the section fronts, find features inside that I didn’t see. Among other things, information graphics are still not translated very well into the digital targets. What I am looking for is a richer, more satisfying experience. This HTML app moved the wrong way.

*    *    *

So,  a web site is not a newspaper, and an iPhone app is not a web site, and an iPad app is not an iPhone app. (Neither is an Android app, but that is another kind of problem.)

On one level, you don’t even want to read a web site the way you read a paper. Half the time you are “parachuting in” from a link, and never care about the home page. And how often do you actually read to the end of any story on the web? The publisher’s efforts to inflict page views on their readers drives them away. The anecdotal statistic is that a story loses half of its readers on every page jump.

Web sites are great for browsing headlines, finding facts, sourcing data and making transactions. Long-form reading? Not quite there. Out of habit, due to the development history, and as a result of the design—we just don’t expect to read on a web site. E-books and particularly the Kindle, showed an alternative digital format, made for reading, but few web site designers took note.

I think the apps miss something by not bringing people to stories via links. At Sporting News http://tablet.sportingnews.com you can share a link in the iPad app that sends people to the Treesaver edition on the web. The analytics show that people tend to read all the way through these stories—and then go on to look at more of the publication. It’s like giving a friend a magazine folded to the story you want to share, rather handing them a clipping. (And they might even see an ad.)

In the double-0 decade, Microsoft, like Sony and others, experimented with e-books and related devices like tablet PCs—focusing on reading. Six years ago, before the whole smartphone thing took off, Microsoft persuaded TThe Times to build “The New York Times Reader” (which I helped design, as mentioned in previous posts). The idea was to make a digital edition that was as easy to read and just as immersive as print. The company had spent some time on the body type issue, and had come up with ClearType, a sharper font rendering scheme, to improve screen readability. The home page on the Reader was more like a front page than a home page, and content was divided into pages that advanced horizontally by clicking a button, like a Kindle. It was a Windows app. It used Imperial for text, and Cheltenham for headlines, like the paper. Sadly, it never caught on.

While the Reader adapted to different screen sizes, it only worked on Windows. A scratchy, bulky Macintosh version was made in Silverlight, but it didn’t catch on either. (I think it was a PNG-flipper, a horrible precursor of the Adobe Digital Suite.) Then Adobe came to the newspaper and offered to rebuild it in Flash, or Air, so it could work on both Macs and PCs, and The Times said, “Sure.” But that also didn’t catch on, internally or among readers, although you can still download it from The Times. http://www.nytimes.com/content/help/extras/downloads/downloads.html#tr

Nevertheless, the project made a big impact on my thinking, and lead to Treesaver, which is the Reader concept turned into an HTML app, and designed to be responsive so it fits on all screen sizes.

*    *    *

The Times did launch an HTML effort two years ago, which no one mentioned in the news about this new app. It’s called “The Skimmer.”  http://nytimes.com/skimmer As a freestanding web app, just called “NYTimes,” the Skimmer was distributed through the Chrome Web Store, and still is.

The Skimmer doesn’t have the printy feel of the Reader, but it has right fonts, and it’s responsive—up to a point. You can resize windows on a laptop, it works fine on an iPad, but this web app fails on the iPhone. It just goes blank.

The new app, too, is not fully responsive. Right now its restricted to the iPad. I can’t guess why. You get a an error message when you try it on an iPhone, “Sorry — to log in or install this app, you must be on an iPad® running iOS 5.0 or later.” Never mind that you might be running iOS 6.0 on the iPhone.

So now the Great Gray Lady has added one more target for its distribution system.  One asks,  what are they up to?  Most news organizations don’t have enough developers to keep up with the updates for just one of these clients. The Times has over 100 coders. They’re managing the iOS apps, Android 2, 3, and 4 apps, plus the Kindle and Nook versions, and the huge web site including these web apps and the cool Opinion section which, while not responsive, actually looks different, and more elegant than the news sections.

This big tech staff built their own CMS. I have no idea how it connects to the printed paper, but it does manage the content feed to all these targets with consistency and zero down-time. If you compare the home pages of all the apps, they are running the same headlines in Cheltenham.

With designers as good as Adelman and Tom Bodkin, the AME for design, we can expect more products and more design improvements. Their challenge is to unify the UI, and to design distinctive templates that respect the differences between news,  opinion, and feature stories. If, among the big publishers, The New York Times can’t find a way to bring ab immersive reading experience—and the fun of looking at newspaper—to all these targets, then I don’t know who can.


WHEN we started Treesaver two years ago, I suppose it was natural for me to think of it as a step in the evolution of my publication design work. Treesaver is a publication platform, and I had been designing big magazines and newspapers since the 70s. The genesis of the idea came during a design assignment for Microsoft—The New York Times Reader. That’s where I first met the great Filipe Fortes, and after MS killed the project it was Filipe who suggested that “we” could in HTML.

As Filipe wrote the code, I took the idea around to my friends and acquaintances in magazine and newspaper publishing, to all the big groups—Hearst, Time, and The Washington Post Co. I remember one big presentation at the Condé Nast building on Times Square for about 30 editors and designers. Among them was Fred Woodward and David Remnick. The meeting was set up by David Carey, then publisher of Portfolio, who I knew from a tablet PC project for the New Yorker.

There were a number of advocates of Treesaver there, including a group from the Wired.com web site, but the print folks won out and they decided to go with the Adobe Publishing Suite, which converts an issue of, say, Vanity Fair, to an iPad app that weighs half a gig. (How did that work out?)

That story was repeated at Time and Hearst. The web folks were generally interested, but the print guys kept thinking of digital publishing as something like the print product—created with the same workflow. So they went with Adobe (with or without Woodwing) for the iPad. Yet there was no multi-platform strategy, just separate strategies for different targets—the web, mobile and tablets.

There were similar meetings at other big publications. Some ordered up a “proof-of-concept” editions. Sporting News, part of Advance, gave us a major commission, the Treesaver hybrid iPad app that launched a year ago. Now it has several hundred thousand regular users and big advertisers. The un-promoted web version of the app can be shared by Pad readers—to people who don’t have iPads. This publication is published daily with a 5:00 pm update. In a heavy sports season, with all the team pages that a reader can include in a personalized edition, Sporting News can have 1,500 iPad pages. And all this is done without a production staff. Treesaver does the layout.

So while I was thinking that Treesaver was a success, it wasn’t really catching on quickly with my traditional clients. Not that they had any better ideas, the big publishers just weren’t ready to commit to a multi-platform strategy.


Savory launched with two design themes, one for magazines and one for news publications. The department grid from the magazine theme “Glossy” is seen (at about one-third size) on a MacBook Air, an iPad and an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Then, late last year we got a call from Milan. A small server-side developer called ZephirWorks had become fascinated with Treesaver. They integrated the open-source code and grids into a Ruby on Rails content management system, Locomotive. This made Treesaver feasible for small publishers—or for experiments at the bigger companies without a big commitment of resources.

Andrea Campi and Andrea Granata, the principals of ZephirWorks, had complete command of the server side of the effort. They were ready to set up a hosting service, like a grown-up version of WordPress. They asked if we could help with the front end, with the design of the templates and the web site. They wanted to call the start-up Savory.

The more I talked to the Andreas, the more I liked the idea. I missed them when they first came to New York, but Scott Kellum, the first designer-developer at Treesaver, met them and was enthusiastic. So we set up a joint-venture on a virtual handshake.

Of course we thought it would take no more than a couple of months to build Savory, but it took eight. This is a true bootstrap. Neither partner spent a lot of money—just time. And last week Savory launched.

The theme designs started with grids from Scott, tweaked by Mike Mitra and Kevin Muncie. Mario Valencia built the web site (conventional at launch, but soon full responsive). If you don’t like the design, you have to blame me.

The Milan team built out the CMS beautifully, with good on-screen cues. And they wrote user guides—in English—that really helpful. They designed the server structure and the e-commerce part. At launch, the site is based in Europe, with transactions in Euros. This fall, the U.S. server should be up and the dollar-denominated payments enabled.

And so Treesaver is making a pivot. While I’m still talking to my friends in the established press about big Treesaver editions (two meetings this week!), Savory is the entry-level platform that people have been waiting for. The first to contact Savory are editors and publishers outside the big groups or refugees form them; weekly and alternative newspapers; what I call the digital-onlies; and non-profits.

These publishers and wannabes are the future of publications. They “get” the social media, crowd sourcing, iterative live content, and the idea that readers increasingly want to participate in a conversation rather than just sit there and read.

Savory’s feature set was kept pretty lean to get through the launch. In the pipeline are variations on the themes, new features, and new designs. Check it out, and let me know what you think of what we’ve done, and what you want to see.

As we used to said in the 60s, it’s all about to happen.

The new model
for digital ads

ADVERTISING has been ruining the design of content web sites for nearly 20 years now. Crazy clutter, disorienting push-downs, annoying forced page-views and scary teeth-whitening ads combine to make an repelling UI brew. It’s all a result of the unlimited inventory of web pages driving prices to the bottom—moving publishers to take anything that comes in.

Can we stop the ugliness from creeping onto the iPad? Of course publishers welcome an increase in ads, but readers can see that as clutter. Content apps like the Los Angeles Times have started copying the useless banners. (Think, “Ringtones!”) Polished news apps like BBC or the Washington Post Politics settle for a single ad position: a banner across the bottom of every page. That’s easier on readers than disconcerting interstitials and unstopable pre-rolls on the videos.

For ad layout, the big print magazines came from the other direction—from print. Zinio-style “digital replicas” were easy for publishers, and the ABC let them include digital circulation in their totals. The user interface was easy; nobody ever had to read an info-graphic to learn how to operate a magazine. Zinio followed the process onto the tablet, and offered the first magazine newsstand on the iPad.

So far so good. Swipe to turn pages, like an e-reader, and when an ad comes along, take a look, and if you aren’t interested, keep swiping.

Titles from Time Inc. and Condé Nast upgraded the magazine-on-the-tablet approach, using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite. Whatever you think about the download size and readability issues (David E. Wheeler convincingly condemned those last spring), nevertheless the the ads work well as print ads. Or no worse.

A simpler, cleaner extrusion of a print magazine is the app for The Economist, which is fast to download, has clear, resizable body type, and advances through pages like a Kindle. Pages work in portrait or landscape, with no vertical scrolling except for the balky contents page). Ads are presented as simple full screens—no partials allowed.

An editorial page and a full-page ad from The Economist
Two pages from this week’s Economist iPad App. Of course, it’s not a spread.

Publishers and ad agencies wanted more on the tablet, if only so they could charge more. They missed the “interactivity” of web ads, and were afraid that ads needed to be more assertive to be effective. Ads appeared in places such as The Wall Street Journal app that interrupted the reading experience. Like pop-ads on the web, a simple swipe wouldn’t advance them, you had to find that “Back” button.

Over the last six months, we’ve started seeing a paradigm that could be come the winning standard. The ads are full-page ads that work like those in The Economist. You just swipe along until you get to a full-screen ad, and then you can stop or keep going.

WSJ has more complicated navigation, moving up, down and sideways, but the simple full pages ad are working.

A journal section front, then an ad that links to the HP site
An HP ad right after a WSJ section front. It links to the mobile version of the HP site.

TheSporting News, which runs on Treesaver, has pushed the idea another step. The publisher offered sponsorship deals to advertisers such as Toyota and AT&T. Sponsors get prime positions, including “inside covers,” bumpers between big stories, a sprinkling of partial-page ads to provide immediate editorial adjacency, and branded features like scoreboards

The Sporting News cover, followed by an interactive ad for Toyata
The cover of The Sporting News app, is followed by an interactive “inside cover ad.”

Now with with 250,000 downloads, the daily magazine has plenty of positions with as many as 1,500 pages a day (if a reader orders up coverage of every league and every team). But they carefully limit the sponsorship avails so that readers are sure to see the ads. The result is a scalable model that may actually turn digital publishing into profitable business.

A spot ad for Toyota in SN, linking to an iPad-ready web page
An inside page, with a spot for Toyota that links to an iPad-friendly web page. Note the big honking “Back” button.

The key is that sponsors can do more than they can in print. Readers can click buttons that changed the colors of a new car without turning pages. In a recent issue of Huffington, Toyota ran a game. I didn’t bother playing it, but it was a cheerful addition to the magazine, which is one of the best converted print magazines, except that they don’t bother to print it first.

At the simplest level, advertisers just include a big button that links to an iPad-friendly web page.

As the model gets traction, sponsors are building mini apps purposefully designed for the iPad—or are fully responsive. For example, the Toyota ads in The Sporting News iPad app look fine on phones—and laptops. (You can see the publication outside of the iPad, here.)

This is the digital equivalent of bind-in ad sections. The payoff is a shopping cart at the end of the insert.

The New York Times app is showing off a mini app from Charles Schwab. Still sparsely coated with paying ads, the Times has sold Schwab multiple app positions including spots—over several days or weeks.

A storyboard, with a Times page leading to a full-page for Schwab that is linked to financial advice mini app.
This friendly mini app for Charles Schwab, can lead a reader right into a branch office.

There are some rough spots in getting sponsorship packages to work. The Times, suffers from a bad combination of too few templates and too few ads. The result are some awkward pages. For example, you often see a story where a single picture is jammed up above a house ad you’ve seen a dozen times before—today. This layout in the Times ended with a partial text page. With no premium on space, it would have been easy to enlarge the photo on the second page—and kill one of the house ads. When you look at the story overall, you wonder why they can’t write some rules into the code that (1) doesn’t crowd the art, and (2) doesn’t allow filler ads to be endless repeated.

Often the house ads run above the text—which in the old days was against the law.

I can’t complain too loudly about this situation, since a very similar page shows up in The Sporting News, and for the same reason—not enough templates, too few rules. Above, you may have noted a Toyota spot in SN that is placed above an editorial picture and text. This is just wrong.

But these details can be worked out. The important thing is to see sponsorship emerging in a number of iPad publications. The strategy avoids the unreadable jumble of the content web and create new opportunities for advertisers to connect with customers.Scarcity is key. But the big win is that shopping cart at the end of the mini app.

We have a new chance to make digital advertising work for readers—as well as publishers and advertisers. Let’s not blow it this time!