Funny paper: Is the new Progress trying to be funny?

For at least a week before the Daily Progress unveiled its new design on January 20, full-page ads teased the change with the mysterious "What's next?" campaign.

On the big day, an eight-page instructional insert guided readers through the new look– complete with diagrams and arrows to explain how local news was moving to the first section.

Now that readers have had a few weeks to study the guide and digest the changes in the local daily, reviews are coming in.

"If you're trying to be a local paper, I think it's a good idea to put local news in the first section," says Eric Allen, publisher of More Monthly, the Fluvanna Review, and Scottsville Monthly. "I like the [news at a glance] column on the side. I'm one of those time-impoverished readers who like to be able to locate stories quickly."

His favorite change? "The little score boxes in the sports section."

On the other hand, says Allen, "I didn't need a special supplement to tell me how to read it."

"It's a cleaner, nicer, neater paper," says Bill Ramsey, a newspaper designer who's worked as art director for half dozen tabloids and dailies. "Anything's an improvement over what they had."

But for all the hoopla about the change, Ramsey questions whether a lot of thought went into the design.

"It appears to me they took a template from another Media General publication," he says. "I don't feel like there's any design guidance. It's still probably being laid out by a copy editor."

The reader's guide noted that the sans serif Myriad typeface on the front page indicates the biggest news of the day.

"Too jumbled," is cartoonist Don Berard's response to the multi-typefaces in the new Progress. "We were taught in graphic design school that more than two typefaces look bad, like a woman with too many accessories," he says.

And he's doesn't care for the "news at a glance" column, either. "They're knocking off USA Today with that panel on the left," complains Berard. "It doesn't do anything."

The redesign exhumes the Progress' emblem that first appeared in 1895. Originally stretching across the masthead, the emblem shows the Rotunda, Woolen Mills, Monticello, and an "agricultural vista." Unfortunately, squished into one column, this little gray smudge requires a magnifying glass to discern the elements.

Because the new Myriad headline now stretches over photographs that have nothing to do with the lead storyand because the column rules that separate unrelated elements are so fain– there are some odd juxtapositions.

For example, on January 30, the headline "Judge to dismiss eviction case" floats over a picture of Delegate Mitch Van Yahres and former Monticello High School principal Irving Jones, leading inattentive readers to wonder why such luminaries as Van Yahres and Jones are being evicted.

"I think it's an unintentional blunder to include a feature photo underneath the main headline," says Ramsey. "Someone should have noticed that right away before it becomes a daily embarrassment."

Some readers, however, enjoy incongruity, such as the banner "UVa scholar to lead 9-11 panel" over a photo of an elderly gentleman in overalls in a garage.

Subtle humor? Or, as Ramsey maintains, just bad design?

The special inaugural insert included a letter from managing editor Lou Hatter urging readers to let the Progress know what they think. Hatter didn't return The Hook's call.

 

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