Tomorrow, the Saturday Nation, and all other subsequent editions of the Nation, will look different. They have been given a new look, but they will still be recognisable as the same newspapers that so many have read and loved for 60 years.
This retiring look is almost 10 years old and comes from designers in the Mario Garcia stable, a prominent and influential constellation of US and global design stars. The new one is the work of Ms Lucie Lacava, a Canadian, who has reshaped some of the world’s leading newspapers.
Why change if you want to look the same, you might wonder. We want to modernise but not to lose our character and identity. To borrow the rather elegant phraseology of our founder, His Highness the Aga Khan, commenting on redesign years ago, to our loyal readers “familiarity is more important than experimentation with form”. But change we must.
The visual environment has; the things we are looking at every minute — especially the mobile phone screen — are dramatically different in size, orientation, colour, use of typefaces and imagery from the traditional newspaper.
So we have used modern fonts, none more than only a few years old, so that they are not centuries apart from the ones you see on your screen.
Our headline typeface is bold, befitting the authority and confidence of a newspaper of the Nation’s standing. Our photography is also a lot more extravagant even though this is likely to be a work in progress. But the use of colour remains restrained; it is generally used for navigation to assist the reader find his or her way around the sections.
Newspapers have to change because their place in the hierarchy of news sources has changed. They no longer break the news; news happens live on social media and sometimes TV. So good journalism must kick in when the trending stops to provide background, analysis and more information.
The good journalism will also undertake investigations, provide information that readers can apply in their lives and support the public good through news campaigns.
Finally, the newspaper has to change because the economics of the industry has changed. There used to be a lot of money in advertising; that is no longer the case. Globally, print advertising revenues have been in decline for some time and it’s likely that, that will continue.
Therefore, new formulae for sustaining that sector have to be found and they will be centred around serving the reader better and based on selling content rather than space.
So, the theories aside, what difference will you see? There is an attempt to tell more thoughtful, more durable stories and to eschew the speech-based unexamined fare that has sullied local journalism for a long time. The stories, too, will be prepared for reading at different speeds: lots of summaries to help readers catch up with what is happening, long-form stories for in-depth reading and infographics, which reduce complex data into a form that can be grasped at a glance.
MUST BE RELEVANT
A lot more emphasis has been placed on helping the reader make sense of the things going on around him or her. So there is an expanded opinion section with comment and debate by a wide variety of experts and opinion leaders.
The information on our pages must have a place in your life; it must be relevant. And since readers have different interests, a broader variety of content will be included in the package.
So there are new inserts — such as Higher Education, which serves tertiary institutions; Parenting, on Wednesday, addressing the challenges of bringing up children amid the collapse of the extended family; and The Voice, a monthly magazine and platform for empowering the modern woman. Some of your favourites, like MyNetwork, Smart Business and Property, have been improved in content and visually.
There are things happening with the youth — those aged between 10 and 20 years — that are both exciting and frightening. The epidemic of mental illness among children that has led to a heartbreaking series of suicides is a matter of great concern. On the other hand, young people on social media are now global citizens, mobilising on a global scale and espousing opinion that is shared around the world. They are informed, motivated and actively involved in shaping world events.
Yet, this activism is rarely outside the pages of Tik Tok and other social media. The Nation, through its Young Reporters programme, is opening its pages to these children so that they can tell their stories in their own words. Maybe this will provoke conversations and create better understanding and joint efforts to address issues facing young people.
One can’t speak about changes at the Nation without at least a nodding acknowledgement of the big baboon in the room: our digital transformation process. We see no contradiction in the improvement of our print products being the first step on that journey.
Our duty to our loyal readers requires that we consolidate and protect their interest before turning to other issues.
Efforts to improve the quality of our journalism will benefit digital audiences too. But we are investing in earnest in a new kind of journalism, which uses different tools and different formats to tell the story. Nation digital properties have huge footprints — tens of millions of users every month. It would be irresponsible not to improve our services to those customers too.
Our business orientation is changing. While advertisers will remain an important source of revenue to finance our journalism, we are also aware of the growing importance of those audiences as sources of financial support. Every media organisation hopes to, at some point in its future, tap into reader revenue and the Nation Media Group is no different.
But the Nation is not putting all its hopes on charging readers for content. There are opportunities for partnerships and smart digital marketplaces to create sustainable income for media houses. So, the whole of next month, there will be a lot of activity in our various platforms, culminating in much better services to our digital customers too.
A tremendous journey has begun for the Nation. And there is a place on the bus for all.