March 1, 2009

Impossibility of 'Hot Box' reminds ex-Journal editor how truth emerges

A former Flint Journal copy editor recalls The Hot Box  and shows how that related to where newspapers are today.

He starts the tale this way:
Years ago, in the early stages of newspapers' redesigning, I worked for a chain of eight midsize newspapers in the Midwest. Some of them looked as if it were still World War II, but in the early 1970s one of them had radically redesigned and managed to lose 10 percent of its subscribers in one week, or some figure like that. So they were going about it more cautiously.

So they had hired a designer to redo all the papers. (His name was Ralph "Chic" Bain. I have no idea what happened to him, although LinkedIn might place him in Austin.) We were Chic's third or fourth paper in a row and he had used all of his easy-to-gin-up ideas in other cities.

For our paper, he unveiled "the hot box." This was an attempt to get away from the tyranny of the three-across teaser box that then dominated newspaper design. Instead, we would have a line of type -- the equivalent of the Times Square zipper, but not moving -- at the top of the page, and then a box with a big image -- 2x2.5, about -- at the right margin, next to the flag. As with all designers, Chic selected a striking illustration for his prototype. He presented it to the top editors, and they approved it.

David worried about " our ability to come up with a striking illustration 365 days a year. I was scared that within a week this would end up being another grainy wirephoto of Jimmy Carter (we had old presses and almost no color). "

David says even Chic thought The Hot Box would be killed. See the original post for how David recalls that conversation, one with an editor who approved the plan and why this matters today. It has something to do with what journalists really believe. Let's just say the emperor wears no clothes, some editors who believe an artist is right even while doubting the the vision can be done, and journalism is doomed.


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