Friday, September 25, 2009

The Mercury makeover

We’ve been working on some changes here at The Mercury — a redesign planned to be unwrapped to readers on Wednesday.
Some months ago we decided we were about due for an upgraded look. Like a person wearing a hairstyle that went out of vogue in the ’70s, a newspaper can find itself showing age instead of style. We decided it was time to try on a new look and update our appearance.
Call it a makeover.
The process became a collaborative effort of editors, photographers, artists and circulation managers. Our goal was to create a new look that was clean, appealing, and up to date. We also wanted to better showcase what we offer every morning to our readers -- the news, sports and opinions of your community that you can’t get anywhere else.
Readers tell us that The Mercury is an important part of their lives. We’re not a national news Web site or a field of commentators that reflect one ideology or another. We provide those services, but our greatest role — our reason to be — is to connect with the community of readers throughout the tri-county area.
In embarking on a redesign, our goal was to display and demonstrate this connection, highlighting the local coverage of news and sports that no one else can provide.
Our redesign features a new nameplate on the front page, variations in typeface in some headlines, and some content changes, including the addition of more coverage of the growing performing and fine arts venues in the region, more pictures of people at social and cultural gatherings, and more local news in the Business section.
During the past week, we offered a sneak preview to several groups both within and beyond The Mercury, and they liked what they saw.
We also learned a few things about ourselves.
“I like to see a preview of what’s going to be inside,” said one reader. So, we’re adding a photo each day into our front-page index.
“Too much color before, but now it’s too plain,” said an inside observer. We put our Mercury brand symbol back in blue and gold.
“A calendar would help me know what’s coming up next,” said a group member, reacting to the new Social Connections picture page of events. We’ll get working on compiling a list of dates for social and club functions.
“You can do away with stocks altogether; I want to read news about local businesses,” said a former borough official. We are scaling our stocks listings to an abbreviated format with graphics reporting to allow more columns of local Business news.
“I like to have a place to go to see what sports are on the air today and what’s coming up for the rest of the week,” another reader told us. We’re putting together a graphic listing to highlight that information on page 2 of Sports each day.
Our Focus groups of invited readers, advertisers and community leaders provided some lively discourse on topics that we discuss internally, too.
The value of Sound-Off versus the risk, the eye appeal of photos, the importance of local voices, and the watchdog role of a local newspaper were among the topics addressed along with color and content critiques.
One of our visitors reminded us that The Mercury was founded and has followed in a tradition of crusading local journalism.
This is the newspaper that headlined “Nixon carries Pottstown” though John Kennedy won the election, that cleaned up fire codes, streamlined government, rallied support for flood and fire victims and sent a message to Harrisburg, all in the interests and for the betterment of the communities we serve.
In addition to unwrapping a new look to The Mercury on Wednesday, we are printing a special section of front pages through the years.
This 32-page section, “Mercury Milestones,” will be included in Wednesday’s editions showing the evolution of our front page with history-making headlines from 1931 to the present.
We have been your newspaper since Sept. 29, 1931. That hasn’t changed. We’ve just dressed up a bit for the 21st century.
Change isn’t once and done, it’s an ongoing process. So, let us know what you think. We welcome your suggestions to better serve you.
Be sure to pick up Wednesday’s paper and check it out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

You spoke, we listened: The TV book is back

Notice something different with The Sunday Mercury delivered to your doorstep or driveway today?
Or, perhaps we should say something familiar that’s returned after an absence?
Today’s home-delivered editions of The Sunday Mercury include “TV Book Plus,” a complete section of TV program listings, games and features to replace the former TV book, “Channels,” that was phased out of publication last year.
The new book will be offered to home subscribers today and next Sunday as a trial and will then be available to purchase as part of the home-delivery package each week. The book is making its return just in time for the season of fall premieres.
We’ve been in business here at the corner of Hanover and King streets for 78 years since the publication of our first edition on Sept. 29, 1931. I’ve worked here for almost half that number of years, and I’ve been involved in a number of changes both in content and emphasis during that time.
Whenever we change, there is always something that some readers miss. I have learned over the years, for example, that fiddling with the comics selection is not to be treated lightly - for many people, it’s like removing a family member from the kitchen table.
A redesign to upgrade the look of the paper can be a disaster if people find the typeface more difficult to read. And, taking away a favorite feature is viewed by some readers as a plot to take happiness out of their lives.
As a newsperson, I need to be reminded from time to time that many people buy a newspaper for the comics, the puzzles, obituaries, advertising inserts and SoundOff -- all things that have little to do with the energy and effort we put into news and sports coverage of the community.
But, that’s okay. The more time a reader spends with our paper, as in doing a puzzle or combing store specials listings, and the more smiles we bring through a favorite comic or local witticisms, the more important we are in your household.
That daily connection is what matters.
The other downfall surrounding change is knowing when it’s time to reevaluate and freshen up. As we celebrate our 78th year this month, we are looking at ways to become more relevant, more appealing and more useful to you, our readers.
The return of the TV book to The Sunday Mercury is just one of many changes we’re planning this fall to update and improve your community newspaper.
Many readers have told us they missed having a TV book, even though we expanded our daily listings. The listings were not all that was missed, you told us. The TV crossword and TV trivia were important and entertaining, too.
You spoke up, and we listened. The newly designed TV Book Plus includes not only a crossword but sudoku puzzles. The book features a celebrity Q&A, extensive movie and sports highlights, and soap opera updates.
The grids are easy to read and include day, night and late-night listings.
The book is back. We hope it finds a home with you.