Readers don’t want no single-section papers

On Monday, The Tampa Tribune launched a redesigned, single-section paper similar to the Chicago Tribune‘s effort. The Tampa paper’s new format emphasized shorter, alternate format stories and fewer jumps. It had been in the works for a few months (I saw prototype pages floating around when I was there over the summer).

Today, less than a week later, the paper is throwing the planning out the window and redesigning its redesign because it pissed off the people that actually buy the paper. (Jeff Houck rounds up some complaints on his blog.) From Executive Editor and Vice President Janet Coats’ memo:

* Our core audience loves the Tampa Tribune. It’s not just that they love newspapers; they love this one. St. Pete [Times] is not a true substitute for them – they want this paper. Any sense that the newspaper has become a commodity for those readers isn’t the case – they recognize and appreciate the distinctions between us and our print competition.

* The multiple section habit is deeply engrained. It’s clear that trying to change that habit through a single news section is not something readers are going to accept. As [Trib Managing Editor] Duke [Maas] said, we’ve interrupted the way our most loyal readers communicate with each other in the morning – through handing the paper back and forth and sharing items with each other.

* The Tribune has always been a strong sports paper, and that is a distinction for us. But the changes we’ve been making for the last year have tipped sports out of balance with the rest of the newspaper. While sports remains important, in a world where the economy is imploding and a presidential election is upon us, we’ve overemphasized that part of our content.

* The problems readers had with the changes had to do with sectioning and placement of some types of content. The alternative story presentation, shorter stories, and fewer jumps have not generated a strongly negative response.

I understand what papers are trying to do by resectioning and redesigning — they have to because the old way clearly will not continue to work as readers’ habits change. But pissing off the loyal paper buyers won’t help.

Papers need to redesign in ways that make them even more “newspapery” and not try to make the print edition more “Weby.” Papers will never be able to compete with the Web for breaking news and immediacy. Where papers can compete is analysis and using the daily cycle to take the time to go deep and get it right and be smart.

The final graph is the best part of the memo:

So, am I sorry we tried this? Hell no. We live in a time that calls for making some bold moves. This one was a move perhaps ahead of its time; it certainly was ahead of what our readers are ready to accept. We’ve learned from it, the story format is working (we’re actually hearing some positives about that) and we’re going to respond quickly. This is the first test for our audience-focused newsroom; we’re going to listen to what our audience is telling us instead of trying to just outlast the complaints.

Update: Ms. Coats’ writes to her readers:

You’ve made one thing very clear this week: The Tribune is part of your household. Your devotion to this newspaper is powerful. We respect that, and we’re humbled by it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for your patience as we work through the changes.