Sun-Herald relaunch: A big improvement

Today sees the most comprehensive relaunch of an Australian metro or national newspaper in at least five years, with The Sun-Herald showing Sydneysiders its new look.

It’s a definite improvement, and I suspect that in the process of reconfiguring the sections, Fairfax Media is going to save some print costs too. it also reverses most of the changes made in its last redesign about 18 months ago.

Let’s start with the cover.

sun herald relaunch coverThe first reality kicks in the with new, dark blue masthead. Despite many advances, colour newspaper printing is still something of an imprecise art. In the case of my edition, the dark blue is so dark that the masthead has actually gone black.

The same goes for the headline on the front page teaser for Annabel Crabb’s column.

The major change though is the cover led image. Which by the way strikes me as a good strategy. I once worked on a magazine in another part of the world where we were consistently beaten by a rival title on news. I also moved to an image-led cover to try to move the agenda towards features, which we were better at. The same could be said about the paper’s story-breaking record versus rival The Sunday Telegraph.

The first cover image of choice is a moody shot of Liberal leader Tony Abbott, half in shadow, to tease an interview with him on page 9. Perhaps I’m dumber than the usual reader, but at first run through, the accompanying copy led me to think the newspaper was (bravely) leading on the Queensland election result. It’s only now as I sat down to write this that I realised the moody shot was of Abbott, not new Queensland premier Campbell Newman.

herald three boratOn to the page 2/3 opening spread.

We can quickly pass by page 2 for this week, as it’s dedicated to explaining the rationale of the redesign to readers.

Page 3 is the paper’s first opportunity to offer agenda-setting journalism. And fair enough in that the lead story is an exclusive. But I’m not sure many people will remember where they were when they first read that a legal case they probably hadn’t heard about had collapsed.

There’s also a great demonstration of the problems that all newspapers face. The amusing page 3 story about the spoof Kazakhstan national anthem from Borat accidentally being played at a Kuwait sporting event was heavily reported online for most of yesterday, including video on smh.com.au. To put the story so far forward suggests that the paper sees its print readers as non-web users. I’m not sure I agree with that.

Page 4 sees an investigative piece into illegal drug production while page 5 is more featurey in approach – looking at which postcode is biggest for baby births.

We then come to two linked double page spreads focusing on politics.

herald newmanPage 6 and 7 is dedicated to the Queensland election. Page 7 is a shocker. It was one of those layout ideas – create a headline playing on the fact that Newman is the new man – that seemed like a nice idea, but just didn’t work as a design and creates some hard to read copy.

On to 8 and 9, featuring childcare politics and the interview with Abbott. Childcare is of course Sunday newspaper reader heartland. However, I’m not sure that tax breaks for families who use nannies (or rather a vague promise to ask the Productivity Commission to look at the policy if it doesn’t cost anything) is going to resonate far and wide.

Page 11 is a not particularly memorable feature on a 56-year-old doctor  who runs marathons.

And we wait until page 13 before we come to another newspaper tick box – with a property prices story. Indeed, the page ticks more demographic boxes, with a picture of a cat in another tale and a story about employers looking at Facebook profiles also featuring.

The main impression then left by the rest of the news section is that there is more to read, including an entertaining tale of Norfolk Island going bust. The news section doesn’t seem to prematurely fizzle out in the way it used to.

For me the biggest improvement though is the move of the S section into the main book. Showbiz now begins on the centre spread, with party pics edited by Shelly Horton.

Then comes a near double page spread for gossip columnist Jo Casamento. Among Casamento’s scoops are that Tropfest boss John Polson once stopped breathing for eight minutes. Which is impressive as medical science seems to recognise four minutes as the point at which you will die. Moving on…

herald domainAfter zipping through fashion, weather and the comics we move into the Domain property section, led by the Margie Blok’s Title Deeds column, where her byline pic hair is nearly as big as the property prices being paid by celebs. A less than elegent element of the Domain layout is former Sunday Telegraph columnist Mark Bouris column, awkwardly spread across the page 91-92 turn.

We then move to the back of the book. Which is where Extra, once also a pullout, now lives. Again, bringing this into the main book is an improvement.

herald loaded dogherald extra crabbAnnabel Crabb, rightly, gets star billing,with a whimsical column on abandoned tellies.

Another new feature within the section is Loaded Dog, in which online readers are asked a talk radio friendly question and the best answers are published. This week: Is Sydney full?

We then hit a run of columnists – a somewhat predictable guest piece from Rachel Ward on the plight of the over 50 woman, Peter FitzSimmons’ regular musings, a ramble from Charles Waterstreet and less space than it deserves for a strong Sam de Brito column. De Brito shares most of that page with badass chief correspondent Paul McGeogh who adds gravitas with a worthy piece on Iran. There are a further three columnists on the page beyond that.

herald reality TVWe then hit a run of substantial features – on a North Korean prison camp, sleeplessness, nannies (again), whips in horse racing, adventurer Lincoln Hall, and the manufactured stress of appearing on reality television.

And then we’re done on the main book.

herald sportSport is now a separate pullout. There’s nothing to start a riot, and nothing to stop a riot.

Danny Weidler’s column gets more space. One disappointment is what could have been a real talking point. The centre spread is dedicated to a single image – the first bounce of the historic GWS Giants v Sydney Swans. The players in the foreground are in focus, but the rest of them are not, while the ball itself is just a blur. It’s hard to say how much is down to it not being a good enough picture, how much is down to it not being high-res enough, and how much is simply poor printing. The near unreadable caption suggests that the latter is definitely a factor.

herald first bounce

herald travelOn to the Travel section.

This feels like the section which has changed the least within the relaunch.

It’s also one of the few places where all the yellow from the previous redesign still survives.

There’s plenty to read, particularly if you like cruises.

And cruise ads of course.

Sunday Life jackie O coverSunday life jackie o ix35Sunday Life, the magazine pullout, offers an immediate surprise. There’s an advertising cover wrap for the Hyundai ix35, which seems the wrong priority for a relaunch edition. Mind you, it’s done rather well with the full cover on page 3.

herald chrissie swanThe first thing to note is the arrival – finally – of Sunday Life’s new columnist, replacing Mia Freedman. It’s ex Circle (and now Mix) host Chrissy Swan.

The lack of a headline or standfirst on the column design makes it hard for a reader to get into the entertaining enough piece, which turns out to be about her lack of bedroom action.

jackie o heraldThe mag then has a hard-to-get interview with the Today Network’s Jackie O. There are few surprises in the piece but she’s still a good get. (It must have been in the works for a while. I was slightly startled to find myself briefly quoted in the piece, so long ago did I have the conversation with the journo that I’d forgotten all about it.)

herald unwindFinally comes entertainment guide Unwind, the paper’s new entertainment section. To the Saturday SMH susbcriber, it does feel like an encore of Spectrum. I’m relived to find that the KenKen, Binary Brainstack and Sudoku puzzles, formerly of Extra, have a new home here.

Overall, I suspect there are about the same number as a words as there were in the previous incarnation of the paper. But overall, the key benefit is that each section now feels substantial, and that there is actually something to read. The flatplan is much more logical.

This redesign now puts the Sun-Herald on much more of an even footing with rival the Sunday Tele. For both titles, if there is a better value way of spending your two bucks on a Sunday morning, I’m yet to find it.

Tim Burrowes


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