NEXT SATURDAY, the Danish morning paper Politiken is going to close down a couple of its broadsheet sections and open some new ones in tabloid format.
To a normal newspaper, in 2012, this would be no big deal, except perhaps rather late for such a move. But to a publication which has, during the last couple of years, been nominated World’s Best-Designed Newspaper, European Newspaper of the Year, and brought home truckloads of SND and SNDS diplomas – almost always with jurys mentioning the Politiken designers’ skillful use of the broadsheet format as a unique quality – this step is quite a significant one.
After making some experiments with the format and having to accept the fact that Danish print facilities are turning any idea of a berliner-sized newspaper, like The Guardian, into an impossible dream, the late editor-in-chief Tøger Seidenfaden had drawn the conclusion that tabloid would be wrong for a paper like Politiken. Now with a new person behind the wheel, the smaller format starts looking like an option once again, and I can’t wait for it to happen.
WHY IS THAT? As a visually oriented person, I guess I am supposed to love Politiken and the way photos and illustrations are exposed on its big, big, big pages. And I do indeed love Politiken. It is a love affair that started in the mid-sixties and grew only stronger during the years around 1990 when I had the pleasure and great privilege of working at the paper myself. Politiken has got world-class illustrators, world-class photographers, and world-class page designers. And the visual staff is highly appreciated by the management as one of the paper’s key assets, and constantly encouraged to explore the possibilities and try out new ideas.
For instance, look at this great front page from last Friday, promoting a special supplement on music festivals:
NEVERTHELESS, I have the impression that all this visual hype has gone too far. In earlier blogposts, I wrote about what I see as the lack of a critical eye in the editorial department when it comes to Politiken’s use of photographs. Another observation I have made is that ever more frequently, I choose to read the Politiken e-paper on my iPad instead of the paper version, partly because it is more handy but just as much because every broadsheet page does in fact contain so little information that I can easily overview it on the 241x186 mm screen.
Yesterday, once again I sat there with the feeling that an awful lot of paper had been wasted.
The front of the Sunday B-section looked like this:
THIS FRONT PAGE promotes a two-page interview with Danish actress, author, artist, film director, etc, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis.
It is an interesting interview, portraying an interesting person. As the headline suggests (both headlines do, in fact), she possesses an intriguing dualism, graceful lady and outspoken provocateur at the same time.
Lars Just’s photographs of her are beautiful and everybody in Denmark loves the sight of anemones as this flower signals the start of our favourite time of the year.
However, when I asked my wife, who had already read the article, what she had thought of the photos, she answered: ”To be honest, I did not notice them”.
IN MY EYES, this is a complete communicative failure. Altogether, we are talking close to half a square meter of color photography and its task is indisputable: Give Politiken’s readers a visual impression of a controversial, many-faceted person.
Instead, I get anemones.
NOW LOOK what might have happened to the communicative totality if the second photo had looked like this:
OR, even more provocative and, as such, expressing the very point of the story (the headline says, roughly, ”A graceful lady who refuses to keep her mouth shut”):
THE SELF-PORTRAIT TO THE RIGHT is titled Ordinary Hooker with Career Spoiler and was Bjarup Riis’ contribution to the Charlottenborg Art Exhibition 2006, a comment on the exploitation of women. Both the subject and the photograph are being thoroughly discussed in the interview.
If yesterday’s story had been presented in such a way, I am pretty sure my wife would have noticed. Moreover, this would have been a much more congenial visual representation of the interview. But of course, there is an infinite number of ”right” solutions, not just these two stitched together by me in a couple of minutes.
MY CONCLUSION? Politiken appears to be resting on its laurels, assuming that every big photo is a good photo, and all too often allowing its photographers to run free-style without paying any attention to the story. Shrinking the format will force everyone at the paper to consider much more critically what to print and what to frame and use for decorating the walls. As I just mentioned, I can’t wait for that to happen.