In which I spend a bit of time before breakfast browsing through the new paper that arrived in my letterbox... the good, bad and meh
My first impression is that we're going to get on rather well. Good looking, a sparky conversation starter, full of top yarns, and with a serious side. Yes, me and the new compact/tabloid Herald are going to get along just fine.
On day one, anyway.
Yes, today's the day of the new New Zealand Herald, shrunk and re-cut for a new market. You know it's a big deal because it was on the TV news last night; if you can remember the last time TV paid any attention to the print industry, you've got a better memory than me.
Broadsheets are increasingly unusual around the world, so it's only ever been a matter of when this change would come, not if. Compact is considered more convenient and easier to manage in a more mobile world. Perhaps those who should feel most gleeful about this are the pro-public transport lobby; a compact newspaper is a sign Auckland is becoming an increasingly commuter city and the paper needs to be easy to read in that environment.
I love an actual, rather than virtual, newspaper and still subscribe. Heck, if you didn't realise, I used to work there. So I still feel some affection for the old girl. Or should I say new girl. RIP Granny Herald, here's comes maybe sister or Aunty Herald? She's certainly fresher, but it's too early to pick a generation yet.
Audrey Young and Anna Leask provide the big stories for what's a top front page – the judge's report on David Bain has been leaked to Young and it's "innocent". Leask has the closest thing thus far to what every news reporter wants – the interview with Kylee Guy. In this case it's actually a letter urging the judge to throw the book at her brother-in-law Ewen Macdonald, but hey it's a strong get.
The scariest and potential most significant story was the page 5 lead on dying bees; that's serious if it's more than just a one-off and they should keep digging.
The pictures are good (although I'd expected more graphics), the designers aren't afraid of white space and have chosen great fonts, there's some nice paper stock and stapling in there. The index and briefing on the inside page looks good – I wonder if anyone will use it.
It doesn't feel stupid, but I imagine there'll be an inevitable kick-back from some readers to whom it feels light and less substantial. The editors have sworn the story count won't be down, but we're tactile creatures and some will feel that something that looks smaller and brighter must have less substance intellectually as well.
Might they have a point? I haven't got last Monday's Herald to do a count comparison, but I do have Thursday's Business section. It's a random comparison based on what was still in the recycling – and the different days may be significant – but Thursday's eight local stories compare to today's 5.5 locals (Brian Fallow did a sidebar to his own article that I've called a 0.5).
I'm not reading too much into that, except that you'd think on your first day you'd err on the side of more.
So given that I've looked over this with a critics eye, let me offer the criticism. The Herald's been going after Judge Raoul Neave for a while now, but in an example of bad timing's today's effort by David Fisher just looks petty and like a personal grudge. Alannah Eriksen's piece on the cheapest and most expensive houses in the country's a fun idea, but if you set out to show "the widening gap" of anything then you need more than just one set of figures. But there's no historic examples of cheapest and most expensive, so by its own measure it fails to tell the story. Oh, and Wanganui is in Wanganui, not the Manawatu. This is why people outside of Auckland hate Auckland so much.
Having an 'Around New Zealand' section may not be much a winner outside of Auckland either; it's like the rest of the country is an after-thought. What, only three stories from other places? Just let them blend into the mix, making a ghetto for them didn't work for me.
The Metro section worked on its one, maybe two, clear and distinct broadhseet pages. It's a bit lost in here so some thought needs to be given to defining it better. And a single photo on a pages of ads isn't worthy.
The World looks good, with The Bulletin of what's ahead this week good fodder. Opinion is solid – and text heavy – without looking terribly bold or innovative. Toby Manhire's the strongest addition to the little-changed line-up, but seems such an inevitable choice. Maybe it's the nature of being a small country, but there's no name there that surprises or titillates. The yes/no debate looks a good addition.
(And that's not to mention the little things – there's a section one story about people living in New Zealand for the lifestyle and a magazine story about the same thing, yet no pointer. Maybe they were printed at different times, but that's a little lost opportunity).
In all, the main news section is strong. Sport looks a lot like the old sport in different order, which is fine. Not everything has to be radical upheaval. The new food magazine bite has a sense of fun about it and at first glance seems to mix ambitions recipes with achievable ones. The paper's rather white and flash and the space breathes nicely. But I'm not really the demographic here, so you can take my comments with a large grain of salt.
Putting Business and Entertainment together feels odd, but new shapes always mean a bit of squeezing and squashing here and there. Like Sport, Business has had lots of Fridays to get used to a compact shape, so it feels like less of an overhaul. The best thing in there today is Liam Dann's call to arms on behalf of business reporters everywhere. I'm not sure if I agree with everything, but then that's just what you want. It got me having a conversation with him in my head, which is kind of the point.
The biggest disappointment of the day is the quarterly magazine. It's got a big 'h' on it, but it seems it's simply called The Magazine. Which isn't a great start. Sarah Walker and Lisa Carrington are an excellent – if somewhat obvious – choice as cover girls. But the cover pic is a weak choice, the black being the least flattering of the outfits on display. In fact, I remember struggling to get Herald news photographers to think 'magazines', so maybe they should think about freelancers. But that's the least of it, really. The Magazine runs to 64 pages, but is a bit of a random mish-mash. It has no real identity or coherence, I don't know why these stories have been chosen or what to expect next time, and if there's an internal order I don't see it.
Overall, however, this is an inevitable, important and mostly successful revamp. But one day is nothing. The eternal truth is that you're only as good as your last performance and the real achievement won't be measured in one day, but in the quality of the words and pictures presented inside this new shape, day-in and day-out.