The Star Tribune, reimagined as a tabloid

Last week, I promised you more summer fun with the Star Tribune’s comprehensive online survey, so here’s the latest installment.

This one’s a visual. The text is kinda small (click on the image for a larger look), but the set-up is, “If you lived in a city like Chicago, you would have a choice between two different types on daily newspapers.”

Readers are then asked to pick between a broadsheet (the Chicago Tribune, left) and a tabloid (the Chicago Sun-Times, right):

Now, surveys such as these cast a wide net by design, though the idea of a tabloid Strib is somewhat mind-boggling. Tabloids are generally the province of a market’s feistier (and often smaller) papers; the format grabs you with big photos and blaring headlines, and makes a skinny paper look meatier. The speculation over the years is that the Pioneer Press might go this way locally.

Tabloids are often thought of as “commuter” papers in transit-heavy towns — they’re a lot easier to read on a train, for example. While light rail is toddling along in the Twin Cities, there probably aren’t enough straphangers here to recommend the format.

Then again, there’s evidence out there younger readers prefer the picture-heavy format in almost all circumstances — for example, City Pages is a tab, and so is the Strib’s own vita.mn. Of course, both of those are freebies.

However, the Bakersfield Californian just converted to a tabloid on weekdays, while preserving the broadsheet for Sunday readers.

The Strib survey killed a little of the fun by not imagining itself as a tabloid. Thanks to our own Photoshop whiz, Corey Anderson, we’ve altered the question using the Strib’s Monday front page, and an alt-version:

I know you want to soak in the details.

Here’s a close-up of the tabloid cover:

It’s fun to ponder whether the Strib would put out two editions — a broadsheet for olds like me who get the paper home delivered, and an aggressive tab to sell in stores and newspaper boxes. Of course, two versions might raise production costs and design hassles, but the Chicago Tribune does do something like this with its young-skewing, featherweight daily Red Eye.

Then again, the Trib is in bankruptcy, too.

Of course, this only changes the sizzle, not the steak — but assuming content (if not emphasis) remained the same, which would you prefer, and why? Comments most welcome.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by CJ Sinner on 08/17/2009 - 01:13 pm.

    I gotta say, I kind of like the tab version! It’s weird, to imagine the Strib as that, but I think it would work well, especially to bring in younger readers (like myself at 22), who are used to reading smaller, more compact publications (ahem, magazines). As for not yet being a commuter city per se, I do think more young people, especially the college set who travels via bus quite frequently, would be more apt to read a tab. I think there’s something to be said for still reading a PAPER version of news, it feels kind of old-schooley, but I can’t tell you how many of my former college colleagues said they just can’t stand reading a huge broadsheet. Plus, as you point out, the Strib IS in bankrupcy … maybe doing something off-the-wall outrageous is worth it — it’s not like they have much more to lose.

  2. Submitted by Pat McGee on 08/17/2009 - 01:18 pm.

    I grew up reading a tabloid shape newspaper (Newsday) and the broadsheet papers (NY Times, Herald Tribune). Tabloid is much easier to handle but I’ll take content over format any day. And there’s very little content in the Strib that hasn’t been published elsewhere in more depth.

  3. Submitted by Pat Backen on 08/17/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    They are wasting their time with this one.

    I haven’t looked at a hard copy of the paper in years, and won’t pick one up in any format.

    If the focus moves to content, they *might* survive. At least anecdotally, even trips to their website have been shrinking in my circle of family and friends.

    To paraphrase the old saying: “Content, content, content”.

  4. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 08/17/2009 - 02:01 pm.

    Amen, Pat. The Strib is loosing me because of its lack of content. And whatever format they choose, they need to make sure they don’t drop the comics. My dad always said, “You need to read the comics first so that you can read the news.” I’ve always found it to be true.

  5. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/17/2009 - 02:05 pm.

    10 or more years back the Strib had an experiment where they made over the front page for single copy. The boost if any were not worth the extra cost. Business used to say how much can be made? In this new enviroment there are more likely to say how much will it cost? Just a little institutional memory here. A lot of reading is done over a table so the old format works best.

  6. Submitted by Jim Johnson on 08/17/2009 - 02:11 pm.

    Back in the 50s there was a tabloid newspaper out of Minneapolis called the Minneapolis Times. It was short lived but was said to be convenient for reading as it was smaller in sheet size then the Star/Tribune and contained much of the same news items. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this forum and repeat history in the newsprint business. With the financial distress the media is now in any change might change the financial condition of the newspaper industry.

  7. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 08/17/2009 - 02:20 pm.

    If they want to invest money in a new layout, I strongly suggest that they do it online first. What they have now is very old school.

  8. Submitted by Bob Spaulding on 08/17/2009 - 03:14 pm.

    Seems to me that if we’re gonna see a tabloid in the Cities, it’s better matched with where the Pi Press seems to be headed under Singleton.

  9. Submitted by Tom Horner on 08/17/2009 - 03:34 pm.

    Actually, I think the Strib has been steadily improving its content lately. While the news hole continues to shrink with the economy, the staff is doing a much better job of enterprise reporting. Still, you have to think of the fun a tabloid could produce. What newspaper other than the New York Post would headline Bill Clinton’s successful negotiations with the North Koreans, “Bill can still get the women”?

  10. Submitted by Douglas Gogerty on 08/17/2009 - 03:54 pm.

    It seems to me, that the STrib will try anything to improve profitability except the one thing that people want. Haven’t they figured out that they are in trouble because they do not provide quality content? They keep attempting to put lipstick on the pig rather than changing the pig.

  11. Submitted by Lee Henderson on 08/17/2009 - 03:56 pm.

    As an under 40 newspaper reader, I love a Strib moving to tabloid idea. It works for Vita.mn and is quite frankly much easier to manage

  12. Submitted by Larry Pearson on 08/17/2009 - 06:15 pm.

    Back in the early 1970s, I spoke up at a Tribune staff meeting held at the Minnesota Press Club that was a bit of a brainstorming session. “New journalism” had created some restlessness among the staff and, as I recall, the meeting was intended to give folks an opportunity to vent.

    I’d not long before then worked at a tabloid and saw some advantages to that format. So I suggested that at least some sections of the paper could be offered in tabloid format. The idea was little noted nor long remembered.

    Tabloids don’t have to be brassy and they are easier for readers to handle.

  13. Submitted by Donn Satrom on 08/17/2009 - 11:31 pm.

    I’ll take the StarTribune in any format, as long as it does not have to be electronic.

  14. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/18/2009 - 10:50 am.

    Shrink the paper, shrink the news, shrink the editorial content? Will the local paper as we once knew it be devolving, deteriorating to a street shopper? Soon? Before you can say read-all-about-it?

    Colorful pics; faces with big teeth will dominate the front page. Then spin a commercial strip at the bottom selling crank case oil; or is it epsom salts? Can’t make it out but no matter. One could say it’s better than fat/flat belly ads that sidebar world and national news sites on the web one reads; the better to be informed. How long has it been since local paper considered itself prime purveyor of world, national news; as significant as ‘community’ happenings?

    Small papers, tabloids require small news boxes; an osmosis of sorts so readers will bend down before boxes no bigger than a cigarette pack with legs, but will be mistaken for relgious shrines so passing devotees may too often light a candle and the whole stand will go up in smoke. Even a not too literate fly with reader glasses, passing by, will ever leave more than a small splat on the content.

    Reader species will be reduced; size-wise also. Happening already and note too, little minds do fit better in small bodies; minds limited by content of the news.

    Reporters shrink too. Will become Lilliputian literalists trained in j-schools (note the ‘j’ reduced to small case) now hired, not for their skills in writing a good story but one that reads like a headline followed by a period. All the news that’s fit to shrink.

    Don’t forget the newsboy who stops at your door. He will shrink too, to accomodate the new publication…but woe indeed, he may be sequentially swallowed by the family dog who thinks boy is but fat bug coming up the sidewalk carrying a bag-tumor. Dog swallows ‘tumor’ first; pulp wad so small he can regurgitate it in one burp. But same dog had to admit…carrier was not bad.

    Yet, one must be receptive to change, like think of it this way…that Corporation so loves the reader, that he gave his only mis-begotten Sun – or Strib, or Pioneer Press, whatever – so that reader, journalist, and paper shall have everlasting life.

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