AJC gets a new look

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently underwent a redesign. James Mallory, Senior Managing Editor and Vice President of News, explains the project and its outcome.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently underwent a redesign. James Mallory, Senior Managing Editor and Vice President of News, explains the project and its outcome:

1) What did the redesign entail? Describe what you did and the process.

During a nearly two-year process that included research and prototyping, we redesigned the Sunday and daily newspapers for the readers. We balanced their needs with the efficiencies that we needed. Along the way, we also decided to narrow the width of the paper to 44 inches. New press upgrades allowed us to use more color throughout the paper.

The design was done by an in-house team led by our design chief Will Alford who collaborated with Montreal-based Lucie Lacava. The main focus of the redesign was the Sunday paper. Our research showed that we had the greatest potential to not only stabilize, but even increase, Sunday circulation, if we created a paper to serve the Sunday reader. We learned that people like the idea of relaxing with their Sunday newspaper, so the paper has a more relaxed design that invites readers to take some time with it.

Daily readers told us that they wanted the news and topics of interest delivered in a way that reflected their busy schedules. Our daily design gives readers a sweep of news and topics most often in a quick way. The Sunday and daily papers are better organized with consistent sectioning. We have denser design to get in more news and clearer headlines that boil things down for readers.

We also are involving readers with devises such as "Check our Sources" and "Pro/Con." These devises help readers make up their own minds about significant issues.

2) How did you get readers involved in the process?

We engaged readers early on, researching readers' interest and using that information to build prototype concepts. We then posted early prototypes on a reader internet site. This helped us narrow our design options. The next iteration of prototypes were taken to focus and refined further. By launch, more than 3,000 people had been involved in the process through telephone surveys, internet commenting and live focus groups.

3) How have the readers responded?

As expected many readers were not happy with the changes — type too small (new font), paper too narrow, less content, loud colors, etc. Editors did blogs with readers discussing the changes. We were able to make some tweaks to the presentation that addressed many of the consistent complaints.

4) What advice would you have for other editors who are considering a redesign?

During the prototyping process, reach out to readers as much as possible. Loyal readers care about their newspapers and have some surprising insight about what they want. Prior to launch, the publisher and editor each published letters to readers explaining the upcoming changes.

5) What lessons did you learn?

We sought readers reaction online. Some of the initial reaction was brutal. We picked up some trends in the responses that caused up to make some tweaks to the design and text. We also came to realize that many of the most negative comments — bias, etc. — came from people who had not read our paper in years.

Mallory can be reached at