POSTSCRIPT / February 20, 2007 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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STAR is smaller now, but heftier and handier

COMPACT: If your Philippine STAR copy now feels handier and more compact, looking fresh and brighter, it is because of changes in form and content quietly introduced by management.

If you have not noticed it yet, the STAR page format is one inch narrower on the side.

There is no diminution in the overall content, thanks to more disciplined writing and tighter editing. Besides, the reduction in the total print area is spread over the entire issue from the front to the back cover.

One hefty bonus from the makeover is the P60 million in savings expected in one year from reduced newsprint consumption.

PhilSTAR president/CEO Miguel G. Belmonte says that the savings will be used to further improve the product and enhance readers’ satisfaction.

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MARKET FORCE: Why the downsizing? Did we have to replace, refit or retool our behemoth printing presses?

The shift to a narrower format is actually a response to the market, to the requirements of both readers and advertisers.

The old broadsheets had been unusually wide, because Philippine newspapers aped their big American counterparts. In fact the entire newspaper industry in the country is an attempted imitation of US systems.

Newsroom operations are also generally patterned after American models.

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AMERICAN SIZE: But the American-size broadsheet familiar to generations of readers was just too big, too cumbersome, for most Filipinos.

Try opening a broadsheet (the older newspapers) while on a moving jeepney, bus or light train filled with passengers. It just does not make sense.

A smaller paper’s convenient size is one of the reasons why commuters, and eventually readers at home, prefer the tabloids (half the size of a broadsheet). This convenience factor is aside from their easier Taglish and sensationalized presentation.

If the broadsheets want to keep up with their readers, many of whom have been shifting to TV and radio, they should downsize to a handier, compact format. That they save money in the process is a bonus.

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GIANT-SIZED: There is a parallel phenomenon with cars. There was a time when American-size eight-cylinder vehicles hogged the roads. We went along with the US trend despite the expense and the inconvenience.

But the question of why Filipinos should drive big-size cars when four-cylinder Asian-size vehicles would serve their purposes better refused to go away. Smaller cars came, and now they rule the road.

The same question and the same response have overtaken the newspaper industry.

Soon it will not just be the format, but also the content and language that will have to adjust — maybe grudgingly — to the increasingly demanding Pinoy reader.

Newspapers, even abroad, are losing out to the broadcast media: television and radio. Part of the reason is traced to format, content and language. We will discuss this some other time.

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TYPOGRAPHY: You might have noticed also that our opinion pages now look and read better. There is a fresh and revitalized feel, although some readers may not be able to immediately say where the change has been.

I’ll pass on what our opinion editor Ramon M. Lim told me about the makeover of his section.

The kickers (e.g. “POSTSCRIPT” ) are now typed in a font called Impact , while the heads (e.g. “STAR is smaller now…” ) are in Franklin Gothic . They used to be in the leaner Garamond and Helvetica fonts, respectively.

The body text of the stories, features and columns throughout the paper is mostly in Palatino . I say “mostly” because some sections use special fonts for special effects.

Typography is an art, also a science. Most readers may not know about fonts or families of types, but that is all right. What counts is in how the reader somehow feels the attraction of certain types and the resulting reading ease.

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AD REQUIREMENTS: As I mentioned earlier, the makeover — especially in the page and column widths — was also dictated by advertising.

The ad agencies had to prepare two layouts, because the major newspapers had different page specifications. The situation meant more expenses and inconvenience for everybody.

The STAR opted to follow the narrower page width, a move that the advertising agencies welcomed. We did not miss a beat doing it or sow confusion all over the place.

Aside from planning and follow-through, the main thing management did was just to order newsprint rolls of a different size. The machines took in the new rolls and the staff did not have to go into contortions to adjust.

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DREAM RATIO: Newspapers have many sources of income, especially those that have diversified to allied businesses, but the two main profit centers have been advertising and circulation.

The marketing department is actually selling two complementary things. It is selling copies (circulation) and space (advertising).

The dream of most newspapers in town is to achieve a ratio of 60:40 for advertising to editorial. This means that total print space is to be occupied 60 percent by advertising and 40 percent by editorial (or non-advertising) matter.

I have seen editions of the STAR that appear to have a ratio of 50:50, or half-and-half advertising and editorial. That is below the dream ratio, but that is more than good enough for most newspaper owners.

Leafing through copies of a newspaper or magazine, we can evaluate roughly if that publication is making money or throwing way millions. My impression is that only four newspapers (not counting the tabloids, which are of a different breed), are profitable.

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AD RATES: How much does it cost to advertise? The rates are available from our advertising department, but the last figure I heard is that one whole page costs some P200,000, with the actual cost depending on many things.

As a rule, a color ad costs about twice that of a black and white ad of the same size. There are discounts, and commissions are given to ad agencies.

As for political ads, now that the election period is upon us, the rule is “Pay as you enter.”

It has to be “money down” for politicians. When dealing with them, experience has taught us that win or lose, most political advertisers who publish their materials on credit get scarce after the elections.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 20, 2007)

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