USA Today’s balls aren’t the problem

I have problems with the redesign of America’s McPaper.

And, no, it isn’t about the oft-discussed and much-maligned “Dot,” “Ball,” “Circle of Shit,” or whatever other term I have heard and you might have used. Once they started having fun with it — like the cannon for the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam — I didn’t really have a problem with it.

My real problem is one borne more of age, perhaps, than taste. My disdain for the new look is a practical one: The body fonts suck. And they don’t suck like the Cullens. They suck much worse. Yeah. It’s that bad.

Mind you, the typeface is not what is offensive. What kills me is the point size. It is way too small. I get that with ever-narrowing web sizes space is getting even more precious. But in an attempt to fit more (or, more likely, the same) number of words in the paper, they have made one of the world’s most reader-friendly papers one of the world’s least reader-friendly papers.

They still just jump one story from each section front and provide a visually compelling paper at first glance. But what made USA Today a must-have on business trips and vacation bathroom visits while waiting on the wife and kids was that it was an easy read. It was quick. Get in. Get out. Get what you need.

Before the redesign, USA Today was a paper you could scan in line. The body type was a readable 10-12 point serif and the graphics popped visually. The criticism was that it wasn’t deep enough. It never had to be. Quick information. Section cover stories that went more in-depth. Color. For the person on the move, it was a quad espresso of news. It was CNN Headline News for the subway, bus, plane or line at Starbucks.

Now, my bifocals come off. I have to work to read it. And while I like to work to read The New York Times, that is not why I pick up USA Today. Not by a long shot. The graphics body font is what appears to be an agate-sized Helvetica Neue. It is not hefty enough for the size at which it is employed and bleeds away into the clean, white newsprint stock that used to make the paper “pop.”

The USA Snapshots graphics used to be so cool. I loved them when USA Today debuted in 1982. I was 18 and just starting to get into the newspaper “habit.” Right there in the corner I could find an interesting, illuminating or offbeat fact presented in visual way that was in your face like Bill Belichick with a replacement referee. No longer. The graphic is now one column by about an inch and a half.

The  information is still great. Today’s Life section Snapshot is about parents’ worries about their college-bound children. But it is so small that it seems buried and doesn’t give me that old pre-redesign informational punch in the nose.

And if I get past all that, the television listings can only be read with an electron microscope. If I am in my hotel john wondering what to watch while I debate the merits of the honor bar, I want to be able to look, learn and act. Not squint.

My dad used to always say “You dance with who brung ya.” USA Today has decided to switch partners. It has forgotten its McPaper roots. Those roots took the established principles of print journalism and said, “Watch this. Fast isn’t always bad.” And the paper was right.

I know I am not that young anymore. And I want to show a little faith. I want to believe there is still magic in the night. But USA Today is no longer a beauty and she is no longer all right.

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One Response to USA Today’s balls aren’t the problem

  1. Russ Hill says:

    Beautifully stated. Despite hoping the editors of USAToday would come to their senses and return to what made it a unique and everyday requirement, they seem hell bent on trying to turn it into something it successfully avoided being: an unreadable, unfocused, NYTimes wannabe. The new leadership should be horse-whipped for ruining a nearly perfect product and fired. But that’s just one man’s opinion, sugar coated though it is.

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