During the next year, The McClatchy Company will roll out redesigns to all its papers. It begins today with three in California - The Sacramento Bee, The Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star. The Fresno Bee follows next week.

"It is a total rethink" -- not just a redesign, wrote Garcia Media's CEO Mario Garcia in an email.

"In many ways, the broader concept is that we need to develop a publishing plan that has the ability to change much more quickly to keep up with the blazing pace of technology," said Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy's vice president of news, in an email. "We think what we've developed will help us to do that."

The Sacramento Bee on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum.)
The Sacramento Bee on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum.)

In March, Gyllenhaal wrote for Poynter about the process McClatchy went through leading up to the redesigns. McClatchy worked with Stanford's Institute of Design and Garcia Media Group. (Mario Garcia is on Poynter's Foundation board, and Poynter has retained Garcia Media Group to help with a redesign of Poynter.org.)

"We started working on this project eight months ago," Gyllenhaal said. "We realized that we'd been trying to bring about change incrementally for a half-dozen years and what was needed now was to step back and take a look at our entire approach to publishing and make changes all at one time to really reset how we work."

Here's a look at a few of the ways McClatchy approached the changes that begin today.

They listened to readers

"In the old days of newspaper redesign, we’d redesign the appearance and then try to sell them on the concept after the fact," said Jim Boren, executive editor of The Fresno Bee, in a phone interview.

This time, McClatchy papers did a lot more listening.

"We did hundreds of interviews with readers to get started, and that helped us to sketch out some basic ideas that we then tested with readers, filled out changes and gradually put into a pretty ambitious plan," Gyllenhaal said. "It included a number of key elements: updating all platforms at the same time, rethinking the print edition to work in a digital era, experimenting with the fundamentals of storytelling to respond to reader trends, and then creating an overarching design that wove all this together."

To get that feedback, Gyllenhaal said people from across McClatchy were divided into groups to focus on print and digital publishing, storytelling, readership research and alternatives for advertising. Those groups worked with readership groups.

"Gradually, all this began to come together and we set up plans for how to put things into place," he said.

Reader input and testing has happened across McClatchy's market in great depth, Boren said.

"That process will continue as we launch," he said. "We'll tweak as we go."

Joyce Terhaar, The Sacramento Bee's executive editor, said the same.

"What we’re entering is a very iterative kind of era, particularly for digital," she said in a phone interview. "In reality, digital is where we need to be constantly improving and pushing the envelope on what we’re doing."

They're reflecting the tempo of day

News at McClatchy papers now fits into what people there called tempos -- breaking and in-depth. That's not exactly new for newspapers or news sites, but it is a change in how the paper and digital offerings approach the day.

"It’s a different philosophy," said Boren. "We were very focused on print I think throughout my career, but even as technology changed the way we delivered the news, we were still pretty print-centric."

The Merced Sun-Star on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum)
The Merced Sun-Star on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum)

Redefining the storytelling process to be platform- and time-specific was one of the most exciting parts of the process, Garcia said.

"The notion of frequency and recency has been reviewed through a variety of workshops," he said, "leading to a series of very specific storytelling palettes that will vary according to platform, with the two tempos in place (lean forward for mobile, lean back for print), and with a sense of the NOW guiding the selection and presentation of stories throughout the day."

Some of this is really about culture. Like other newsrooms, McClatchy papers have been working on culture for years, Terhaar said, and they've made progress. But it wasn't enough.

"As much as we’re doing to actually change the product, the harder work that we've been doing, the more important work, is around the culture in our newsroom."

That includes a complete change to how people in the newsroom approach their day. (The South Florida Sun Sentinel did something similar last fall.) Now, the papers have four digital programming periods a day that serve as their primary deadlines. By the time the final print deadline approaches, the work should mostly be done, Terhaar said.

That changes the timing and pacing of the newsroom and also how they think about storytelling, she said.

"The design has a lot of flexibility in it, but it also incorporates the coverage concepts that we've developed in this work," Gyllenhaal said. "Foremost is that we'll focus above all in the two tempos of news: what's happening right now, what's new and breaking, on the one hand, and the deeper story, the full story, on the other. Every part of our design highlights those two concepts."

'It's just going to look different'

What readers and users may notice the most today, though, is how the newspapers and the sites look.

"Immediately, it’s just going to look different," Terhaar said.

McClatchy will have a unified visual approach across all of its products, she said, which is new for the company. The navigation is simplified, which will benefit mobile users. Sites in different cities won't be identical, but there will be a shared look, said Joe Kieta, The Modesto Bee's editor, in a phone interview.

The Modesto Bee on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum)
The Modesto Bee on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12. (Front pages via Newseum)

Looking at the digital and print products before the rethink/redesign, he said, "the type is different, the design is different. This is going to marry up a lot of that, especially with typography."

"We have a new McClatchy typeface called 'McClatchy,'" Terhaar said, and it was designed to be multiplatform, moving from print to digital.

And since so much traffic comes directly to article pages, those have also been rethought, she said. Each now has two video players, one that's a McClatchy video player that allows for more prominent video on the site. The second, which brings in video from different sources, offers the papers a cut of revenue as well.

McClatchy will roll out the redesigns in waves, she said, and with each new wave will come more digital tools.

"The goal is to get to this place where it works extremely well on smart phones," Terhaar said.

And while print still matters, this is first and foremost a digital play, Kieta said.

"We have completely rethought how we go about our jobs here with digital as the primary focus and print being an off shoot of that," he said.

"This was the project of projects in that we were able to take a well established media organization with 29 well known and vibrant dailies and rethink everything from storytelling philosophies, newsroom strategies, content flow and sectioning, and, most importantly, the issue of frequency in the digital age of the now media quintet," Garcia said. "It is not an opportunity that comes often, but that more newsrooms need to take advantage of. We are at the crossroads of major transition, positive change and this is the time to question what we do and how we can do it better. This is what happened with our project at McClatchy."

Screen shot from Thursday, May 14.
Screen shot from Thursday, May 14.
Screen shot, Thursday, May 14.
Screen shot, Thursday, May 14.
Screen shot, Thursday, May 14.
Screen shot, Thursday, May 14.