Q&A with Mario Garcia

Poynter Online contributor Bob Andelman interviews Dr. Mario Garcia earlier this week for an in-depth Q & A about the Miami Herald redesign and the future of news design.

You’ve described the Miami Herald as your hometown newspaper, the one through which you learned English as a young Cuban immigrant, and through which you remember first hearing of many historic events, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the arrival of the Beatles and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. How did that connection make this assignment different from the hundreds that came before it?

The main difference is that this is where I grew up. I’ve lived three places in my life -– Miami, Syracuse, and Tampa. I arrived in Miami on an airplane from Cuba on February 28, 1962. I was in Miami from age 14 until I was 29. I was here for junior high, high school, and junior college. My mother still lives here. If I did a redesign like this anywhere else, the usual response is “Congratulations” or “We hate it, bring back the old one!” Here, it’s an avalanche from everyone I ever knew -– “Do you remember me?” It’s like a high school reunion. I put it out there to my classmates, teachers, and peers. It has a level of emotion. I was nervous. It was beyond, “What could go wrong with the design?” It was, “What will people think?” It was a homecoming. The e-mails I received since Monday have proved it.

I could fall flat on my face in Fargo, North Dakota, and nobody would know me. But this was Miami. It was like a virtual class reunion. I didn’t see any of these people, but I have gotten letters that are incredible, including the girl who turned me down for the senior class prom. It was moving.

One woman wrote and said that her father was working for Immigration the day I arrived in Miami, working with children who were traveling alone. He kept his logs, so she looked up that date and found my name. She tore the page out and sent it to me.

A bar here said it would like to name a drink after me. “We have a Mojito, why not the “Marito?,” they said. I never had that working on other newspapers. But I think it was probably a high school clown friend of mine.

Had the Herald lost anything from what you remember of it in the 1960s? Was it anything you wanted back?

It was two different worlds. The majority of the population then was Anglo and English-speaking. This is now a Spanish-speaking community with a high contingent of immigrants; more than 58 percent of the people living here were not born here. Like me. We wanted a Latin feel, but still we wanted it to feel like a metropolitan daily. This is still an major American daily.

I think we probably brought back some of the (old) energy. But aside from that, the paper is more colorful, it’s bolder. It has to have an edge in Miami. There is competition here with the Sun-Sentinel. It’s similar in a sense to competition in the St. Petersburg and Tampa market. You have a good newspaper facing you every day, which creates good journalism in both papers.

Was the website redesigned as part of this project? Or will it be?


We had nothing to do with that. In our next project –- Newsday in Long Island — we’ll do both. That one we’ll start by the end of this week.

Can modern newspapers redesign their print editions and not redesign their online counterparts?

I think they should be done simultaneously. But I think the (Herald) will be taking a look at their website. In a perfect world –- at the Wall Street Journal, we did both. At Newsday, we’ll do both. I prefer we do both; first do print, then halfway through that, begin the parallel process to the website.

Do you prepare any differently for redesigning a newspaper website, as compared with a newspaper itself?

Somewhat differently. I think the audience is slightly different. You have people tapping into the Miami Herald website who want to know the news of Miami who live in Miami, who grew up there or do business there — but they could be in Australia. I believe you have to have local photos and the lead on online should be local. Otherwise, I’ll bypass it. If I am in Sweden or Germany, I go to the St. Petersburg Times or Tampa Tribune websites, I already know the international stories. I go to those sites to read about St. Petersburg or Tampa — the local area. But I respect that a paper like that has to have a front-page story on Baghdad. On the web, I think it’s important to lead with local stories, local photos, local sports. That’s what people come to them for.

What is the number one issue you find yourself addressing in redesigning a newspaper?

The storytelling process. How they tell the stories. The tools they use to tell different types of stories. Some of the elements are similar. The whole idea of points of entry. Do you want to go into small text or just read the large strokes?

Many papers are very simplistic. They assume readers read like their grandfathers did, page by page.

What is the best part of an assignment like the Miami Herald?

At the end of the day, the satisfaction is that you are able to enable change. But it’s also the people you meet. Out of a newsroom of 250, if you can convince 15 to change, that’s a good day. A launch at these newspapers is like a giant 747. You have to take apart the wings and everything else and put them back together in flight. When you see them back together and flying high, that’s a great satisfaction.

What’s the worst?

It’s when you have editors who do not understand visuals. And rather than try to learn, they become obstacles in the process. They think designers are anti-word, but we’re all journalists. There are editors who don’t believe in what we do. And usually, there’s one in every place.

Tell me about the “5 Minute Herald.” How did it come about?
We wanted to create a three-track readership. If you wanted your traditional, full-course meal/newspaper, you could still get and read it all. Then we had the scanners, the person we call the multi-tasker, who needs something smaller. The “5 Minute Herald” is a mini-Herald that piggybacks on the bigger Herald. If you’re home making coffee and reading the “5 Minute Herald” while it brews, you will at least have some idea what’s going on.

A scanner is characterized by impatience. The sort who only looks at pictures and reads anything that’s 12-point or bigger, is used to clicking and scrolling online -– and does that on the printed page as well.

And there is a reader behind the scanners who has an aversion to reading, even the 12-point type.

We all fit into these three tracks at some point.

We have one great editor, Terry Jackson, who works full-time on this. He compiles, he edits. He doesn’t have to mirror the index of the Miami Herald. These are the stories that Terry thinks you need to know. It will satisfy you or entice you to read on. At lunchtime or before you go to bed, maybe you’ll read the rest. I think this is the first American newspaper to do this. The Australians did this in the Sydney Morning Herald, I think.

I predict it might be the “3 Minute Herald” by the end of the year. We started with the “10 Minute Herald.” We took that to focus groups six weeks ago and they said, “Ten minutes? That’s a relationship.” Lots of T-shirts have been thrown out. So we took it to 5. It depends on what kind of coffee machine you have. If you can brew your coffee in two-and-a-half minutes, the “5 Minute Herald” is two-and-a-half minutes too long for you. And if you can brew your coffee the night before and just micro it in the morning, the “1 Minute” might be the answer.

If we had a lot of tea drinkers, we could go to the “12 Minute Herald.”

What models were there for the “5 Minute Herald”? For people who haven’t yet seen it, is it more Wall Street Journal or USA Today?

It’s very inspired by the Wall Street Journal — if the Wall Street Journal would stretch its “What’s New” into this. You read this and we can reassure you got what you need to get going today.

And is USA Today a distant cousin?

It may be. They used to do this 25 years ago. Now their text is longer. USA Today was the pre-Internet animal and the pre-scanner animal. They realized people wanted good stories but they wanted them shorter.

What are the implications of doing the “5 Minute Herald” online? Isn’t that what most newspaper’s websites already open with?

Five minutes online could be an eternity. Online, this would probably translate to two minutes. It’s too soon to tell.

Is it a short-term gimmick to acquaint readers with the redesign or a long-term strategy?

This is a long-term strategy. This business of a paper-within-a-paper will live a long time. I think it will last.

Did recent research reports by the Readership Institute affect the overall Herald redesign?

Very much so. It was our briefing at the beginning, not a mandate. We learned how Latins are used to seeing color in their newspapers. The reader we’re trying to lure is the young Hispanic woman. Nationally, Hispanics are younger. We want the Latin flair while preserving everything the Herald was for 100 years. But the research helped. There was tons of information. It was the foundation on which we started. The need for better navigation all came out of that research.

How much did you have to do with the new content – “The 5-Minute Herald,” the renaming to “Tropical Life” and its switch to a tabloid? What elements are yours, your staff’s or the Herald‘s staff’s?

I participated in all content discussions, but this was pretty much done by their editorial people. Tons of discussions about content, especially developing the philosophy of the “5 Minute Herald,” and also the reorganization of “Tropical Life,” as well as “Business Monday,” which will be more local and more focused on small businesses in the area.

Has El Nuevo Herald changed as well? Is there a “Nuevo 5 Minute Herald?”
El Nuevo has not changed. Not as part of this project. Maybe in the future, who knows?

After so many years and so many redesigns, can you quantify the effects of a redesign?

Difficult to do, but not impossible. Design alone does not guarantee success. Changes in content — new, vibrant content, actually, determines success in a more consistent way. No doubt that packaging helps. But, at the end of the day, it is the content that lures and keeps the readers. The Wall Street Journal’s introduction of “Personal Journal” has been a tremendous success factor in the redesign of 2002.

Mario, you said this week that “in 20 years, all newspapers will be tabloids.” Is that a good thing?

Less is best. Smaller is better. Readers everywhere prefer the small format. So, in my opinion, it is a good thing.

How will that affect design?

Not at all. Design is all about making stories easy to find, easy to read, attractive to the eye. The size of the publication does not really affect these factors.

Was the Herald’s hesitancy to go tabloid in part due to most U.S. tabloids often being viewed — rightly or wrongly — as the second-best paper in their city?

That has a lot to do with history more than anything else. Tabloids in this country were always the down market product. But the Christian Science Monitor is a tab. It’s highly respected. And you have Newsday on Long Island. I have done many tabs that are highly respectable.

What will all newspaper websites be in 20 years?

They will look less like newspapers. The user will be able to play editor more intensely, navigation will move them faster, photography will be a more important element.

But, guessing what things are going to be in 20 years is so difficult, especially in a fast-changing medium like news websites.

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