Saving The New York Times From Oblivion
For the complete text of this historic advertisement, click here.
Why declare an advertisement—which sells something—to be the model for every editorial page of The New York Times and indeed all writing in print and online?
As writers, we are all selling.
We are selling the reader on continuing on to the next word, next sentence, next paragraph and next page—all the way to the end.
Create one boring paragraph, and the reader is gone.
We are all a mouse-click away from oblivion.
2. The New York Times Online Edition
Not only is the audience on our website shrinking, but our audience on our smartphone apps has dipped, an extremely worrying sign on a growing platform. —NYT Innovation Report
Coming late in life to the computer, I was slow to pick up on the digital reading experience being different from print.
I was schooled primarily by Vrest Orton's screed on the evils of sans serif type (opens as a PDF)—my bible for 30 years.
When I started this cranky column in 2005, a reader wrote me with a question about the ideal font for online readability. It set me off on a quest resulting in a long column on the subject.
The upshot: where serif type is the best practice for print, sans serif is ideal for digital reading.
The best quick discussion of digital readability is "In Search Of: The Best Online Reading Experience" by Sara Dickenson Quinn.
Suffice it to say The New York Times website—the entire thing—is in serif type.
The Times editors are shoveling a 19th century design model into 21st century media.
Takeaways to Consider
- "Neatness rejects involvement." —Lew Smith
- Compared to film, television, YouTube, texting, Tweeting, surfing the Internet or attending a sporting event, reading a lot of words is hellishly hard, boring work.
- "It takes hard writing to make easy reading." —Jack London
- It takes world-class design to make easy reading.
- "Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs." —Andrew J. Byrne
- Any sentence longer than 29 words is extremely difficult to read.
- A display subhead of two or three lines between your headline and your body copy will heighten the reader's appetite for the feast to come.After two or three inches of copy, insert your first crosshead, and thereafter pepper crossheads throughout. They keep the reader marching forward. Make some of them interrogative, to excite curiosity in the next run of copy.