(Hey, didja miss me? Been gone a couple of weeks. Lots happened while I was out, and I’ll try to catch up as I go along.)
This month has brought us the new, improved Burlington Free Press. Not only are subscribers unwillingly subjected to a section of USA TODAY content, but the Freeploid website has been dumbified in USA TODAY style, banishing serifs, emphasizing pictures and minimizing text, and inducing more page-clicks per visit.
And the rest of the newspaper has been embiggened through the strategic use of generous margins, supersized fonts, and gigantic photos (some by actual photographers, but many shots from other Freeploid staffers or no-cost sources).
Clearly, its new slogan oughta be “The Paper For Folks Who Don’t Like to Read.”
The New Era of Freeploid Stupididity was launched on March 30 with another brimming-over-with-happy column by Jim Fogler, Grand Poobah of FreePressMedia. And as all astute Freeploid readers know, when Jim Fogler writes a column, it’s time to duck and cover.
His column was all about MORE! More national news and other USA TODAY “content.” “More information and more pages” … “as we nearly double the amount of local content.”
Please note that he said “content,” not “news.”
(There was also this subtly alarming sentence that should have Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen updating their resumes:
With USA Today focusing on the rest of the world, the Free Press newsroom can spend more time covering Chittenden County and counties throughout northern Vermont.
See what’s missing? The State House and state politics. The Freeploid has been diminishing state news for quite some time, but here’s Jim Fogler saying it out loud. Heck, I give ’em credit for keeping a two-person State House bureau as long as they have. But if I were Hallenbeck or Remsen, I’d be watching my back.)
To see how this commitment to MORE plays out in print, let’s take a look at a few pages from today’s Freeploid. (I’ve made the images small enough so the text is unreadable. I hope that mollifies the ‘Loid’s aggressive copyright enforcers.)
Here’s page B1, the front of the Vermont section. (Mistakenly labeled as C1 on the website’s E-newspaper, oopsie.) The cover story is a brief writeup of high water on Lake Champlain, whose text is dwarfed by photos. (The half-page photo, worthy of supersizing or not, is a staple of The New Freeploid’s layout.)
This page contains 148 words of text — but look: thanks to the purty pitchurs, it’s a full page of CONTENT. The story jumps to an interior page, also including gigantic photos and an additional soupçon of text.
And all the photos were taken, not by an actual photographer, but by Freeploid editorial writer Aki Soga. Presumably he sauntered down to the waterfront on his lunch hour and snapped a few shots on his smartphone. Who knew photojournalism was so easy? Take that, Margaret Bourke-White!
Next we have the first page of the sports section, with a timely piece about the Boston Bruins’ quest for the Stanley Cup, which begins tonight. The page is, credit where it’s due, artfully arranged. But it’s one page of “content” that includes a mere 116 words.
Written, not by a Freeploid scribe, but by an Associated Press reporter.
There you go, “readers”: Another page of “content.” I don’t know if this is counted as a page of “local content” even though there’s absolutely nothing local about it, but the Bruins are the home team for most Vermonters. So I suspect that this does qualify as “local” in the minds of Freeploid bean counters.
And now, for your very brief reading pleasure, we present a half-page of “content” containing four stock photos plus an incredible 241 words about selected upcoming events in the Burlington area.
This is the sort of thing that, in a real newspaper, would be accompanied by actually relevant local images. For Record Store Day, maybe a photo of Pure Pop Records or Burlington Records (‘sup, Jacob). For the theatrical production, maybe a shot from a rehearsal. If that’s too much effort for the downsized Freeploid staff, you can usually get decent pix from event organizers or publicists. It’s not hard. But instead, we get uninspired and uninspiring stock photos. Most likely the layout was done in some central office in New Jersey or Mumbai or some other non-Vermont location. Sheesh.
Finally, we have the second Opinion Page. No text at all (except for word balloons and captions), just three shamelessly oversized cartoons. None of them local.
Hey presto! An entire page of “content” with no pesky words to vex the uneducated. And brightly colored cartoons, perfect for attracting the youthful, presumably text-averse audience.
These pages are all too typical of the new, “improved,” bigger-but-not-better Burlington Free Press. Indeed, there are worse offenses, like half-page blow-ups of photos submitted by readers, and a “food column” consisting of a single paragraph, a recipe, and an oversized photo, and a local-history feature Hamburger Helpered with pix and illustrations.
I can’t complain too much if the ‘Loid’s subscription rates stay the same. But the Gannett brass has already foreshadowed price hikes to go with the embiggened “content.” Well, Jim, your paper is definitely larger — but it’s not any better. Not at all.