USA Today's makeover: Can 'America's newspaper' reinvent itself?

Coming soon to a hotel lobby near you: An even more colorful USA Today, packed with even more photos and infographics

"USA Today"
(Image credit: Lauren Hansen)

USA Today, the colorful newspaper ubiquitous in airports and hotel lobbies, turns 30 this weekend, and parent company Gannett is celebrating by giving its flagship paper a major facelift: Even brighter colors, a new logo that changes with the main news story, and even more photos and infographics. When it launched in 1982, USA Today's buzzy graphics, big photos, and small articles earned it the derisive nickname McPaper, but now those features are the norm in the newspaper business and USA Today is the nation's No. 2 paper by circulation, after The Wall Street Journal. What does it have in store for us in its new iteration, and will readers go along with the revamped format? Here's a look at the new USA Today:

What are the big changes?

First, the logo: Alongside the revamped masthead is a color-coded circle, one for each section, with a photo or graphic tied to the day's top stories. The weather map is sleeker, and the states box — with stories from each state — will now include photos and take up an entire page. The TV listings will be bolstered by entries for premium web-only series and directions on where to find multimedia features online, and the "Your Say" section will include tweets and Facebook comments from readers. In other words, USA Today is moving from the TV age to the internet age, says Jason Del Rey at Ad Age. Perhaps that's why "the changes to its website, which will launch in beta on Saturday, feel the most drastic."

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What's new about

It looks a lot like an iPad app — heavy on the photos, and with stories that fade in from the home page and allow readers to click left or right arrows to access the next story. Indeed, the "more fluid, app-like" format will look so familiar to iPad users it "may make visitors attempt to swipe at their desktop screens," says Ad Age's Del Rey.

Are the changes just cosmetic?

No. The visual changes will be the most obvious thing that most readers notice, but the USA Today facelift is just the first stage of a larger plan by new president and publisher Larry Kramer to integrate Gannett's 82 U.S. newspapers and 23 TV stations. Print journalists are going to be encouraged to do more original reporting, let a bit of personality show in their writing, and take their own video to accompany their stories. Kramer also wants more collaboration between the TV, digital, and print journalists, and Gannett is building a new newsroom in USA Today's Washington-area headquarters to centralize all news content company-wide.

Does USA Today really need to change?

Probably. USA Today needs to adapt to a world where smartphone-toting travelers don't need the same services they did 30 years ago. "The real problem is what is the real mission of USA Today," newspaper consultant Alan Mutter tells The New York Times. "It used to tell me the weather. Now I have the app for that. The once revolutionary and original mission of the paper has been usurped." Yes, "it's practically a spiritual crisis," Outsell Research analyst Ken Doctor tells USA Today. "The Wall Street Journal is the nation's business newspaper and The New York Times is the nation's newspaper of record. USA Today doesn't have a clear identity." The other reason, of course, is money. Like other papers, USA Today is losing both readers and advertisers, and the revamped print and web versions are full of new ways to attract more, lucrative types of ads.

Sources: Ad Age, New York Times, Reuters, USA Today, Wall Street Journal

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