A personality all its own. Some people are snobby or funny or naïve. So are some publications. New Times has a personality, too. If we had to pick one word to describe it, that word would be sharp.
Like a sharp person, New Times is alive and aware and not easily fooled. It says what needs to be said and always does so with wit and fairness. It likes to take chances and it likes to have fun. New Times is the intelligent acquaintance who you sometimes get mad at but always respect. You never quite know what it will do next, but you want to find out because you know it’s always interesting.
Personalities are consistent. A person who has always liked to go dancing doesn’t all of a sudden hate to go out dancing and then love it again the following week. If they did, we’d say something is wrong with them. We’d be right.
That’s what this guidebook is all about. It’s intended to help those in our editorial department present a consistent New Times personality to readers each week.
It deals with the words we use, and how to use them the New Times way.
Rule number one: Always make things easy for readers.
When it comes to approach and style, this is our guiding philosophy. We use it in all other aspects of the paper, too.
We distribute New Times widely throughout the Central Coast at locations readily found by our audience.
We write articles in an accessible style and choose photos and illustrations that are both arresting and accurate.
We group information logically and coherently and choose typefaces that are pleasing and easily read.
We create ads that are clear, attractive, and forthright.
The name “New Times” is made up of two simple words that everyone understands and that says exactly what it is each week: There is something new this time.
The easier we make things for readers, the more likely they are to read us. This is one of the simplest rules in the universe. It’s also one of the easiest to follow. All the other rules in this handbook are based on it.
There are two types of publications—those that are necessary to people, and those that are special. A daily newspaper is necessary. It contains the news of the day, notices of births and deaths, new business start-ups, government meetings, and other such staples that readers need.
New Times is not necessary to people’s lives. They got along just fine before we existed. Instead, New Times must be special to them. If the daily paper is the meat and potatoes, then we are the dessert. This specialness is the only thing that sets us apart and makes us succeed each week. If we do our job right, we will achieve something remarkable: become so special that readers consider us necessary.
To achieve this, we have to innovate and experiment. If an important story is not being told, we must tell it. If people in the community are not being heard, we must seek them out, listen to them, and present their views even if we disagree. If a dry topic needs to be explored, we must breathe freshness into it so that people will read and understand it. We must always ask, “How does this story we’re doing impact the lives of our readers?” In so doing, we must exercise judgment without being judgmental.
Assisting readers so they can better comprehend the community in which they live is our main role. There’s a lot of information out there coming at readers from all directions. Our job is to take this information and turn it into knowledge.
We understand that readers are intelligent people who are never to be talked down to. We also understand that we’re not here to show them how much smarter we are, which is why we avoid using obscure words whenever simple ones will do. This is not contradictory. An intelligent person is not necessarily conversant in German. That’s why we don’t say Wunderkind when we can say whiz-kid.
In many ways, publications are fantasies. Time magazine for example, creates the illusion for readers that the entire world can be neatly packaged within elegant, colorful pages broken down into precise subsections. Car and Driver magazine plunges readers into a realm of chrome and power. Playboy needs no further explanation.
But the fantasy must seem real. This is not as strange as it might sound. Reading is by its very nature a departure from the real world. The reality of sitting on the beach lost in John Grisham’s latest lawyerly tome is that you are staring at bound paper with inky symbols on it. But you are doing more than that. You are in another place and time meeting people and listening in on their conversations. But if the author isn’t able to create a world that rings true, you soon find yourself aware that it is nothing but paper and ink.
This is true of New Times as well. The illusion we create is that readers are holding this week’s SLO County, with all its fun and foibles, in their hands. They’re not. They’re holding smashed up trees and soy ink. We are conjuring an illusion for them.
But the illusion must ring true. Readers must agree that, yes, this is where they live. A publication that fails to connect itself to an honest vision of the community widely held by its readers is bound to fail.
This does not mean that we are here to be a public relations sheet that puts the best spin on SLO County. Readers would sense the lie. They know their community and they know it’s made up of positives and negatives. So do we.
But enough philosophizing. On to the nuts and bolts.
Steve Moss founded New Times. Send comments to the executive editor at [email protected]. He’ll pass them along.