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At the ProJo: New Look for a New Paper

The ProJo's long promised new design is unveiled today. And it is, in this observer's estimation, a success. Clean and sharp. It will, no doubt, provoke some grumbling from long-time readers. But they will adjust.

The larger significance of the redesign: the new look reflects the much more dramatic changes at the paper over the last year - heavy layoffs and a reordering of the paper to focus on short bursts of local news.

Tom Heslin, executive editor, suggests as much in his note to readers about the new look.

The project also aspired to satisfy other imperatives: sense of energy; emphasis on shorter stories and vital information; ease of readability; better indexes; consistent use of color; and clear story, page and section labels and headlines.

These imperatives served us well over the nine months of the project. Our story typeface is now easier to read, headlines and captions are consistent, the use of color is standardized. More fact boxes — lists and summaries — will appear with stories. These refinements and others will combine to improve the time that readers spend with The Providence Journal.

This is the ProJo gone USA Today. And the paper is not alone in the approach. Dailies across the country are going short and colorful in a bid to attract and retain readers. The ProJo had taken significant steps in that direction even before the redesign launched today.

But the results, to date, have not been great: numbers out from the Audit Bureau of Circulations this week found circulation at the average American daily down 10.6 percent from last year. At the ProJo, the hit was nearly 20 percent.

A big part of the drop is the inexorable shift of reader attention to the web. But readers also miss the breadth and depth of the old daily. Today's ProJo ran Associated Press stories on the Celtics season opener in Cleveland and the guilty verdict, out of the British Virgin Islands, in the case of a Rhode Island man who drowned his wife during a scuba diving trip. These are stories the paper would have covered itself, not long ago. It just doesn't have the resources anymore.

The same edition includes solid local reporting on State House action around the prostitution loophole and, from investigative reporter Mike Stanton, Attorney General Patrick Lynch's work as lobbyist years ago for the besieged state dump.

This kind of reporting is what the paper - whatever its look and feel - is counting on to carry it forward. We'll see if it works.

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