Redesigned Sun shaped by readers' preferences

September 17, 1995|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,Sun Staff Writer

The Sun, a fixture in Baltimore since it appeared as a four-page penny paper in 1837, will launch a redesigned and expanded morning edition tomorrow shaped by two years of newsroom planning and supported by surveys, interviews and focus groups with thousands of readers.

The innovations in The Sun are in part a consequence of the demise of The Evening Sun after 85 years, reflecting an industry-wide trend toward consolidating morning and afternoon newspapers. As more resources are directed into morning editions, afternoon papers find it harder to survive.

But, industry analysts say, several other factors have brought down hundreds of evening editions in recent years: the explosion of television, the rise of the suburbs, the decline of the factory worker, the changing habits of readers and the increasing competition for leisure time.

Responding to the needs of readers, the redesigned Sun will feature a new free-standing business section Tuesday through Friday, expanded local and state coverage, a revamped entertainment guide, more comics and an enhanced color weather map.

The Sun will also use a new typeface, which studies by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., found to be the easiest to read. And the paper will adopt later deadlines, a move that will provide later news for about 50 percent of its readers.

Tomorrow's new morning edition also signifies even greater changes for Baltimore, which is now left with only one daily newspaper of general circulation. Less than a decade ago, there were three major dailies -- The Sun, The Evening Sun and the News American -- with a combined daily circulation of nearly half a million. For the 12 months which ended Sept. 30, 1994, the combined circulation of The Evening Sun and The Sun was 343,844, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

"Journalistically, it's sad when a newspaper goes down," said Mary E. Junck, publisher and chief executive officer of The Baltimore Sun Co., but she added: "One great newspaper a day is better than two good ones."

Beginning tomorrow, The Sun will include the following changes, both in its design and content:

* Each section front will have an index in the left column, which will guide readers through the sections. In an era when newspaper readers have less time for their papers, the indexes -- long a staple of newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and, more recently, USA Today -- got an extremely enthusiastic reception from hundreds of Baltimore area residents who previewed the redesigned Sun in focus groups over the last year.

* The business news section, located until now inside the sports section, will add a full page of business news and several new beats. The expanded coverage will include regular reports on the legal profession, tourism and advertising and growing high technology companies, many of them based in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

* The Maryland section, distributed in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, where approximately two-thirds of The Sun's readers live, will have an extra page of stories focusing on city and county news. This will include an improved police blotter and an expanded digest of shorter articles. Suburban readers in Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties will continue to receive their customized local sections each day.

* Live, a revised weekly entertainment guide with an increased focus on family activities, will appear Thursdays to provide for earlier weekend planning.

* The redesign will bring back a headline typeface adapted from the one used by The Sun from 1920 to 1970 and present multiple layers of headlines, another tool of the past, to summarize stories for readers.

Newspaper designer Roger Black, noted for redesigning Newsweek, Esquire, Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Examiner and the Toronto Star, and John Goecke, assistant managing editor/graphics, supervised the redesign, which began in earnest last September. Starting last winter, prototypes of the new paper were shown to focus groups consisting of current Sun readers, former readers and nonreaders, and their reaction to the redesign in progress helped shape The Sun's planning.

The changes come at a time when circulation of the morning Sun is surging: As of March 31, daily circulation reached a record high of 264,583.

For the afternoon paper, it was a different story. By the time the closing was announced on May 25, circulation had plummeted to a low of 86,360.

As recently as 1976, the afternoon paper sold more copies than the morning did.

No longer viable

In the end, The Evening Sun was no longer economically viable.

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