Newspapers formats: what impacts do formats have in shaping stories? When talking about text and knowledge transmission, it is often dismissed how the form is important in determining content. Text supports, however, have been shaping stories and our understanding of the text. Newspapers, similarly to books, have gone through different formats over time. Each format has changed the presentation of its content, altering the amount of text that could be included, as well as the manner in which the stories were told. In the 19th century, newspapers were designed in the broadsheet format, measuring approximately 75 per 60 cm, so that they could be leafed through on the morning coffee table, otherwise it would be cumbersome to read them1. Interestingly, the broadsheet size, which is the largest newspaper size there is, has been up to today associated with high journalism standards and with in-depth storytelling. Even though size does not necessarily imply high-quality writing, it is possible that when writers have more space, they can surpass everyday punctual news, adding more details to news events or stories and telling them in a more perspective manner. Newspapers also used to have smaller font sizes and larger text blocks, which usually meant that the text they contained was more complex as it required more of the readersâ€™ attention. The thought behind such small font sizes, with barely any pictures, was that the readers would have to read the text carefully and that they would not merely go through its headlines, or look at the first paragraphs of a news story, as it is done today. As life conditions have become urbanized, and consequently more chaotic, with people increasingly rushing to get to work or to school, today many readers no longer have the time to sit down, put their newspaper on a table and read its contents thoroughly. Since broadsheets are large and difficult to handle without putting them down, they are unsuited for reading on the train or on the subway on the way to work. Public transports also do not seem to be ideal places for reading larger newspapers because they are often noisy, which makes it difficult for readers to find concentration to read longer stories. Perceiving that their customers have less time to read the news, reputed newspapers in the United Kingdom, such as The Observer, The Times and The Independent, and also all over the world, have moved from the broadsheet to the Tabloid, or to the Berliner format, to add a portability component to their newspapers2, making it possible for people to read the news on their way to work. The Tabloid is the smallest newspaper size there is, measuring 43 per 28 cm, while the Berliner stands in between the Tabloid and the broadsheet, measuring 47 per 31.5 cm.
Source: <http://www.papersizes.org/newspaper-sizes.htm >. Source: <http://www.newspapers.co.uk/newspaper-types-and-formats/>.
Even if portability can mean convenience to readers, as their sizes decrease, newspapers can be questioned by the public on their level of storytelling, especially if the size they go by is the Tabloid, which has a reputation for sensationalist news. To avoid negative connotations, some newspapers that changed to the Tabloid format have decided to call it “compact”, implying that the content of the news would be focused and objective, so that its readers would still perceive the newspaper as good. The Tabloid format, however, is only a newspaper size. The image people have of it nowadays, thus, may have evolved through time as subsequent sensationalist newspapers have made their fame with the Tabloid format, as a consequence, people have come to associate its name with low quality news. Nonetheless, a smaller newspaper size could also be viewed as less worthy because its contents will likely be reduced in order to suit its shape. I do not mean to say that length equals quality, which it does not, but I think that a reduced space limits writers’ abilities to articulate their thoughts to the public, which may be another reason as to why we’ve come to associate the Tabloid with bad news. Feature stories, because of the amount of detail they require, are usually longer. It could be said, however, that although newspaper sizes may not affect a text’s quality, they may be connected with a textual genre, which is to say that a particular type of writing could be suited for a certain newspaper size. Broadsheets may be ideal for in-depth reporting, as its size allows for more description to be included, while Tabloids and Berliners could suit objective news stories. There is still one newspaper format to be described which has no size limitations, and unlike the other formats, it is not printed on actual paper, but on digital paper, and that is the online newspaper. Since readers today can access the news in the internet or on their mobiles phones, subscriptions to printed newspapers saw a considerable drop in the last decade, with many dailies and smaller newspapers going out of print. The situation is more critical in the United States, where even big newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, had to announce employment cuts in order to avoid bankruptcy3, and consequently, a stop in the circulation of printed newspapers. As an alternative to bankruptcy, some newspapers have decided to move their publication online, that way they can keep earning revenue for their online advertising. As newspapers move digitally, however, the news reporting changes to fit its electronic format. The internet as a medium implies that readers’ need for information is ever urgent, and timely constricted, and therefore, a notable characteristic of online news reporting is that it is constantly updated, and altered, which, in turn, means that the news may be less elaborate, and more factual. After all, writers likely have even less time to write online stories than print stories, and, therefore, they possibly give more importance to the news events than to their context. It seems, therefore, that the information in online newspaper publications has become more important than the news analysis and interpretation. 3
Readers, on the other side of the spectrum, are constantly clicking for information in newspaper websites, and going through stories much faster than they would with print newspapers. The digital newspaper format, therefore, implies that readers may be browsing through stories in an attempt to keep updated with the news. What is interesting about the newspaper scenario today is that even as many newspapers may be going out of print, broadsheet newspapers, which date to the 19th century, still survive. Broadsheets coexist with smaller formats such as Tabloids and Berliners, as well as with online newspapers. Furthermore, newspaper formats, as it seems, impact not only the presentation of news stories, but its contents as well. It could be said that with each format, different types of stories are presented, from insightful to punctual, or timely, reporting. Consequently, the format of newspapers may shape their stories and possibly determine their genre as well.
BBC News. “Crisis in the US newspaper industry”. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7913400.stm>. UK: (2009). Web. Dec. 10th 2011. BBC News. “Times in tabloid transformation”. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3966681.stm>. UK: (2004). Web. Dec. 10th 2011. Newspapers. “History of Newspapers. <http://www.newspapers.co.uk/history-ofnewspapers/>. UK: (2009). Web. Dec. 10th 2011. Newspapers. “Newspaper types and formats”. <http://www.newspapers.co.uk/newspaper-types-and-formats/>. UK: (2009). Web. Dec. 10th 2011. Paper Sizes. “Newspaper sizes”. <http://www.papersizes.org/newspaper-sizes.htm>. Web. Dec. 10th 2011.