The New Paper: Continuing to be different

Some love it. Some hate it.

The New Paper is a name that invites reaction - often strong, never indifferent.

It is a signal to our readers that we are new. And different from the newspapers they're used to reading.

That excerpt, published in The New Paper's mock-up 25 years ago, was the first indication of what readers could expect from TNP.

In continuing to be different, we are, in essence, no different from the day we started.

But times have changed. We are in a challenging era of what Internet guru Om Malik calls the "democratisation of news delivery systems".

Editors today can no longer dictate what news consumers should read; editors need to be acutely aware of what's relevant, what readers want, what turns them on. Readers today can source what they want from many channels, across convenient platforms.

The latest Nielsen Index shows that, increasingly, they are doing so.

Ignore their needs and they won't give you the dignity of a nod, let alone 70 cents (for The New Paper) every day (80 cents on Sunday).

All newspapers face similar challenges - myriad choices, mass migration online, social media distractions.

But The New Paper, with the youngest median readership in Singapore (meaning a more fickle, easily distracted, online-savvy audience), with its dependence on street sales, with two freesheets threatening to steal its lunch, faces an even more daunting future.

All the more reason for differentiation.

When we embarked on the revamp last November, we decided on four key initiatives:

To find out what readers today want;

To engage a fresh eye to help redefine the look of the paper;

To re-look and overhaul the way we do things in the newsroom;

To rationalise the use of precious space.

We sought the answer to the first question in the most extensive qualitative survey we've ever done.

The internationally renowned research company Ipsos put together three big focus groups. The process lasted five months.

The first group, of super news consumers, was asked to come up with its ideal of a newspaper. They were not told that it was for The New Paper.

We then engaged a design consultant from Poland, Mr Jacek Utko, an architect-turned-newspaper designer who has handled some of the most successful re-design projects around the world.

The design team - both Mr Utko and a small in-house team - produced two mock-ups for a second focus group.

Choose, we told them. Tell us what you like and don't like. And don't pull any punches.

Design-wise, we were clear about what we needed to do to be inviting:

Relate, don't intimidate; communicate, don't decorate.

But the key was how stories would be conceptualised, with one thought per story, with multiple entry points to a compelling multi-faceted story, in a seamless, navigationally friendly flow of bold visual pages interspersed with busy single pages.

Finally, with a hybrid of the best of the two mock-ups, we reached out to a third focus group, made up of readers of all ages and job sectors.

The response was gratifying.

Overwhelmingly, they gave the prototype a thumbs-up.

Is The New Paper version 2.5 merely cosmetic? No. Design is merely a function of content. We needed to go beyond aesthetics.

We distilled what the focus groups told us they wanted. Don't tell me about the world, they said, tell me about what's happening in the hood.

Don't just tell me, talk to me; give me your views. And let me talk back - in print and online.

And so we came up with what we call "A Trinity for Generation Me - More Local, More Vocal, More Social".

In a small market crowded with two freesheets and a major, internationally known must-read newspaper that is The Straits Times, TNP needs to be comfortable with - and clear about - its niche.

And continue to amaze, to be relevant, to be different - in print and online.

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