AJR logo     

 AJR  Drop Cap

From AJR,   August/September 2005  issue

Jumping Front to Back   

McClatchy’s unusual layout aids readers.

By Katrina Altersitz
Altersitz is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

Readers of California's Modesto Bee rarely have to paw noisily through pages or search sections for the elusive A1 jump. The continuation is almost always just a flip away on the back of the A section.

The story's much the same at the Herald in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the Merced Sun-Star in California, the Anchorage Daily News and the Tacoma News Tribune in Washington. In all, nine of McClatchy's 12 daily papers serve their readers by jumping most of their page-one stories directly to the back page.

When McClatchy bought the Herald from the Daniels family in 1990, corporate officials suggested a new layout, including a back page where front-page articles could jump. "This is something we like and we're proud of," Editor Terry Plumb recalls being told. But instead of mandating or regulating the style, McClatchy allowed the paper to decide.

Plumb liked the approach too and the paper switched from an ad-laden back page to a text format. "Our ad director had to swallow hard," he says, laughing. As would most ad directors, given the loss of coveted ad space.

"In many places the back page is used for something considered more 'premium' than jumps, which many readers don't follow," Bill Gaspard, president of the Society for News Design, wrote in an e-mail interview. "Perhaps a weather page, a round-up page, a quick read page, or, quite commonly, an advertisement since the back is a valuable color position."

"While I think readers have generally made it clear in focus groups, etc. that if [stories] had to jump, they would prefer to just flip the section over, very few papers have provided that as an option," he wrote.

But McClatchy started the practice decades ago, with a small announcement on A1 — no jump — in the Sacramento Bee on September 26, 1968. McClatchy's three Bees, which also include those in Fresno and Modesto, made this layout a staple. Howard Weaver, now McClatchy's vice president, news, became editor of the Anchorage Daily News after McClatchy took over in 1979. Jumping the stories front to back "was one of the trademark things we started doing right away," he says. "I've been a strong supporter ever since."

Gregory Favre, who held Weaver's VP post before joining the Poynter Institute, applauds McClatchy for its efforts. Anything that "eliminates the hurdles that readers have to go through in any newspaper is good," says Favre, now Poynter's distinguished fellow in journalism values. "Ease of reading is one of the factors that goes into building circulation. ..[But] I have not seen many major newspapers who would give up that prime advertising real estate."

Weaver acknowledges "advertisers do want the back page, no doubt about it." He concedes that certainly, there's some loss of ad dollars and says McClatchy understands the competition for that page. The Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina uses a more traditional layout with a full ad on its back page; the company's largest paper, Minneapolis' Star Tribune, doesn't follow the trend either. The Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Washington, also declines to jump its A1 stories to the back.

But editors who do use the McClatchy template see no reason to stop. "The idea of us having ads on the back page of the paper has not come up in the seven-and-a-half years I've been here," says Fresno Bee Executive Editor Charlie Waters. "It's not a question of advertising." For him, in a newsroom separate from the ad department, it's only a matter of "quality journalism."

No McClatchy editor claims to jump 100 percent of the stories — the Modesto Bee was highest with an estimated 95 percent — but most adhere to the general principle.

"A lot of times, you don't jump every story to the back page because there's not enough room," says Rick Rodriguez, executive editor at the Sacramento Bee. His paper generally runs five stories on page one, jumping two or three to the back. But he says articles aren't cut to fit this layout and the practice isn't restrictive. "If they deserve the jump," and that back page doesn't offer enough room, "we jump them inside," he says.

Favre says dedicating this coveted space to news puts the reader first. "And isn't that what all newspapers should be doing?"