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WENZEL: Every few decades, change isn't a bad thing

Considering my longevity at The Daily Republic, this is rather embarrassing to admit: the current publisher of this newspaper had no clue about fonts, leading and serifs until a couple of months ago.

In fact, our editor, an esteemed graduate of the South Dakota State University Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, seemed surprised when he had to sit me down and explain fonts and serifs and their wide and varied use on this earth.

For those similarly uninformed in the ways of the world -- and the ways of the word -- serifs are extra, projecting features on the ends of the strokes that make up letters and symbols, such as the ball-like features in the "f" and "r" letters of this column's font.

Those few minutes discussing serifs in the editor's office got us thinking about The Daily Republic's look, feel and general readability. Thus began a two-month process that saw the first major design revisions of this newspaper in at least the last couple of decades.

We have been careful what we call it. A former publisher declared it more of a "tweak" than a "redesign," and I agree.

We unveiled the new look Friday, and among the changes are:

-A new font for all news copy.

Century 751 has some curly-ques that may not be favorable to all news junkies, but it is a font that's gaining popularity in this business. We also changed the newspaper's leading (that's pronounced "led-ding," and describes the north-south distance between written lines), which tends to provide a looser, less cluttered look. Personally, I find it easier to read.

I swear that it is not smaller, a point I politely argued with three callers Friday morning.

-More spacing between elements.

Not only do all stories and photos have more space between them -- generally a half-inch -- but all news copy is now in a format called "ragged right," which creates more white space on the page and eliminates awkward breaks in text.

-More color advertising.

It's odd how advertising opportunities become more important the higher one climbs in the newspaper business. I never considered it during my years in the newsroom, but I'm consumed by it today.

On the front page we now offer a square ad, which replaces the former "strip" on the Page 1 bottom. This allows advertisers to better explain their product through visuals and text.

Also, the bottom right corner of the front page often will feature a coupon, redeemable for cash off local products. The Monday through Friday rack price of The Daily Republic is 75 cents -- cheaper for subscribers (wink) -- but the price is offset entirely if customers are able to get something in return, besides all of the local news found within.

For instance: Take today's coupon to Salon Classic and get 15 percent off any one service. Not bad.

-A "Good Morning" box.

In the past, our Page 2 was cluttered with various items. It also rarely employed the benefits of color.

Starting Friday, we began a "Good Morning" package, which brings together items that formerly were strewn pell-mell throughout the newspaper. It also features various "fast facts," which may or may not have something to do with anything but which should be interesting nonetheless.

The package sits atop our weather package, which we suspect will be published in color from here on out.

-New page placement.

Our traditional page layout -- certainly very familiar to longtime readers -has changed.

The reason? To better place our important pages, such as Opinion and Life, in more readable positions.

-A new cartoon.

Soon, we will begin publishing "Dilbert," a comic strip about the drudgery and humor of office life. It's quite popular nationwide, and we have had requests for it.

Unfortunately, someone had to go, and that's "Rex Morgan." We have published two serial comics for years, and decided that one will have to suffice in the future. "Mary Worth" -- the more popular of the two according to anecdotal evidence -- is staying around for a while, but we make no promises about her future.

-And finally, a modern sports section.

For years, readers have wondered why we continued to place sports in the middle of our "A" section, without color.

It's a long explanation, but generally had to do with deadlines (ours is one of the latest in the state) and the setup of our press.

With some careful examination, we determined we can make color sports happen by changing some in-house procedures and by trimming our deadline by 15 minutes.

Friday's sports section -- The Daily Republic's first color sports section ever -- looked great.

So there it is. Things may continue to be tweaked in the coming days, but the big changes to The Daily Republic's new look are complete. And this wasn't some corporate mandate, which was an accusation we heard Friday and which, frankly, gets tiresome.

I once read that "a newspaper that gets no complaints is a dead newspaper." I believe that.

Like all businesses, newspapers should make changes now and then. They always should be pushing, whether it's through coverage, through advertising or through changes in format.

Ironically, The Daily Republic calls for change in other entities all the time yet went more than two decades without doing much change itself.

Certainly, change every 20 or 25 years isn't a bad thing.