Portugal’s newest daily newspaper, i, was launched in early May 2009. and has attracted a significant amount of attention due to its rising circulation figures and innovative approach. It recently won a design award from the Society of News Design.
What i is doing differently
I is not structured like a traditional paper. The paper’s team worked with media consultancy Innovation to come up with a new way to organise the product. “Our feeling was,” said Figueiredo, who came on board at an early stage, moving from Diário Económico, “that people were not concerned about traditional sections any more. Traditionally, journalists have to fill a politics section even if there is nothing relevant going on in politics. We wanted to come up with something different.” So the team came up with five key needs that they wanted the paper to address, with five key words.
- 1. Opinion is the first section of the paper, based on the key word think. No other Portuguese paper starts out with opinion.
- 2. Radar is the second, accompanied by the key word know. Figueiredo said the assumption was that readers will already know a lot from other sources, but Radar aims to offer a quick overview of everything that has happened in the past 24 hours. The section is eight pages long, and the longest article is half a page.
- 3. Zoom is the third section, connected to the key word understand. The 22-26 page section looks at between eight and 13 topics in depth, with articles taking up one to ten pages. “We deal with these subjects with a lot of care, and we use the best teams,” Figueiredo said.
- 4. The fourth section is called More, linked to the key concept feel. This is where anything about people’s private, cultural, social lives goes. Figueiredo explained that the team did not want to give the section a more specific name, or the content would be limited. More encompasses the fifth need that the paper wanted to address: sports, about 80% of which is focused on football – “this is very important in Portugal,” Figueiredo said.
Nick Mrozowski, i’s American art director, said that “I think the overriding concept, not just in the design but in the newspaper as a whole, is that we want to try to set out to produce a magazine every day.” The 56- to 64-page paper is tabloid size and stapled, so looks as much like a magazine as a newspaper.
A huge amount of work goes into designing the paper every day. At first, Mrozowski explained, the idea was that the paper would have a template that would leave some pages fixed each time, meaning that some pages would require no design work on a daily basis and that editors would simply put their content into the pre-designed format. “But from day one that strategy fell apart,” he said. “We realised that the sort of paper we were making had a lot of very specialised content and each page would have to be custom-made to the needs of a reporter or editor.”
“From a design perspective it’s a little intense,” Mrozowski said. The design team are challenged to find magazine-quality visual solutions every day. For example, unlike most daily newspapers, i strives to include high quality portrait photography rather than just that for events, which means finding the time to sit down with sources. The paper also has a lot of illustration, something which many newspapers have been cutting back on in recent months, Mrozowski pointed out. “I think people notice this,” he said. “You can’t go a day reading i without coming across at least one commissioned illustration, rather than just back art.”
I has a team design team of seven, two infographic artists and a group of photographers. This visual team is “like one unit,” Mrozowsi stressed. “We all sit at one big arching table, so it’s very easy to communicate.”
Despite the strong focus on the visual side of the paper, Mrozowski stressed that this is never at the expense of the content. He was trained as a journalist as well as a designer, so “I’ve always worked in newspapers with a journalistic eye.” And he makes sure that his design team also understand that “the design should come from the content.” He clarified, “it’s not enough to design a page, you have to know what’s going on it, what type of photo is going to be there and how it should best be played.” The designers and editors therefore work very closely together, requiring the design team to have a journalistic understanding of each page that they work on.
Not just print…
I also has an increasingly significant web presence at www.ionline.pt: online editor-in-chief Mónica Bello said that the site recently passed 900,000 uniques per month. The paper’s print and online operations are broadly integrated: journalists write for both platforms. “It’s a work in progress,” said Bello, “it’s getting better and better all the time.” Two editors are just focused on the website, and many journalists work on breaking news online for a few hours and then move on to writing for the paper. 40% of content from the paper also goes online, explained Figueiredo, with the other 60% being exclusive to the print product.
I‘s website is an aggregator as well as displaying original content. Figueiredo described how the paper is happy to link to competitors’ content, and how aim is that people come to I as a base for their news exploration. “We want to make sure that people on Facebook and Twitter are using i as their main information source,” he said, adding that i has a presence on many social networks. The paper has, in effect, six different homepages online. One is a portal of general news, one is focused on Portuguese political news, a third is economic and financial, a fourth is world news, fifth is sports and the last is the ‘good life’ homepage
There seems to be a general acceptance at i of the fact that online news is not profitable, at least for the moment. “You can’t make any money there,” said Figueiredo, “but you have to be there in order to grow your brand.” Bello said that “the print edition is of course the priority, and will be at lease for the next few years.” This means that the designers do not contribute so much to the website, which has a far more fixed template compared to the paper.
The advantages of youth: potential for constant innovation
Being a new newspaper, part of a new brand, gives I the freedom to experiment and it seems that this freedom has been passed on to all the staff. Mrozowski and Bello were extremely enthusiastic about their working environment and what it allows them to do. “There’s this motivating feeling,” Bello said. Mrozowski said that the two senior editors, Figueiredo and André Macedo, “have imparted this feeling of accomplishing the impossible at every step… There is no cap to how big these guys will dream and it presses you to do things that you wouldn’t do at another newspaper.”
One of Mrozowski’s favourite projects at the paper so far was for the European elections: with the help of an outside illustrator, the team produced a double page spread the night of the election depicting the politicians involved as fish in the ocean, with their position in the water showing how well they had done. “It worked out beautifully, and speaks to this ambition that we have,” Mrozowski commented. “It’s something that I don’t think another newspaper would try.”
“We told them that they have the responsibility to be innovative because they don’t have a set newspaper in which they have to fill the gaps, rather it is a newspaper that they have to create everyday in order to focus on the real issues,” Figueiredo said.
The paper chose to hire not just experienced professional journalists, but decided to bring in some young people who did not necessarily have any experience in the field but who were technologically adept and very knowledgeable about social media.
So who is the audience?
I‘s specialised focus on politics and economics attracts educated, ambitious readers, Figueiredo said. 69% of readers have a university degree, 39% are top management. What is particularly exciting, he added, is that 22% of i‘s readers had not been regular newspaper buyers before. A key target audience, “that we are still learning to deal with,” is aged between 23 and 29: they have a university degree, they have started their professional careers and have ambition, they are unmarried, they travel frequently and have a full social and cultural life, Figueiredo explained. “And they want to know what’s going on. We have been dedicated to studying this new audience that nobody else has.”
Why do they like it?
According to Figueiredo, “we’ve created a product that goes directly to the way they think and interact with news.” Most of these readers are well informed via other media and already know a lot about what’s going on, but they look to i to “help organise all the mixed and disparate information that they have to deal with.” He believes that the in-depth articles on politics and economics, providing essential background to current issues, are one of the main reasons why people like the paper. The sports section is “very creative,” unlike those in most newspapers, Figueiredo added. He does not think that the rest of the More section is a key motivation for buyers to choose i specifically, pointing out that one of the paper’s competitors, Público, was very strong on culture.
Finally, he suggested that the format of the paper was particularly attractive, being small and stapled means that “people can read it anywhere,” even on the beach. Lisbon is not a major commuter city, however, meaning that this audience, crucial to the success of many papers in many countries, does not exist.
The i staff seemed excited about the paper’s future. Mrozowski plans to further improve the work of his design team, to take it “to the next level.” The team has mastered the basics, he feels, and is now “going to start focusing on certain areas of the paper one at a time and try to make them better so that we are at the highest level.”
Bello said that one of her hopes for the website is to expand readership outside of Portugal. Currently 80-90% of traffic comes from within Portugal, the largest percentage of the remainder coming from Brazil. She would like to reach Portuguese immigrant communities around the rest of the world.
Figueiredo intends to work on strengthening the paper’s brand, to “create a fantastic dynamic around the brand.” Distribution of the paper is something that Figueiredo said i was hoping to improve. “It’s a nightmare in Portugal,” he explained, “but we are trying to come up with some more good ideas in order to be very efficient in terms of distribution.”
I‘s shareholders have given it five years to break even financially. In a time of falling profits, when many papers are making huge losses, this is a significant challenge for a new newspaper. However, i does seem to be off to a pretty good start. The decision to move away from the traditional structure of a newspaper and provide something different definitely makes sense, as does embracing creativity and innovative thinking in the workplace. The paper has made inroads with a young, successful demographic that would often be attracted by online news rather than print, and reaching about half of the circulation of the major daily papers in a few months is impressive. However, it remains to be seen whether i can be successful over a longer period, and if it can indeed become profitable.
If i does succeed, will others follow it down the path of innovation?