Dear Friends

  • TOUGH QUESTIONS: In preparation for redesigning High Country News, freelance designer Kat Topaz of Portland, Ore., asks the staff about the personality and values behind the paper

    JoAnn Kalenak

Fear and loathing in HCNland

Change is always a little scary, and changing times at High Country News are no different, we’ve discovered. We mentioned in Dear Friends last month that we’re planning to give the newspaper its first major face-lift in probably two decades. The goal is to make the paper look more smart and feisty and up-to-date. Among other things, we’re trying to reach a younger audience.

This announcement has created a good deal of anticipation — and some anxiety, it seems.

“I await with trepidation your new design aimed at a younger audience,” writes Jane Taylor of Sacramento, Calif. She suggests that we might be smarter to leave the paper as is, while targeting young people with our Web site. “Eventually, (the newspaper) could be phased out or formatted to those with shorter attention spans, after we’re gone.”

“I understand print media have to undergo these little redesigns now and then, not unlike a snake periodically shedding a now-too-restrictive skin, I guess. As long as the same snake emerges after the shedding (so to speak), no problem,” writes R.A. Becker of Ogden, Utah. He cautions us especially about shortening stories for ease of reading: “Please, please, do NOT decide the main articles need to be shortened. One of the attractions of HCN is that it does not limit coverage of complex matters to the print equivalent of a sound bite. What none of us need is for HCN to become McHCN.”

Kevin Bailey of Bellvue, Colo., is a little less subtle with his strategy for reaching young people: “First, you need to spell everything wrong. Second, you need an ‘X’. Third, you need to use a variety of mismatched fonts all within the same sentence. With that in mind, I suggest you change the name to ‘Hi Kuntree Newz Xtreme!’ Young readers will flock.” For those youngsters out there who would like to respond to Kevin’s suggestion, his phone number is … JUST kidding.

And finally, 21-year-old reader Kirk Littlefield of Del Norte, Colo., suggests that it may be our tone, not our look, that is the turn-off for the younger set. “My generation is caught in a mean conflict,” he writes. “We understand the damage the mining and gas industries cause and we know the vicious circle created by the low-paying service industry, but often these are the only ways we can find to make a living. To have our livelihood so vehemently scowled upon is rough, no matter how true the accusations are.”

Well said, too true, amen, and thanks for your thoughts. We’re working hard to jazz up this old rag, while hanging on to what makes it unique — the even-handed, in-depth (and sometimes epic) journalism, the simple, clean look, and the grassroots, down-to-earth tone. We’re confident — many of us being in the 25- to 35-year-old category ourselves — that there are plenty of young folks out there who will be interested in High Country News, if we can just compel them to pick it up and give it a spin.

The snake that emerges from this metamorphosis may be a little different than the one you’re used to, but we think you’ll like it all the more. Look for the new design this spring.

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