10.29.2007

RedEye turns five!

The Chicago Tribune announced that one day short of its fifth anniversary, the free tabloidRedEye is increasing (that's right -- increasing) its circulation from 150,000 to 200,000.

Chris Courtney, design director at RedEye, answers some questions about what's making RedEye a success.

What do you think RedEye is doing right in its design to increase its circulation?
I think the biggest thing we did since the beginning is tweak our attitude about what the readers would want from the publication. They didn't want everything to be six-inch stories. There are tons of quick read items still in the paper, but there are also about three to four single subject spreads in each edition which gives them something more substantial to dive into.

What does any of that have to do with design? Well, we didn't have the space for those spreads in the initial design so we needed to rethink how the publication was being put together which ended up being a big push behind the rethinking of RedEye that happened in '05. The biggest thing I think we've done for readers is taken the approach that each page in the publication is special -- there are no throwaways -- so readers have come to understand that there are easter eggs throughout. Those surprises are lacking in a lot of publication and a big reason why people assume there isn't anything important unless its on the cover, which we both know is a falsehood.

So in swinging for the fence on every page, do we hit a home run everytime? No, we don't and sometimes we fail miserably. My philosophy is simple: Never give up, never pull up short. If you always play safe, you'll never do anything worth mentioning. And I trust that the team we have at RedEye will always strive to go above and beyond.

How do you compete for readers' attentions in a market with two major dailies? Granted, one is your parent company, but its still another source of news in a crowded market.
I'll come out and say it: I'm a fan of both the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Just incredible work in each one. But RedEye's role has always been to bring in those readers whom weren't reading a newspaper before.

When you crunch the numbers before RedEye came in, newspapers had a collective penetration of about 11 percent. That's roughly one out of every nine people in Chicagoland were picking up a paper of some sort every day. There was plenty of room for growth, in my opinion, without ever thinking about going after any readers from the Big Two. So while everyone is fighting over the one, we're busy going after the eight.

How have we done that? Well, I think it's a work in progress, but I have to think that if what everybody else is doing was working there wouldn't be such a big number of non-readers to go after. So you have to try different things; you have to think beyond the obvious news of the day. Remember that what you're interested in as a journalist isn't really reflective of what the reader may be interested in. That approach has been very effective for us.

How's the new baby?
The baby's great, she's a little ticked that Baby Gaspard had to run up and steal the limelight but she's got that underdog mentality that I think will do her well. She's actually working on an illustration for this weekend's edition. Oh, my bad. It was just gas.

Anything exciting on the horizon for RedEye?
What's not exciting to know that we're throwing 50k more on the street in Chicago and that the racks will still probably be empty at 9 a.m. in most locations.

I think the way we're approaching the Web is beginning to take hold and our numbers are way up there. We've got two new designers in Sara Stewart and Rex Chekal that are getting settled in and already churning out impressive work. We're in a period of controlled but continuous expansion, so future just gets bigger and brighter from my perspective.

I used to tell my wife that everything will calm down once we get past this next (insert project name here). That's now a running joke at my house, but that's a very good thing.

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