A time of transition, watched over by a two-faced Roman god

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A time of transition, watched over by a two-faced Roman god
Oluşturulma Tarihi: Kasım 15, 2008 00:00

In general, the changes we have made - and are making - in the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review have been warmly greeted by readers. Yes, the "Horizons" page with its unorthodox geographical divisions has turned a few heads. And if the point of our our new "Metronome" is indeed to catch the "beat of the cities," we will first have to catch it ourselves. Give us another week or two.

What seems to be most disconcerting about our new look is the "Economic Review" section, which consists of five pages printed upside down, enabling us to start a "second front" from what was hitherto the back page. I hope a bit of amplification will prove helpful.

The background to the use of this approach must include the fact that while it is an innovation at the Daily News, and probably a journalistic "first" in the way we have done it, it is not truly original. In newspaper jargon, it is sometimes called the "Janus format," so named for the god of Roman mythology said to have two faces. In addition to the new look of the Daily News, this patron of doorways and new beginnings has also given the English language at least two words. "January," for the beginning month of the year, and "janitor," the one who looks after the maintenance of buildings and doorways are among them. I would include the Ottoman equivalent of the Pretorian Guard, the "Janissaries" in English, but this is just a guess I have been unable to substantiate.

In my experience, our Roman tactic has most commonly been deployed as a tool for better sports coverage. But the most extensive use of the "Janus format" is in bilingual Belgium. For years, a number of newspapers there have started from one end of the newspaper in French, from the other in Flemish. And I owe my introduction to the concept to Luc Dekeyser, a friend of four decades who lives just outside of Brussels.

In our case, our turn to the assistance of a Roman god was very much an afterthought. In the run-up to our conversion, we were planning to introduce the "Economic Review" as a separate eight-page section, essentially a second newspaper within the Daily News itself. As one reader, Gerhard Mayr, wrote this week in reaction, such a section produced as a supplement would spare readers "an embarrassing tussle" especially when sharing the paper with one’s wife. My wife would certainly agree.

Our motivations I am sure are obvious. The fastest-growing demand for English language news and information in Turkey and about Turkey in recent years has been for that in the business category. Both the record investment and interest in Turkey’s economy in the past five years, as well as the explosive growth in the expatriate business community, were the driving factors two years ago behind my decision to bring the newspaper from Ankara to Istanbul and situate the staff alongside the national business daily Referans.

This project has worked well. With the help of Referans, our business coverage has grown to be a critical part of the newspaper. To create a separate and distinct identity for this effort was, and remains, both a good idea and a priority.

Needless to say, however, between our planning and the execution, the economic house of cards built atop America’s subprime mortgages collapsed, world stock markets tumbled, Germany led Europe into recession and the value of the YTL declined more than 20 percent against the Euro and the dollar. In the face of skyrocketing newsprint costs, our plan to drop the main newspaper from 20 pages to 16, and insert a new eight page section added up to a daily four-page expansion. This was not in the new economic cards.

While the laws of economics may well have changed in recent weeks, the laws of physics remain. And physics is, unfortunately, a big part of newspaper design. The physical question: How to preserve at least our current five pages of business news within the existing 20-page, single-section format and simultaneously give this news due prominence and attention? The question of optimal business coverage is all the more imperative as Turkey and the rest of the world find themselves in such economic peril.

Atop this issue of sectionalization, color is another matter. Depending on press configuration, newspapers only have a limited number of pages on which color can be reproduced. At the Daily News, our ration is 12 of 20. Color is important on section fronts and especially pages making use of graphics. It is less important on boring pages like the one you are reading, reserved for pontificating pundits and editors explaining their defense of design.

All this complexity came together not quite a month ago at my apartment, on the floor of my living room. We had torn up two copies of the paper, to give us 20 movable pages. And we had 20 page proofs of the new design. Swap pages around a room-sized jigsaw puzzle and all kinds of interesting dilemmas ensue. Move our existing "South" page from the page three spot to page five, and suddenly it is in black and white. Won’t do. Begin business after the main news inside, and color graphics become worthless. Won’t do. Hours went by. Then it hit us. The only way to accomplish all we wanted, while making all requisite concessions to the laws of physics, was to launch the "Economic Review" off the reverse of the paper.

And so I decided to do it. In "Janus format." When the world economy rights itself, we certainly will right our upended pages. In the interim, I beg the indulgence of readers, as well as that of my wife.

If it helps, as I explained to her just the other day, Janus was also the patron of concrete and abstract beginnings as well as that of new historical ages and of economic enterprises. Janus has been frequently used to symbolize change and transitions, such as the progression of past to future, from one condition to another and from one vision to another.

So at this time of transition at the Daily News, I for one am glad the Roman god Janus is along for the ride.

David Judson is the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review
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