Tribune’s Redesign Kicks Off With Orlando Sentinel

imageTribune Co.’s Orlando Sentinel debuted on newsstands today in its stripped-down form. WSJ takes a look at the new layout — which incorporates more news digests, blog summaries and splashier graphics — and basically finds it’s not much different from most newspaper redesigns since USA Today came on the scene in 1982.

Tribune’s Florida petri dish: The piece also focuses on the thinking of Lee Abrams, Tribune’s new chief innovation officer, who laments that the changes haven’t gone far enough. Some of the “stream-of-conscious” musings have included proposals such as a front page featuring nothing but maps and expanding the size of wedding announcements to encourage wealthy readers to spend more on those pages. The Orlando daily is viewed as Tribune’s petri dish; the success or failure of the redesign will influence the company’s approach when it focuses on reforms at larger properties like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. As CEO Sam Zell and COO Randy Michaels told investors during a conference call earlier this month, this new model would ideally have a 50/50 ratio of ads to editorial. LAT and Chicago Trib do have some time before they have to submit to the reforms: Tribune’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun are up next for the big makeover. The Chicago Tribune has gathered leadership teams to manage its planned overhaul in September.

Limited options: Tribune faces a lot of challenges, and it’s unclear whether the newspapers’ declines can be stanched. For one thing, Tribune’s $13 billion debt load has limited its options as its $1 billion in annual cash flow has stretched its lending commitments. Newspaper advertising slumped 13 percent in Q1, according to figures from the the Newspaper Association of America, while Tribune’s ad revenue dropped 15 percent.