Ich bin kein Berliner!

Sorry if I’ve mangled my German, but yesterday the Guardian, a generally left-leaning British former broadsheet, relaunched itself with a “Berliner” format - the size used by Le Monde, slightly wider and quite a bit longer than a tabloid. While the new design is not a terrible disaster, the reaction to it has been mixed ([1], [2]) and so is mine.

There is something really quite bite-sized about it. I’m sure part of it must be the fact that it’s no longer a broadsheet, but then most people (unlike inconsiderate me) make origami out of their broadsheets so that they can read them without stretching them across the person sitting next to them on the train. Two pages of Berliner are bigger than one page of broadsheet, but then, they are still smaller than two. They still have to cram the news articles around the adverts. Perhaps it’s the long-established assumption that broadsheet is heavy and tabloid is light, even though it wasn’t always so - the Sun and the Mail were originally broadsheets. But it still feels lightweight in a way the Independent doesn’t. Perhaps it’s something I’ll get used to.

And then there are the fonts. The font I saw on yesterday’s main headline is just not a headline font. It’s not bold; it was sometimes used for internal headlines within the paper, but it just doesn’t suit a main headline. The headline didn’t even extend to the top of the story. This may also contribute to that lightweight feel.

They still have the same columnists, though, and George Monbiot, in today’s edition, is still his old self, and Madeleine Bunting in yesterday’s, castigating the “muscular liberals”, was still hers. Killy Killer mistakenly suggested that “Marina Hyde is conspicuously missing”; in fact, she’s writing a column, while Giles Foden is guest diarist. I don’t think they’ve really toned down the content. It’s just that the fonts and presentation don’t look Guardianish enough.

I think the Berliner format could grow on people, although perhaps they could have done this differently - perhaps with a different masthead, or by changing the fonts first (and I suggest they change the headline fonts soon). Kitty Killer last week suggested that it could wrong-foot the Independent, since what that paper gained in “gimmicks”, like its smaller format and Simon Kellner’s “concept” front-pages, the Guardian makes up for in quality:

The Independent’s editorial is turgid. Its columnists are faceless and reflect the middling ground the paper once held 3 years ago. Many resort to natting on about their own lives or say little of consequence. It lacks a (good) sense of humour, its sport coverage is poor and it has a crap diary. The Guardian, in retrospect, can boast a few column writers who people could care about, has a sterling diary writer in the name of Marina Hyde; has Steve Bell, Martin Rowson, Tim Dowling and reasonable sport coverage. Whilst the Indie may have been anti-war and anti-Blair during the election, the Guardian has always given airtime to dissident voices. Whilst both paper’s news coverage tends to be fairly similar, in many other areas the Guardian simply reads better.
My verdict: could do better.

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