Same old news

A look at the ‘reimagined' Sacramento Bee—and more about that Kings arena lawsuit

“Looks like USA Today.” That was the No. 1 criticism Bites heard about the “reimagined” Sacramento Bee, launched earlier this month.

Bites couldn’t tell you if the new Bee looks like USA Today, and probably most of the folks making the comparison couldn’t either, really. Still, it did take Bites a few days for the eyes to adjust to the new italic headlines (italic headlines!?), the new fonts and color text, and of course the reshuffled sections.

Now, things have settled a bit, and the new Bee looks like, well, a daily newspaper.

But let’s ask someone who knows what they’re talking about. “It doesn’t feel like anything groundbreaking, in terms of newspaper design,” says Don Button, who teaches publication design at Sacramento City College, and who was art director for SN&R for many years.

Button likes the overall reorganization of the paper, especially the decision to front-load the paper with local news and pushing the world news further back.

And he says the new paper “scans better.” The text has more room to breathe, there are more entry points for the eye on every page. For example, the daily has started using fat sidebars with images to help readers navigate to stories inside. Another nice touch is the prominent use of large pull quotes in stories. All these are elements that magazines and weeklies (like SN&R) have used to great effect for many years.

Maybe this more spacious layout comes at the expense of some text, a wire story or two. But you weren’t going to read those, anyway.

The new website has better navigation as well, and Button also credited the new Bee with a more consistent design across platforms.

But he also thinks the paper could have been more ambitious. Why does the Bee still carry TV listings, he asks. “Who doesn’t have TV listings at their fingertips at this point?” And the old classified section looks just as bad as before. “They didn’t rethink that. They didn’t even improve it.”

In advertisements and elsewhere, honchos from the Bee and its parent company, McClatchy, had promised a deep “rethinking” of the Bee, and an introduction for readers to the “newspaper of the future.” The end result is pretty much the newspaper of recent past, with a few significant improvements, Button concludes. “They may have overpromised. But what they delivered is pretty good.”

Last week SN&R did a deep dive into the legal arguments and evidence at the heart of the Kings arena “secret subsidy” lawsuit being fought out right now (see “A different arena story,” SN&R News, May 21). Trial starts on June 22.

The suit keeps churning up interesting information that the city ought to have disclosed to the public a long time ago. Some of that information hadn’t surfaced in time to make it into last week’s story.

Remember, the gist of the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs believe the city misled the public by claiming that certain assets given to the Kings—like the Downtown Plaza parking garages, and city-owned land for the Kings to build new electronic billboards—had no value.

But consider this email from Mayor Kevin Johnson to whale Ron Burkle on March 22, 2013:

“We found a pathway to $258m[illion], and backfill the general fund. Above and beyond, we’re offering significant value in the form of parking, signage and entitlements,” the mayor wrote.

But the city told the public those assets had no value. Here the mayor is saying their value is “significant.” And it’s “above and beyond” the city’s share of the arena costs.

How significant? The mayor continues, “in that context, we need a solid justification for providing a $60m parking structure while paying its $8m in debt without anything in return.”

So here, Johnson says the parking garage is worth $60 million, very different from the zero dollars the city told the public, very different than what you would have heard in the local news at the time. “This item will no doubt attract the most scrutiny and tough questions,” the mayor wrote to Burkle.

As the case goes on, we’re learning a lot now that we really ought to have known then. And the questions weren’t tough enough.