Co.Design

In Lebanon, A Newspaper Redesign Honors An Assassinated Journalist

A new look for An-Nahar, Lebanon's leading daily newspaper, pays homage to Gebran Tueni, an editor who died defending the ideals the newspaper upheld.

Less than two weeks before Christmas 2005, a car bomb exploded outside Beirut, killing Gebran Tueni, a lawmaker and the editor of Lebanon's leading Arabic-language daily newspaper, An-Nahar. It was a carefully orchestrated attack, an assassination of a fierce advocate of democracy in a nation where democracy is a life-or-death matter. Some five years on, Tueni's daughter, 28-year-old Nayla Tueni — now a Parliament member and the deputy GM of her father's paper — has built an altogether fitting memorial in the creases of An-Nahar: She has redesigned the newspaper for the modern era.

Tueni's daughter has built an altogether fitting memorial in the creases of her father's paper.

Unveiled yesterday, the new look features a polished, flexible grid by Mario Garcia, the crack Florida designer behind the revamp of the Wall Street Journal and more than 500 other publications, and a customized Arabic headline font inspired by the late Tueni. The changes are subtle but distinct, as any seasoned reader accustomed to the minuscule photos and endless blocks of text that've filled An-Nahar's pages lo these many years will tell you. The paper was last refreshed 11 years ago.

The goal, Nayla Tueni says, is to update the paper — both in design and content — to assure its livelihood in the 21st century. As with most newspapers, An-Nahar struggles to maintain a captive readership when nearly everyone under the age of 25 prefers scanning an iPhone to a daily paper. As with very few newspapers, the stakes are colossal. An-Nahar is the staunchest pillar of Lebanon's fourth estate. Gebran Tueni, whose grandfather started the paper in 1933 with just 50 pieces of gold, often used its pages to blast Syria — the uneasy patron to Lebanon in the aftermath of the latter country's protracted civil war — when few would. In 2000, he launched into public view by writing an editorial that called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Many people suspect Syria was complicit in his assassination. "My father was always looking toward a peaceful future,? Nayla Tueni tells Co.Design. "The newspaper redesign is central to this vision, as it is a platform for the discussion of different opinions and free speech in Lebanon."

Tueni used the paper to blast Syria when few would.

Mario Garcia says the new format is conceived of to "shake hands with the past and hold on to the future." Which is a poetic way of saying that it needed to attract more and younger readers without being so radical, it repelled the existing audience. Garcia joined the project in late 2010 at Nayla Tueni's behest (the redesign was originally slated to coincide with the fifth-year anniversary of her father's death, but scheduling issues pushed it back) and noted two major problems with the old look: bad typography and worse navigation. 'It was designed as if people read page by page without interruption, when we know that today, in print, people read in several sittings,' Garcia says. "So, there were probably five or six items on page one with the full text, a small photo, and very few headlines. You had no reference to stories on page 17 that were interesting."

The new look builds a powerful news hierarchy. On page one, you've got a lead story with a large photo, a handful of other stories, and navigation to 12 or 13 items inside the paper. There's a central dateline. The bright blue An-Nahar logo — a rooster that "crows" for freedom — is bigger. And there's lots of white space, which gives stories room to breathe. All in all, it's crisp, nicely differentiated, and easy on the eyes. And ?it isn't just a cosmetic redesign," Garcia says. "It's a rethinking of the entire paper." One thing that hasn't changed is the advertising: It still fills the entire bottom half of the paper.

[Yesterday's front page before, on the left, and after. Click image for larger view]

"Because the Arabic alphabet is so dynamic, you have to tone down the images."

Inside, the paper is set up to incorporate special features, magazine-style supplements, graphics, and quotes, whereas before, it was mostly just continuous blocks of text. Here, though, Garcia had to tread lightly. ?Because the Arabic alphabet is so dynamic to someone who works normally in Roman figures, you have to tone down the images," he says. So you won't see any McNewspaper pyrotechnics (a risk any time a newspaper tries to young up its layout). Instead, you've got big photos and pops of color, like on yesterday's page 13, below, that leave the visual razzle dazzle to the elegance of the alphabet.

[Click image for larger view]

For the font, Garcia tapped Nadine Chahine, a Lebanese-born typographer who grew up reading An-Nahar and now works at the type powerhouse Monotype Imaging in Bad Homburg. (The pair had met while redesigning a newspaper in Oman.) They agreed that An-Nahar's old typeface was a bore — something any Arabic-language paper could buy off the rack. And, with its dearth of tension and cramped characters, it wasn't especially readable, either. Chahine's design brief was to come up with a fresh typeface that would both pay tribute to Gebran Tueni and speak to the newspaper's potent mission of free speech. The result is a modern take on a classic Arabic newspaper font, with clean, sharp angles and boldly weighted characters. "The overall visual effect is that of a strong statement," Chahine says. "This is a typeface that is no-nonsense. It gives you the good news or the bad news, either way you'll believe it. It has a sense of authority." They call it Gebran2005.

The typeface, named after Tueni, has a sense of authority.

Mind you, naming the typeface after Tueni isn't just about preserving his legacy; it's smart business, too. It's a signal to loyal readers that the paper is still shaking hands with the past. Whether all of this bumps up the newspaper's readership is the million-dollar question. An-Nahar certainly isn't the first publication to invest its institutional ambitions in new design, and it's always something of a gamble — especially now that digital content figures so prominently in people's daily lives. The newspaper's management has smartly refrained from limiting the redesign to the newspaper. They have plans to rejigger the website and build an iPad app.

Nayla Tueni is confident that the sum of these efforts will keep alive the newspaper and, in turn, the democratic ideals her father ultimately died defending. "The new look will attract new readers and, because of that, it will attract advertisers," she says. ?This is important because it will keep the newspaper free, because it is not paid for or based on one political party or another. The survival of this newspaper as a peaceful platform is the survival of free press in Lebanon."

Read more about the newspaper redesign on Mario Garcia's blog here.

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