The new design of The Billings Gazette, unveiled this morning, makes the word "broadsheet" obsolete. The term used to distinguish standard dailies from tabloid-sized newspapers, such as the Outpost. But the width of the Gazette has now shrunk to the same width as The Outpost. The only difference is that the Gazette page is a few inches longer. Guess they could call it the "longsheet."
In a column announcing the change, Gazette Editor Steve Prosinski says the narrower format "is becoming the industry standard as newspapers strive to control newsprint costs."
Of course, a narrower page does not in itself save newsprint. To do that, you have to not only have narrower pages but print the same number, or fewer, of them every day. Narrower pages do two things: They allow newspapers to print the same number of pages and perpetuate the illusion that nothing has changed. They also make ads smaller.
Notice, for example, that the Outpost is laid out in a four-column format. A two-column ad in the Outpost is nearly five inches wide. But when the Gazette changed to our width, it stuck with the old six-column format (the same as Outpost classified ads). So a two-column ad, which already was narrower than one in the Outpost, shrinks to about three and a quarter inches. Chances are, prices didn't drop to match.
I'm not indifferent to the Gazette's problem. Times are tough for newspapers -- us, too. I saw an old Gazette buddy over the weekend and told him that I have worked for three newspaper chains. The first two are no longer in the newspaper business, and my goal, I've often said, is to outlast the third. Right now, I'd say we're about neck and neck.