Tag Archives: Ed Henninger

Kentucky Paper Treats Public Notice Like News

mike-scoginMost public notices look like classified ads — an undifferentiated mass of agate type, designed primarily for goal-directed readers.

The public notices in Kentucky’s Georgetown News-Graphic are different. They look like news stories (PDF), designed to capture readers’ attention and promote the kind of serendipity that distinguishes newsprint from electronic formats. News-Graphic Publisher Mike Scogin (photo on left) decided to make this change about a year ago, after reading an issue of a newsletter distributed by newspaper-design consultant Ed Henninger.

One of Henninger’s suggestions — make public notices look more like the news — made sense to Scogin, who worked in newsrooms in Natchez, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama before becoming a publisher. He was the kind of journalist who read the public notices in his newspaper because he knew they were a source of news.

“The news value of public notice is overlooked,” Scogin says. “I thought that redesigning our public notice section was a good way to promote that. I also wanted to show the local government units that run the notices that we’re acting in their best interest.”

Scogin said the transition to a “presentable public notice section that invites readers” hasn’t been easy. Public notices must be run verbatim, which eliminates the design flexibility that comes with news stories. And the production staff responsible for designing public notices at the News-Graphic “just want to make ads,” so they aren’t used to thinking in terms of news design. So Scogin had to bring his newsroom and production department together to make the change.

He says local government officials have generally acknowledged the new look, but its biggest proponents have been his readers. He hears regularly from subscribers who hail the increased accessibility of the notices. 

Not everyone has been happy about it though. The owner of a liquor store who placed a notice in the News-Graphic to qualify for a liquor license was irate because its increased visibility prevented him from keeping his plans hidden from his local competitor. 

Scogin’s upgrade exceeds the letter of the law in Kentucky, which only requires notices to be published in 7-point type. The public notices in the News-Graphic are now 10.5 points, the same size as the type used for news stories in the paper. Moreover, the section head, large headlines, and pillowy white space, and the graphics that now accompany some notices, also use space. It’s space that Scogin doesn’t charge extra for.

“This is important,” Scogin says. “I’m happy to give up the extra space to provide our readers with information they need.”

Henninger Presents Public Notice Design Tips at Conference

ed_henninger_1Ed Henninger (photo courtesy Stan Schwartz, NNA) challenged publishers to add some design spice to their public notices during his speech at PNRC’s Best Practices conference on Sept. 22 in Franklin, Tenn. “If you make public notices difficult to read and treat them like an afterthought, nobody is going to look at them,” he said. Henninger followed with a humorous, rapid-fire presentation offering the following ideas:

  • Use a visual header in the public notice section (e.g., photo of the local courthouse)
  • Publish the contact information of public notice personnel
  • Use headlines to break up groups of public notices
  • Make lengthy notices more readable with columns and/or subheads
  • For auction notices, include photos of the items to be auctioned
  • Make public notices look like news, because that’s what they are
  • Publish a map to identify locations of the events promoted in the public notice section
  • Publish an index of public notice ads on the front page and/or in the public notice section
  • Provide the web address for each notice published in your paper
  • Publish old-timey photos in the public notice section (“People love old-timey photos”)
  • Include a “why public notices are important” statement in the public notice section
  • Add a glossary of public notice terms on the public notice page

Henninger offered to redesign public notices for free for the first publisher who called him after the conference. He also mentioned his grant program that helps to make redesigns affordable for newspapers with limited revenue.