What does the New York Times redesign say about its self-image?
In the words of the paper's Design Director Tom Bodkin, the goal of the new design was to mete out change—but not too much. "We wanted to appear traditional but less old-fashioned," he was quoted as saying in the Oct. 21 article. That's a precise choice of words, to say the least: The space between traditional and old-fashioned may be a narrow one, but it's exactly where the Times has always felt most comfortable.
Bodkin's quote suggests that the paper took the changes seriously, and it leads naturally to speculation about the debate that must have gone on inside the Times building about the new design. Consider a section later in the same article that took pains to note that the "new styles were chosen from numerous options commissioned by Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor, before his retirement in 2001. Final approval was given by the current executive editor, Bill Keller."
One name is conspicuously absent from those sentences—Howell Raines, who held the executive editor post in between the two men. It makes sense that Lelyveld and Keller, both of whom are known for an even-keeled style, might not have favored design changes that looked too racy; monogamy, typographical or otherwise, would seem to suit them just fine. But what about Raines, the editor who oversaw the rise and fall of Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg, who put Britney and Botox on the front page and seemed to thrive on upheaval? Somehow it's harder to imagine him agreeing to all Cheltenham, all the time.
Correction, Nov. 6, 2003: The article originally stated that the Times announced its redesign on Page A8. In fact, the article ran on Page C9. (Return to the corrected sentence.) In one instance, the article also misidentified the New York Times' new typeface of choice as Bookman when the correct name is Cheltenham. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Christopher Hawthorne is the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times.