Autumn 2006

Reading Habits

‘Good’ editorial design has no place in
The Guardian’s print-your-own A4 G24,
but readers love its ‘robotic’ vernacular

We are creatures of habit. Bad habits that dull us and inoculate us against time passing, good habits that create space for new opportunities and excitement. The newspaper as a habit falls somewhere in between. Its regularised design allows us to digest the indigestible – war, famine, football, politics, Big Brother, climate change, Wayne Rooney’s ill-placed foot – while preserving us from the true horror of a broadsheet-sized image from the frontline by, for example, photographer Ghaith Abdul-Ahad.

But with The Guardian’s G24, old habits are rapidly being erased by new habits. G24 is a downloadable pdf that is updated on The Guardian website before you can finish reading an Eye feature, i.e. every fifteen minutes. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger explained the thinking behind the product: ‘G24 will be yet another way for Guardian readers to consume their paper. Increasingly, readers are demanding editorial content tailored to the time and place of their choosing, rather than to artificial deadlines dictated by old print production schedules.’

The forward-looking Guardian is heading into uncharted waters, cannibalising its content with a product that is not a product, as it is not actually sold, though by late afternoon you will be able to print out tomorrow’s news today. It is all done with a technology called the Scraper, which as Mark Porter, Guardian Creative Director, explains, ‘was created over six or eight weeks leading up to the G24 launch. The text and pictures are sourced raw from the website. The next bit is the process. The text is automatically poured into the InDesign template and styled, there is no human intervention at any stage unless there is a technical problem. For the user, it has to be printable on a home or office A4 printer in colour or black and white, and it has to be readable.’ The Scraper is a kind of artworker, pushing things through a pre-designed template. It takes things as they appear on The Guardian website and pastes them into G24. [...]