Here's what's up with the changes to the features sections that you'll see beginning today.
A funny thing sometimes happens on the way to making change: It's not always the right thing to do.
Remember when Coke introduced us to new Coke, then had to bring back Classic Coke because consumers liked their old Coke just fine?
This may have been the case when we reinvented our daily features sections a few years ago and changed the name to Source. This wasn't something we did lightly. We agonized over the name change because our research showed us that Variety was one of the most popular sections of the paper, even though it was often filled with wire-service bylines instead of those of our own staff. In the end, we thought a new section should launch with a new name, and change it we did.
Fast-forward to spring of this year. I asked Christine Ledbetter, our assistant managing editor for features, to rethink and possibly consolidate some of the features sections because we were stretched too thin trying to put out 11 sections a week (seven daily features sections plus Taste, Home+Garden, Travel, and Arts+Entertainment). But we didn't want to do anything rash, either. As part of this project, we put together a team of representatives from news, advertising, circulation, production and marketing. We also conducted focus groups with some of our readers. (Unfortunately, we haven't done this as often as we should have in recent years.) As we debated the content and the names of the sections with our readers, the focus groups caught us completely off guard, and one erupted into applause at the mention of the old name, Variety.
Turns out readers had lots of reasons why they liked that old name. It was unique to our paper. They knew what it was and what it meant. They also didn't like so many of the features sections having different names.
"That was the most interesting thing, because you never really want to go back to the old," Ledbetter said. "You really want to move forward. But when they said that they missed Variety, we realized we had taken something away that they wanted. It had such a strong local identity."
Clearly, our readers know what they want, and we've listened.
Starting today, we're bringing back the name Variety for all of our daily features sections and consolidating two other sections into the redesigned Variety. Along with the classic name will come changes in content to all of the sections -- taking into account the feedback we've received from our readers as well as from our advertisers.
To be candid: There are some cost savings here for us, too. These changes will allow us to concentrate our resources on producing nine quality features sections instead of 11. They'll also save the paper some labor costs as well as newsprint at a time when newsprint prices are going up and newspaper advertising is in a recession. However, the amount of staff reporting and writing time that goes into these sections will not be diminished. The features staff has spent more than three months preparing for these changes and developing new content, and they are delighted to finally be able to share their work with you.
On Sunday, Source and Arts+Entertainment will be combined into a section called Variety A+E.
We have not changed any of the existing arts and entertainment coverage, columnists, crossword puzzles, or daily TV content that readers have come to expect, but there won't be as many cover stories, since we'll only have one cover. We're also adding coverage of pop culture and design to this section, which I think readers will enjoy, if the sneak previews I've seen are any indicator.
In Travel, we're adding a page of content, with a new feature called Retreats, which focuses on second homes. "We'll profile someone who has a second home and we'll tell you, if you were looking in that market, the highs and lows," Ledbetter said.
The other major change comes on Wednesday, when Source and Home+Garden will be combined into Variety Home+Garden. During the rest of the week, we have aggregated content where it makes sense to do so, Ledbetter said. "So on Monday, we have all our health and fitness content in one place," including the addition of a female fitness column. "We also have a new home in the daily Variety section for reviews, and we have a 'best bets' on page 2 -- activities that you can go to."
Tuesday's Variety section will focus on digital entertainment, DVDs and CDs. Thursday's Variety will showcase fashion and general lifestyle and entertainment news; we have also taken advantage of this time of change to add a thrifty cooking feature to Thursday's Taste section. You'll see little change to the Friday and Saturday features sections except the name.
So there you go, readers. It's back to Variety, seven days a week, with a different slice on life each day. We hope you enjoy it -- and we want you to know that we're listening.
If you'd like to comment on these changes, e-mail us at varietyfeedback@startribune. com or call 612-673-4331.