Can blue skies and flesh tones help America's last remaining black and white newspapers compete with television for advertising and customers?
That's the hope as some of the last remaining color hold-outs, the "good gray" New York Times and The New York Daily News, crank up new presses.
They join the majority of the nation's newspapers, which use color photographs on their daily front, feature, and sports pages. And, after The Washington Post finishes installing $250 million in new presses next year, The Wall Street Journal will remain the only major daily newspaper that does not regularly use color in its editorial process.
Newspaper designers say color presses are essential if papers are to compete with television, which moved to color more than 30 years ago. Several generations of American have never seen anything but color on TV. And many of those viewers don't buy daily newspapers, which have for years been declining in circulation.
"I think you do color just because it's expected that you do it - it's an aberration if you don't," says Dave Gray, executive director of the Society of Newspaper Design in Providence, R.I.
Madison Avenue is impatient with newspapers that can't reproduce color ads, which makes a deeper impression with readers, according to research. "Advertisers demand it. They know their message is more direct and memorable if it's in color," says Mario Garcia, president of New Media Design, a consulting firm based in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Those multi-hued flowers
The use of color also gives newspapers a greater impact. For example, after The Daily News shifted to color last week, it ran a front-page color photo of flowers left outside Kensington Palace by grieving Brits. "It made for a compelling photograph," says Walter Bernard, a design consultant with the New York firm of WBMG.
That's part of the reason the News made the shift. Les Goodstein, executive vice president of the News, says the paper worked on the premise that color will help it sell more newspapers. The look of the front and back pages are important because 80 percent of the paper's copies are sold on newsstands.
But newspaper consultants say color alone is not enough to turn around a newspaper. The Times, which has seen its circulation shrink in recent years, is also adding sections and later deadlines. "You need new approaches to content and the reader," says Ron Reason at the Poynter Institute, a media think tank in St. Petersburg.
A long time coming
The Times is making the shift slowly. In part, this will allow the newspaper time to get used to choosing color photos and to become more familiar with the $350 million in new printing equipment. As a result, it is using color only on the front of the sports, feature, and arts sections. A spokeswoman says that by the end of the year, the paper will begin printing color on the front page and the Metro section.
The slow pace is partly a matter of adaptation, says Gray. "It takes a long time to change an institution to accept color," he says. There is a perception that "serious" newspapers don't use color.
For a large newspaper, a shift to color is a major investment: Cost is one reason The Washington Post has not yet made the move. In 1981, the Post bought the black- and-white presses of the defunct Washington Star. "It was such a good bargain, they were delayed in the purchase of the offset color presses," says Mr. Bernard.
When a competing newspaper shifts to color, however, it puts pressure on its rivals to do the same. Newsday, which already uses some color, added color to its cartoons. The Daily News began running clever television ads pointing out that its tabloid rival, The New York Post, is still black and white. The Post has color presses on order.
Most New Yorkers seem glad to see the changes. As he heads to his midtown law office, Robert Becker, a sports nut, says it's about time, since the rest of the country already reads color papers. "A color photo is better than a black and white," he says, a Times tucked into his briefcase.