For the past two summers, from windows in the Guardian office in London adjoining Regent’s Canal, I have watched a pair of swans raise two flotillas of cygnets. She broods, he patrols, and the young ones go from fluffy cuties to scruffy teenagers who stay in line far less during family outings on the dark water between the moored barges.
It’s a rather peace-inducing flash of nature in the relentless, hard-edged crush of this great city. And it’s a reminder of cycles and transitions. On display at present in the foyer of the Guardian is a small exhibition of many of this newspaper’s transitions. The show keeps the security guards company in a light-filled space beside the escalators.
Typographically sampling almost 200 years of newspaper design, the series of mainly front pages opens with the 1821 prospectus for the Manchester Guardian, the words still pulsing with relevance: “Foreign politics will now be the subject of anxious observation … spirited discussion of political questions, and the accurate detail of facts … sincere and undeviating attachment to rational liberty …”
Foreign politics will now be the subject of anxious observation1821 prospectus for the Manchester Guardian
Milestones may be the wrong word to describe these newspaper images, because the curators have not selected the editions in which the Guardian reported the big events of history: stock markets crashing, wars declared or ended, monarchs crowned or twin towers toppled.
Instead, the focus is on innovation: illustrations in the 1820s, discontinued in the 1830s under pressure of news; going daily in 1855; a Welsh edition (but in English) from 1925-41; “Manchester” dropped from the masthead in 1959 due to the paper’s “increasing influence and national distribution”; a bolder masthead in 1969 and the radical redesign of 1988 (remember theGuardian?); from 1992, G2, its tabloid size a harbinger; front-page colour in 1995; the Weekend magazine, launched in 2001; and in 2005, the thinner Berliner.
The last item on the walls records the reshaping to tabloid on 15 January this year. In the page one photograph of the newspaper that day was an embodiment of transition, Chelsea Manning.
In the month or so since the launch of the new format I have been collecting readers’ feedback. Many thanks to those who have responded with their impressions of what works and what doesn’t. From time to time over coming weeks I intend to summarise the main themes, ask editors for their responses and report back to you.
Until 6 May the Design Museum in London has a small display about the process of changing the Guardian to tabloid. It promises “a glimpse into the design decisions behind the new format and insight into how digital technologies are affecting the way we consume the news today”.
• Paul Chadwick is the Guardian’s readers’ editor