Flag or no flag….
July 2, 2008, 10:00 am
Filed under: Internet, Journalism, News Industry


On Tuesday, we had a discussion in the newsroom about whether redesigned website should have the Spokesman-Review flag on it. The prototype simply said “” in simple type — nothing remotely fancy about it.

I believe a newspaper, these days, is a news organization and should be branding each of its products (print, online, radio, etc.) with its trusted logo. In fact, the online folks were actually arguing against using the flag, because they want to differentiate the products — which is beyond my comprehension. But I don’t really want to get into all of this, mostly because I’m not sure how much about it I can say.

So my question here is, do newspaper websites look better with or without their flag? The New York Times website, for instance, has the newspaper’s flag displayed prominently. The Washington Post’s site, however, does not. Likewise, the Seattle P-I does not have its flag (though it does have the recognizable globe), and The Seattle Times does.

If you look around, you’ll notice that most of the newspapers that do not display their flag say something like “” or “HeraldNet.” There are some newspapers that make a hybrid of their flag plus “.com,” such as at The News Tribune of Tacoma.

Lisa and I were talking about how putting “.com” or “online” or something in your website is just plain redundant. “Oh look, we’re on the internet!” Websites these days are referred to by their name, not their URL. We no longer say “,” we say “Facebook.” It’s never been “,” it’s always been “YouTube.” Why in the world would we put “”?

What do you think?

UPDATE: I’m adding onto the bottom of my post to make my responses to the below comments more prominent.

Ryan brings up a lot of great points, and he’s valid in bringing up that he and the rest of the online folks have been focusing far, far more on website functionality than design. Huge “attaboys” to them, because I think the reimagined navigation system is genius. And I understand that switching “” in text to an image of the S-R flag — or something similar — takes all of 15 seconds. And I understand that what was presented was a prototype.

But I wanted to write about the flag question because I thought it brings up an entire paradigm issue of how newspapers balance and juggle their products — print, online and, in some cases, radio or others.

About using or not using a newspaper flag as a logo on a website, Ryan writes:

I do understand the concerns about confusing readers as to the source of our information, but I think trying to solve that by using our print nameplate as our main online logo *also* risks confusing readers — making them think the site is simply an electronic copy of what they see in newsprint.

An extremely valid point. However, I also wonder if people who are going to the website would actually be confused. Wouldn’t there be promos, right on the home page, to videos and other obviously online-exclusive content? Or, wouldn’t the fact that the reader is online distinguish the products be enough? You wouldn’t pick up a Spokesman-Review newspaper or tune into the S-R-powered radio station and confuse the two of being the same thing.

But as far as the paradigm issue, for me it all boils down to this idea. A newspaper should no longer be viewed as a newspaper, but as a news organization. A newspaper’s product, information, is distributed in various formats: print and online (and sometimes radio, etc.) It’s as simple that. Gone are the days of thinking of the print newspaper as one product and the website as another. These things need to be fully integrated and should have been years ago.


15 Comments so far
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I believe that it is important to maintain name recognition across platforms. I think the Washington Post approach is confusing — is it the same paper or not? The SpokesmanReview should be viewed as a single news entity regardless of how it is sourced. You’ve spent the lifetime of the paper building the reputation of the name — use the flag.

Comment by beach

Exactly: The flag is your brand. Unless you have serious brand problems, use what you’ve been building up all these years. Otherwise, you might not appear any more credible than any jerk with a blog.

Wrap that in with your last point. Someone’s going to say: “Yeah, I read it on Spokesman,” and get a round “wtf” from their interlocutor.

Save differentiation for stand-alone products that you might not want associated with the Spokesman brand.

Comment by tor

Agree with both posters above!

Comment by vidiot

I wanted to add to what Victor said, in light of a discussion/battle we had in the Evergreen newsroom earlier this summer. When Victor and I were still around and reluctantly conceding our power over the college paper, we lost an argument about how the flag should look on the new Evergreen website.

The new editors decided to use the exact same flag on both web and print. Victor and I had been favoring a modified version for the web that was essentially the same in font and appearance, but playing with the color and presentation a bit to fit the web better.

I wanted to point this out as a way of clarifying that branding doesn’t mean stagnancy. It doesn’t mean just vomiting the old print product onto a website. Design, not a new identity, is the most effective way to bring newspapers into a more diverse online future without sacrificing tradition.

Comment by Lisa Waananen

Websites these days are referred to by their name, not their URL. We no longer say “,” we say “Facebook.” It’s never been “,” it’s always been “YouTube.” Why in the world would we put “”

These are entities that have existed only on the Web, as opposed to newspapers whose sole identities are pretty much still the print product.

I don’t see a problem with having a different identity on the Web site because the site has a different focus than the print product. Yes, the stories appear on both but there is much more on the Web than in the paper. Also, they are geared toward different audiences. Papers usually target their sites toward those who do not pick up the paper. The Web has a different demographic that usually never touches a print paper, and probably never will.

Comment by beverstine

But honestly, I don’t think anyone cares except for us. Is the average reader going to notice? Do people get confused about a story on

Comment by beverstine

I think readers do get confused by something like being the Web nameplate instead of The Boston Globe. Anybody can make a site and name it after a city, county, state, etc. Using a different name (not the newspaper’s name) makes sense if it is a niche site, e.g.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

In fact, the online folks were actually arguing against using the flag, because they want to differentiate the products — which is beyond my comprehension.

I’ll be the first to admit that the conversation over using our flag online caught me off-guard, for a couple of reasons. First, there are a ton of other things changing that I figured people would be curious about. And second, the pages we were looking at were *prototypes*, with plenty of things still to be done.

Granted, I’ve been staring at little else for weeks now and had done about a dozen demos over the previous few days. I know there are things I didn’t say very clearly, and it’s highly probable that I assumed I was communicating things that didn’t come across at all. A little bit inside baseball here, but let me put down a few thoughts:

* The simple text logo at the top wasn’t intended to be the be-all and end-all of logos. I’d be fine if we do stay with it — one emphasis of this redesign is to make the *content* stand out and make the page furniture get out of people’s way, and a super-simple logo is one way to do that. Not the only way, of course, and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit if we scrapped that text logo tomorrow. We’ve already been talking with someone about some design work targeting that page header area.

* At this point, I don’t think a straight replica of our print nameplate should be our main website logo. For a variety of reasons, really, but mainly because this is a distinct platform that will continue to become more and more different than the print product. I do understand the concerns about confusing readers as to the source of our information, but I think trying to solve that by using our print nameplate as our main online logo *also* risks confusing readers — making them think the site is simply an electronic copy of what they see in newsprint. Since there are so many examples of effective news sites that don’t straight-across use their print nameplate, I’d rather err on the side of being clear that we’re treating this medium differently.

* Branding. I believe in it, for sure. But I don’t think this is as simple as saying that the nameplate is our brand. Our people, our standards, our information, those are all part of our brand too. (And when, for example, people hear “powered by The Spokesman-Review” during our radio broadcasts, those parts are far more important than a nameplate.) If we want to have the conversation as it pertains to the website logo, though, I think we have to be honest enough to be more complex about it: Yes, the product with that nameplate continues to bring in the bulk of our revenue. But people are leaving that product incredibly rapidly. How badly do we want to carry over that logo? I don’t think it’s a simple question.

* I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but I got the vibe during the meeting that some people felt like it was a personal slight that the online prototype didn’t have the print nameplate on it. Maybe it’s because a lot of people still identify themselves most strongly with the print edition; I’m not sure, I’m just guessing here. The truth is that the nameplate *isn’t* sacred to me — I reserve those feelings for the people who work here and the job that we do. Blowing up the process and the look and feel of any of our products is just fine with me, as long as we can preserve those two things.

* All that said, I’m not arguing at all that we should avoid incorporating the print nameplate on the site. Not at all! Frankly, I like the way papers like the Washington Post and the P-I do it, and if I’d have done that demo three weeks from now, that print logo may well have been incorporated into it somewhere. Possibly even a “” crafted from the existing site logo, which does reference the nameplate without simply mimicking it.

The fact of the matter is that we were just looking at a prototype, and only two pages of it at that. We’ve been focusing far, FAR more on functionality and easing the way both our journalists and readers can interact with information on the site, and the design work that’s been done so far has been to that end. Popping in a logo is a 15-second cosmetic change; what we’ve been working on is a complete refactoring of our site that we’ve been waiting years for. (Which is probably why I was caught off-guard by the complete lack of questions about THAT, and all the focus on a logo.)

* I hear you on the “.com” thing. It doesn’t bug the crap out of me or anything, and I think I’d be happier without it, but it’s there right now for the reason beverstine brings up: Our website is one platform among many from our company. I wouldn’t mind looking at a Spokesman Online version or something similar, though, just to get rid of the “.com.”

Comment by Ryan

Random note. I was talking to a random guy today about a story that was in The News Tribune a few days ago, and he said he didn’t read it in the paper, he read it on Tribnet, what the Trib’s site used to be. I though it was interesting that 1. He remembered Tribnet and 2. That he pointed out the difference. He knew it was a TNT story, but he didn’t say he read it on the Web site, he said Tribnet.
I am going to ask around to see what the reasoning was in going to

Comment by beverstine

I think this is a really valuable conversation. This is awesome.

Mostly in response to Ryan, I think it’s impossible to undervalue how much the flag is worth. I’m not a person who values tradition for its own sake and I’ve never had a byline appear under the Spokesman flag. But in my first few weeks in the newsroom, I see excited children on tours constantly taking pictures of the front desk. At first I couldn’t imagine what they were trying to photograph. It turns out it’s the gold version of the flag you see on the front desk when you get off the elevators. To us, we don’t even notice it; to them, a bunch of kids, it meant they were somewhere special.

Comment by Lisa Waananen

I think newspaper nameplates are romantic things too. But part of me also asks: If putting a logo on a product has magical power, why are print newspapers bleeding so badly?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit since the topic first came up, and I think I’m leaning toward an approach that would look something like this:

Our company is (as far as *I* know, at least) going to remain The Spokesman-Review. All our platforms have individual purposes, strengths, etc., but ought to be tied together. So we ought to have:

– Spokesman Online, powered by The Spokesman-Review (using that logo)
– Spokesman Radio, powered by The Spokesman-Review (using that logo)
– At some point, very possibly Spokesman TV, powered by The Spokesman-Review (using that logo)
– And so on, and so on.

Each platform is, by necessity, going to be designed and presented very differently. People will use them differently. Branding them as a family of platforms makes more sense to me than trying to brand them as the same thing.

Comment by Ryan


I really only wanted to use the Spokesman as a jumping off point for a discussion on newspapers in general. Blogging about the Spokesman specifically makes me slightly uneasy. But I’ll bite….

So what would the print product be called? Just The Spokesman-Review, right? Part of my point is that we have to get away from associating the name with ONLY the print product. What you’re telling people, with “powered by,” is: Spokesman Online, powered by The Newspaper. Spokesman Radio, powered by The Newspaper. Spokesman TV, powered by The Newspaper.

Everything should be The Spokesman-Review, just on different platforms. The Spokesman-Review is no longer just a newspaper, it’s a news organization that publishes on multiple platforms.

Comment by Nick Eaton

Gotcha on using us as a jumping-off point. Wasn’t sure how specific you were intending to be.

The Spokesman-Review is no longer just a newspaper, it’s a news organization that publishes on multiple platforms.

I’m sure you know this, but that’s something I completely agree with. Each platform is incredibly different, and will likely continue to diverge. So I’m just not sure how much sense it makes to call all those platforms the same thing.

On a practical level, it has the potential to create confusion. If you’re telling someone you got information from “The Spokesman-Review” and all our platforms are named the same thing, that becomes a much more tedious explanation. Or say we want to advertise content on a specific platform, on a billboard, for example. Explaining what exactly people should do to find that content become a lot harder when you can’t just say “watch it on ABC,” or “find it on,” or “hear it on ABC Radio.” Or what happens if we launch a weekly magazine product — are we supposed to call that “The Spokesman-Review” too? What about 7?

To me, this starts to become like calling all soda a “Coke.” And that’s probably the best analogy for the way I look at our situation. Coca-Cola is a company. Coca-Cola is also a product, but it’s not the company’s only product. And it wouldn’t make sense for them to brand Diet Coke as Coca-Cola, or Sprite as Coca-Cola, or so on. People may consume one or all of the company’s products, but each product is designed to meet a different need.

Our platforms all meet different needs, too, and do it in different ways. Whether The Spokesman-Review will always be the name of our print product, I don’t know. Maybe it shouldn’t be! But regardless, I don’t see it as “Spokesman Online, powered by The Newspaper,” I see it as “Spokesman Online, powered by the news organization.”

Comment by Ryan

One thing that I think news organizations don’t address is that information is effectively a commodity product. I can get bulk copper from thousands of companies, but I want to pick the company from which I can quickly get the rawest, purest stuff for the lowest price.

So let’s take news: Since nobody pays for general news anymore, we map effort to price. I can get the same information on a blog or the opinion leader in my circle of friends at a very low price. Getting news from The Spokesman-Review is harder than chatting with my friends, but it’s the rawest, purest stuff.

I would further that platforms aren’t diverging, they’re inevitably coming together. In twenty years, we almost certainly won’t have a serious print presence. In twenty years, it’s pretty likely that TV and radio will be in deeper trouble than print is now. The last thing we want to be doing is building platform-specific brands that we’ll need to reconcile again in a few years when the only viable game in town is the internet.

Rather, we ought to train people who can think across media and develop an organization that consumers will turn to as The Source of Information (sic.) for their city.

@Lisa: Changing the site flag to the print one – and thus ceding power in that argument – was a moment I’d been preparing for, but was surprised how hard it was.

For anyone curious: The site-specific flag was simply a solid color version of our paper’s flag with the pseudo hand-tooling taken out and color-matched to the page background. Same visual characteristics, just expressed differently.

I think any paper that is transitioning to a full-on news organization needs to take a long, hard look at its brand’s visual identity. Protip: Packaging matters.

Comment by tor

[…] to see, however, that the Spokesman’s flag is at the top, instead of plain text. And it looks like most of the advertising spaces are filled. […]

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