Johnston Press is looking to create five different design templates to be rolled out across its portfolio of titles as it prepares to relaunch all 170 paid-for daily and weekly newspapers and news websites by the end of the year.
Renowned international design firm Cases I Associats has been awarded the contract to create the new designs. The new templates are being created following research by Experian into the types of markets Johnston Press serves.
Press Gazette understands that some editors are concerned about the new system because it will create strict templates within the Atex content management system which they will have limited ability to alter at a local level.
Editors are in negotiation with management over a limited amount of access to Indesign licences to enable them to create page designs locally.
One well-placed source told Press Gazette: 'Restrictive use of InDesign will still see things like story, pics and headlines not leading presentation – ie. we'll now use headlines that fit rather than the best one, pics as they come in rather than cropped.
"One thing is clear, there'll be no, or very little, room for designing our own pages. They don't trust editors not to mess the design up. In fact they seem to treat editors as an obstacle to change.
"We don't know how or if we'll be able to incorporate our individual local quirks, columnists, etc."
But Portsmouth News editor Mark Waldron, who is helping to coordinate the project, told Press Gazette: 'We've got the opportunity to get an international design agency on board and look at all our newspapers. It's an exciting project. That's not something we could do if we working at an individual level."
He said that most Johnston Press newspapers are already templated so operate under some design constraints.
He added: 'With templates you still have the freedom to create different pagesâ€¦that process will still be there under the new system."
Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield said in an email to last week staff: 'I want to help you make your titles the best they can be; titles you're ever more proud of (across all media); titles our readers and audiences buy in to (literally and metaphorically) and remain loyal to; and products that our advertisers – both locally and nationally – find indispensible as the most relevant and cost effective way of reaching their target audiences.
'To this end, I am genuinely delighted by the overwhelming positive feedback to the re-launch proposals. There are a number of minor issues that we can work together to overcome, and one big one – the proposed removal of InDesign.
'I understand your concerns. I do not want to make anyone's life harder. If we are going to improve the look of our titles, it must not come at the expense of total inflexibility."
Johnston Press is currently surveying editors to look at ways to address any concerns raised about the changes.
Under the current proposals, Highfield has said that Indesign will only be used to alter set design templates 'in extremis'and he suggested in his email to staff that: 'Editors who are unjustifiably in breach of the guidelines will need to account for them at local management meetings/business review sessions."