October 23, 2015 Last Updated 10:33 am

The New York Times rubs a little salt in the wounds of Cub fans with 1908 styled sports page

The Sports section of today’s New York Times features a page designed in 1908 style, with a column by one D. Francis Barry. The story, actually written by “This Land” columnist Dan Barry, is written in true early 20th Century style.

barrymets-layout-808The column gently pokes fun at both the Cubbies, who have not won a World Series since Theodore Roosevelt was President, and the writing style of the old newspapers. Barry pretty much nails it.

Sadly, it is a bit harder to reproduce the look seen in print in the NYT’s digital editions. The newspaper’s website contains Barry’s column, then links to an image of the way the page looks in print.

The tablet edition handles it the same way, providing a link from the story, laid out in standard NYT tablet format.

Print advocates will certainly see this as an example of where print is superior to digital, and they would have a point. But the only reason one can do this in print and rarely digitally is that most digital publishing platforms used by newspapers rarely allow for the kind of customization in look that is built into print.

The NYT has been a leader in doing innovative publishing work online – its Snow Fall feature being a prime example of this.

NYT-Sports-MetsBut the NYT hasn’t been an enthusiastic tablet publisher, first launching its iPad as a curated version of the daily newspaper, then adding content but doing little innovative work on design. This continues, though they do seem committed to their more recently released NYT Cooking app.

Of course, producing custom page designs takes time. This example, of the Mets defeating the Cubs, was printed a day late as the game took place on Wednesday and this page appeared on B11 of the Friday edition.

This may be why tablet editions, if a newspaper or magazine is to commit to the project, needs its own art director. A good digital publishing system would also allow for the inserting of custom pages. Right now, most apps are driven by RSS feeds and templates. This would not be considered a best practice in the world of print, but somehow supposedly digital-first publishers have considered this standard operating procedures.

My guess a decade from now publishers will laugh at the naïveté of the early digital publishing efforts.

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