In May 1956, The Tico Times was an eight-page newspaper with an all-volunteer staff serving a relatively small expatriate community.
Nearly 50 years later, the paper, now Central America’s leading English-language newspaper with a readership of 45,000 and boasting as many as 72 pages per week, is preparing for its birthday milestone with a new, modern look.
For publisher Dery Dyer, for whom The Tico Times is her life’s work and a family legacy – her mother, Elisabeth, founded the paper, and her father, Richard, was its publisher – creating the new-and-improved paper hitting newsstands today was a process that involved a delicate balance.
“The most challenging thing for us, especially me, was making the paper more modern and reader-friendly without losing the image of The Tico Times everyone knows and loves,” she said. “What has always made The Tico Times unique is that it’s essentially a community paper.”
The paper, founded on May 18, 1956 in San José, has had various design and organizational changes over the years, such as the creation of the Weekend arts and culture section in the mid-1990s. However, this is the first significant, overall redesign in Tico Times history – and the first time an outside consultant, María Fe Alpízar of the graphic design firm MRM Soluciones Gráficas, has come on board to offer expert solutions.
Some of the biggest changes include a makeover for the paper’s masthead; a printing change that makes all the pages full color; a bar on the front page announcing what’s inside; more photos and improved graphics; an ad-free, two-page spread for opinion pieces and letters; and a clearer, easier- to-read classified ad section.
The redesign also encompasses The Tico Times’ sister paper, The Nica Times, and the Weekend arts and culture section. The Calendar pages in Weekend still have the same useful information about upcoming cultural and social events, but are now much easier on the eyes, with photographs and funky, colorful fonts. Weekend also sports all-new logos for its wide variety of columns.
One major goal of the redesign, according to Dyer, was relocating certain features of the paper to create a smoother, more logical organization. For example, the Movies listings are now published alongside the other cultural information in Weekend. (See box for more information on where to find sections in the new Tico Times.)
This kind of change didn’t come easy. The redesign is years in the making and has involved focus groups with readers, staff input, and hours of work and discussion among Dyer, Alpízar, General Manager Abby Daniell, Editor Auriana Koutnik, Weekend Editor Meg Yamamoto and Interim Editor Katherine Stanley.
One small but crucial detail that took hours of discussion: The Tico Times’ sun, which graces the masthead and other sections of the paper. Alpízar brought in dozens of computer-designed suns to replace the original drawing, a modified clip-art creation. Again, balancing a more modern look with Tico Times tradition was paramount.
According to Dyer, some of the participants in the initial focus group, held in 2004, said they didn’t want anything about the paper to change. Still, the group, in a conversation moderated by a market analyst, yielded important feedback that was taken into account during the redesign process.
Daniell said participants included Costa Ricans, Europeans, U.S. citizens and others, and ranged from long-time residents to recent arrivals. One was, almost literally, fresh off the plane: a tourist who’d “just flown into the country that day,” bought The Tico Times at 7th Street Books in downtown San José, and was told by owner John McCuen that the paper was looking for first-time readers for the focus group.
The 50th anniversary celebration in May will include a special edition focusing the paper’s history, and a reunion of past Tico Times staffers, some of whom have gone on to work at publications and news services including The New York Times, Reuters, Newsweek, the BBC, and Bloomberg. For more information on the reunion or other events, e-mail [email protected].
The Tico Times, printed by La Nación in Costa Rica and The Olathe Daily News in Kansas for subscribers in the United States, was the first paper in Costa Rica to print color photos on its front page, among the first to publish an online edition – now available daily at ticotimes.net and scheduled to launch its own new look soon, when a revamped Web site is unveiled later this year as part of the anniversary celebrations.
The paper was a leader, thanks to decades of work by former publisher Richard Dyer, in the effort to increase press freedom here by fighting to abolish the obligatory licensing of journalists. The Tico Times has also expanded into the world of book publishing, putting out a bilingual Restaurant Guide and the renowned Exploring Costa Rica guidebook, both updated annually. But some things don’t change.
“Costa Rica is the glue that holds the community (of Tico Times readers) together,” Dyer said. “The paper has always had this sense of bridge-building among cultures… and friendliness. It’s not a cold, impersonal, metropolitan daily. People feel they can express themselves through the paper, that the paper will respond to them.
“I think that’s our real strength,” she added. “I hope we never lose that.”