Newspapers generally have two parts. One part is made up of news stories, opinion pieces, and other material prepared by, or chosen specifically by, the newspaper to report on news, add perspective, further the interests of readers. The other part is made of space sold to advertiser who place in that space whatever they think serves their best interests.
For the most part, this means that the newspaper-originated space aims to inform, educate, sometimes persuade, but generally serve what the newspaper believes to be in the public interest (however the newspaper defines that interest). The advertiser-originated space is there to promote the advertiser or its interests, to market or sell a product and generally to motivate readers to take some action that results in gain for the advertiser.
These are very different missions yet newspapers have traditionally made little effort to appreciate that they all come jumbled together on most pages for the reader's consumption.
I think there needs to be some rethinking of this, whether on a printed page or in a website.
I don't mean simply better layout and design or better demarcation.
I mean focusing on the reader and figuring out how the newspaper can serve its two constituencies - the consumer customers and the advertiser customers - more effectively. Surely, digital technology allows us to do all sorts of things that can respect and even enhance editorial independence while avoiding obnoxious advertising such as Apple and UPS most recently have placed on The New York Times website.
It means adjusting a lot from, yes, layout and design, to more conversation between and among newspaper people of all departments and wide assortments of consumer customers and advertiser customers. It's a lot more than focus groups which is as far as most newspapers go, and I don't know of any that combine consumer customers, a page of the newspaper in print or online and advertiser customers from that page - and maybe even the subjects of some of the newspaper-orginated content of that or those pages in a single discussion. What a great place to begin that would be!