Oct 31, 2010

National College Media Convention

This past weekend, I attended the National College Media Convention in Louisville, Ky. with a few other BG News staffers.

The five-day convention consisted mainly of one-hour sessions dealing with every journalistic topic thinkable. I attended sessions on multimedia, editing, editorial planning, resume building, job hunting and, of course, news design.

One of the best news design presenters I listened to was Michael Koretzky from Florida Atlantic University. His sessions were titled "Chicken Salad" because you make chicken salad from chicken sh*t, and news design involves similar sifting.

Here are some highlights of his informative and colorful session:

  • Headlines should communicate an angle, not a topic; decks tell the story
  • Likewise, you cannot design a topic. You CAN design an angle.
  • Take lists of information out of stories. Pull them out and make them fact boxes.
  • Simple design works
  • A centerpiece needs to include people.
  • Pull elements out of the story to use as display text.
His last salutation encompassed the presentation:

Think big. Shoot defiantly. Write directly. Design boldly. 

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Oct 29, 2010

When newspapers die...

...where will designers go?

Each newspaper has, we're going to estimate, anywhere from one to nine designers working each night. On average. There are a bit more than 1,000 daily newspapers in the United States.

Do the math with me.

1 X 1,000 = 1,000
9 X 1,000 = 9,000

Plus a few extra. So anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 will be out of work. (But I will be the first to admit my shortcomings: my math is probably off. We'll just say millions.)

Imagine millions of good, bad and mediocre designers on the job hunt once the paper business folds. Where can they find work? Here are a few options.

1. Dairy Queen
I don't mean former news designers to soft-serve tasty treats to drunk college students at midnight. I want designers to redo the blizzard cup. I went to Dairy Queen a few days ago and I left unsettled with how the blizzard cups look. There is no consistency with the use of logos on the list of possible flavors. Some logos, such as Oreo, is in trademarked font, while some are not. And Oreo is only in trademarked font once. Consistency!

2. Marina and the Diamonds
Marina is a British music star. But she needs help with how to arrange the songs on her albums. Any competent individual would realize that "I Am Not A Robot" should have opened her album, "The Famly Jewels." We need some solid ideas to redesign this mess.

3. Book-cover Industry
I'm going to go ahead and plug my friend's blog about book covers. It might actually be kind of a good idea, though, for former page designers to get into designing book covers. Much the same thought goes into both jobs: both designs attempt to grab people's attention to read the content inside.

So have no fear! Designers, when your newspaper falls, you have plenty of options still to leave your mark on the world.

Oct 28, 2010

Design Abroad

So far this blog has highlighted one type of newspapers — U.S. papers.

In reality, European papers tend to be more notable and award-winning than the American counterparts.

European news design differs greatly, though. Language difference aside, it is easily tell spot an international edition.

For the most part, papers outside of the United States are still boasting larger page sizes and wider margins. Perhaps these publications are not hurting as badly financially as our are. Or perhaps their funding method is stronger. Either way, these publications have more room to work with, and it shows.

European publications also seem to be able to get away with more, from nudity to profanity. Violence seems to be more censored but not sex.

The pages are big and bold and full of strong content.

Here are some highlights of award-winning page design, according to Smashing Magazine:

De Morgen (The Morning) - A Flemish paper

Äripäev - an Estonian paper

Le Monde (The World) - A French paper

Oct 25, 2010

Selling above the fold

This front page is a fine-designed machine. Except for one thing. Can you spot it?

There is nothing exciting to compel readers to pick up the paper. Maybe the centerpiece is a clean design. Maybe. But the art head falls below the fold, so potential readers won't see it. Do you know what they will do instead? They will continue on to the laundromat, woefully uninformed of the political scandal currently wreaking havoc on Capitol Hill. What gossip will they be able to trade while not mixing their reds with their whites? None. And without a conversation opener, maybe they will never strike one up with the tall, handsome stranger with the dark eyes and chiseled jaw. And maybe then they will never marry and die alone surrounded by empty bottles of wine and cats. Or, even worse, maybe they'll pick up the competition.

So what do I mean by the fold? The fold is that crease in the middle of the newspaper when its folded in half to fit in the newsstand. Designers must always remember to keep the fold in mind when they're designing the front page. (For those who happen to be an inside page designer, the fold still matters, since it's still what readers read first, but it doesn't matter as much because by the time they get to that page, the paper is already open and the fold is almost irrelevant. Lucky SOBs.)

Of course, with the majority of the paper (and eventually all of it) transferring to the Web, this is mostly a moot point. And an excuse to show off the Greensboro News and Record's front page.

Oct 22, 2010

The price of news

What does this look like? 


If you answered, "Front page of the Los Angeles Times" or "Weirdly-designed news page," you would be wrong. Sorry.

It's actually an advertisement, parading as a front page. The entire front page of the Los Angeles Times is wrapped by this ad spread. But the new episode of "Law & Order" is not the main attraction of this page; notice the big "news" story. The headline is "Media icon hit by crime wave." 

There was no crime wave. The news was not news at all. It was just a sensational, pseudo story to attract attention to the advertisement (which was no doubt purchased with a lofty price). 

Only after picking up the paper and opening to page two could a reader see the real news of the day. And the only clue the artist of this cleverly-designed page gave to the spread's true intentions was a small note at the top of the page, above the headline: advertisement.

The Times has done this before, and they are not the only paper to have tried the ad-dressed-up-like-a-front scheme. But the writing and design of this particular September spread was intended to fool. The paper appears to be in dire need of a sale.

Is this an ethical move? Clearly page design has the power to fool. But should it? Will the paper lose future credibility?

The LA Times received mixed reviews. Readers were not happy with the slight of design. But the design did what the creative masterminds set out to do — sell papers. And this is a clear testament to the hard-up nature of newspapers.     

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Oct 20, 2010

News magazine?

Just glancing at a news stand, you can easily see newspapers and magazine look different.

Magazine design is much more free. Grids aren't as rigidly adhered to. And designers can dream a little bigger with a magazine spread. Sometimes a whole page will be devoted to a headline and byline.

Look at this beautiful magazine spread. The point is clear; the art hed is catchy. But one entire page of the double-page spread consists of only the headline and the story's lede.

Lucky ducks.

Newspapers are shrinking, which means page space becomes even more precious. Designers would probably love to design a gorgeous page with white space galore, but rarely does the chance come up. (See an exception here.)

But with everything else in the industry changing, why shouldn't the way we think about newspaper design change as well?

This daily newspaper was launched in May 2009. Its creative directors decided to combine the best of magazine and newspaper design to produce bold, stunning graphics. This paper still tells its stories but in an arguably more visual way.

But is all this design leaving good reporting in the dust? Is a page's look now the most important aspect, rather than the accuracy and quality of the stories? Will other newspapers just on the bandwagon?

Oct 19, 2010


At The BG News, stories are turned in by 4 p.m., copy editors arrive at 5:30 p.m. and designers arrive at 6 p.m. Once designers arrive, they have until 10 p.m. to get their pages laid out. You might think this is plenty of time, but more than once I have had to pull the plug on a design idea at 8, 9, even 9:30 p.m. (That last one was a bad night. The designer had come up with a clever, optical illusion centerpiece involving a bowling pin. It wouldn’t have worked for two reasons. 1. It didn’t really have much to do with the story. 2. The optical illusion would have failed because both the fold and the gray newspages would have ruined the effect. I told her we couldn’t do that. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night. We’re still friends.)

Just like reporters always have to be aware of how their stories could change, designers have to be aware of when their idea just isn't working. Or when something else happens. Sometimes, breaking news happens and the centerpiece or lead news story could change entirely. Working at a newspaper demands a flexibility from everyone — flexibility of hours, schedules and whatever project they're working on. You have to know when your idea is going south so you can scrap it and throw together something at least mediocre to turn in by deadline. Because, you know what? The paper has to be published. No matter what.

Oct 18, 2010

Newspaper + Museum = Newseum

Let's talk about the Newseum.

Every night before they leave their shifts, front page designers of member newspapers submit that paper's front page to the Newseum. Then the front page is posted the next day in an exhibit called Today's Front Pages. Hundreds of newspapers from all over the world submit front pages, and they are available for easy viewing access. Also, the actual museum in Washington D.C. displays a couple hundred front pages of different newspapers every day.

Front pages from when Hurricane Katrina hit, from when Obama won the presidency and from Sept. 12, 2001 are archived and available to view online or in person at the museum. There are also exhibits depicting the history of news as well as the future of news. But for designers, the best part are the front pages.

Need inspiration? Check your favorite papers daily to see how they're showing their information to the public. Want to just marvel at good design? All the time, writers say you can't be a good writer until you're a good reader, well, this is reading for designers. You can't be a good designer until you see the good, bad and ugly ideas fleshed out on an actual newspaper. Want to feel good about yourself? The Newseum picks its top 10 front pages every day from the crop it gets each night. I know people who have designed one of those top 10. It's an ego boost for sure.

But whatever your reasons, check it out.

Oct 13, 2010

Design: From Start to Finish

Watch closely and witness the design process. Soon newspapers will just post everything to the Web, so it's important to document how it used to be done in the "good ol' days."

The BG News
Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010
Production of Thursday's issue

Oct 10, 2010

Headlines for a Web Audience

In my crony's previous post, she wrote about catchy or punchy art heads (I spell it with the a), and how designers can blow them up big and play with typography in the absence of photos or a better idea.

Soon, though, art heads will be no more.

Since this blog is technically about all the things that will die when newspapers do, I figured I'd spend a moment to talk about Web headlines. Yes, they are different from newspaper headlines.

On a typical front page, for example, The BG News front page on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010, the centerpiece is graced with a punny art head: "University rakes in new students." A few, short words get the point across, and the story is further explained by the deck head below.

But this same story might have a revised headline for the Web, something like: "Bowling Green State University rakes in new students for Fall Preview Day." This is a fine headline, but there are now more words, making it less eye-catching and more cumbersome to say.

These headlines get changed for something called search-engine optimization. Newspapers want readers to find their websites, so they plug headlines with as many specific words as possible. When the headline just said "University," not many people would find that story through a search, because there are a lot of universities. But there is only one Bowling Green State University.

Gene Weingarten, a pulitzer-prize winning journalist at The Washington Post, wrote a column about this very phenomenon. His point was that newspaper headlines were losing their original magic when being revised for online readers.

But every once in a while, readers can still stumble across something like this.

Headlines aren't dead yet.

Oct 7, 2010

Gannett Revamp

Gannett Co., Inc., one of the largest publishers of newspapers in the country, will be taking its publications where no newspapers have gone before — streamlined design.
The newspaper power house, which owns 81 papers including USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Indianapolis Star, will be moving in-house page designers to their own "studios" in five spread-out locations. These five design studios will layout pages for multiple papers daily.

The impact: design will be consolidated, many designers will be out of jobs and the process will go from designers working on a newspaper's team to being completely separate from the story process as the company attempts to save money.

The good news? Gannett promises all 81 papers will not look the same (although they will have many similar features). Riiiight.

As a former page designer and current newspaper editor, I have it on good authority that creativity can come in short supply at times. If I were expected to design pages for even 10 newspapers, I think I would start to repeat at some point. And begin working on autopilot. (Don't worry. I won't be applying for one of the jobs.)

Another kicker — many Gannett employees found out about the consolidation through rumors and a leaked blog post. Days later, they were officially contacted by the publisher. Oops.

So what does this mean for news design? Will all multi-paper publishers pick up this tactic? Will this method actually save the company enough dollars to make a difference? Or will this just produce cookie-cutter pages from burned-out designers with no connection to the reporters?
The switch is not set to begin for another year or so — the timing will not be the same for each hub. So the impact will not be immediately known. Guess we'll have to see.

Oct 6, 2010

It's all in your art hed

We often think of news design as the photos, layout or graphics on a page. But headlines are quintessential to successfully-conveyed stories — and designers just can't keep their hands off important page elements.

Designers don't always write the headlines (though some of the more talented visual journalists will). But their manipulation of text and use of typography, known as an art hed, can make or break the presentation of a story.

Take this page from today's Muncie Star Press in Muncie, Ind. The story is somewhat interesting — construction on the state's wind farm has been delayed. But the photo doesn't have any action; it is just a house. The real art of this stunning centerpiece is the title, "Taking the wind out of their sails."

A designer managed to make me look at a story I may have otherwise blown by. Honestly, the only reason I even looked at this paper was because the art hed got my attention.

But with power comes great responsibility. Art heds have the vast potential to go awry.

Here is a news infographic found on a News Page Designer portfolio. The stories discuss political platforms and agendas of several candidates. But the design does not tell you that. In fact, the art hed gives no clue as to what the stories entail. The poor art hed, combined with the graphic behind the text, produces a confusing page. The message has been muffled. Thus the design has failed its objective.

Oct 5, 2010

Let good content sell itself

If simple design is good enough for the man upstairs, then it should be good enough for everyone. God didn't add a bunch of factboxes or photos or graphics when designing the Ten Commandments — He let the content speak for itself. And it has, for thousands of years.

Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.

Good design doesn't have to be flashy or spectacularly clever. It just has to be clean and focused, with a clear path for readers' eyes through stories and photos.

If design gets too clogged with big, script headlines and a whirlwind of colors and shapes, readers could get distracted from the very story the newspaper is trying to sell. Which is the last thing anyone wants. It doesn't matter if flashy design gets someone to pick up a newspaper, if that same design is too convoluted and there's too much stuff for the reader to comprehend, they will quit reading, and the designer will be a failure.

One of the biggest, and hardest lessons for designers to learn is to let good content stand alone. A mantra of design is to design, and then take away everything that is not the design. Or, in less vague terms, take away everything that doesn't help to tell the story.

If the centerpiece photo is great, make it huge and leave it be. If all you have is a catchy headline, mess with the font, but don't add a bunch of nonsense. Words caught readers' attention one hundred years ago; I think they still have that power, no matter what j-schools are teaching these days.

Oct 3, 2010

A History of News Design, Part 2

A history of news design is, essentially, a history of news. For important, historic events, it has often been said that newspapers are the first rough draft of history.

Design is how that rough draft is presented to the world. Check out these newspapers and see how they present/preserve one historic event.