How we redesigned our student newspaper in a week

The Asbury Collegian, redesigned: Sept. 2, 2011

There are many good reasons to redesign your campus newspaper (here are a few I discussed earlier). And I was fully convinced at the end of this past semester we needed to redesign our newspaper at Asbury. The difficulty was figuring out how to go about it. Here’s what we ended up doing; and I hope it may help you if this is something you’re thinking about.

 1. We determined the extent of the redesign

I did research online, I looked over newspapers students had redesigned and I stalked tabloid design on Newseum. But even with this research and the various conferences I’ve attended on newspaper design, there isn’t much out there explaining how to go about completely redesigning a newspaper. All we could do is dive in – and that’s what we did. Last semester came to an end and I met with the Executive Editor to determine how far we could go with the redesign. We set our goal: a complete revamp, including a new personality, page size, structure and content. We had high hopes, but little idea of how difficult it would be to actually accomplish the task.

 2. We put together a team of talented individuals who were dedicated to the project

The team consisted of Jane, the Graphics Editor; Erika, the Layout Editor; Anna, the Executive Editor; and me, the Managing Editor. We would have never finished if it wasn’t for the four of us dedicated to completing this redesign no matter how long it took to complete. And it took a long time, believe me. For some reason I had this idea we could begin and finish the redesign remotely during the summer months. I laugh now when I consider how impossible that would have been. To do something this complex we had to be together. After two months of pathetically trying to get something working remotely, we made the decision to return early to Asbury.

 3. We talked – a lot

Granted, the redesign team did comprise entirely of women, but there’s a lot of good that came out of our discussion. The four of us arrived on campus a week before the beginning of class and met in the Collegian office Monday afternoon. We knew we wanted to take the paper from broadsheet to tabloid and from an undefined personality to a very specific personality. Our Graphics Editor did good deal of research over the summer so we mostly spent our time narrowing down our new personality. I love the description we settled on: Dove men’s shampoo. Seriously! It defines our style so well, and it gives us a good chuckle.

4. We spent hours creating a mock-up Collegian

It took the Graphics Editor and Layout Editor many, many hours to create a mock-up of the newspaper in the new tabloid page size. Erika tackled the layout, and since broadsheet layout and tabloid layout is quite different, it took a little getting used to. She worked on incorporating more info boxes, graphics and pictures into the pages. We also played around with layouts you would typically find in a magazine and rarely in a newspaper. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! Jane dedicated her time to figuring out several important details, which I’ll discuss in the list of newspaper elements below.

 Nameplate

Jane worked first on the new nameplate. We wanted the nameplate to look more like a logo than our last nameplate and to be flexible so it could go at the top, bottom, right or left. I think Jane accomplished this very well. What do you think?

The official Asbury Collegian logo designed by Jane Brannen.

Folio

Since our first edition this past Friday, we’ve decided to modify the folio further but I still like it. We just need to change the location of the page number so it’s easier to decipher which page you’re looking at. Thank you, Zach, for pointing this out.

 Type Faces

Honestly, we didn’t spend as much time discussing the typefaces since Jane had already completed most of her research over the summer. Headlines and the folio are Steelfish; the body is Arno Pro; and the subheads are Museo. We may introduce more weights as the semester progresses. For now, we’re still testing out these fonts and we’ll see if we need more flexibility.

 Cutlines

Previously we ran cutlines directly below the pictures in left alignment. But I’m a big fan of a white box at the lower right corner, which is where we’ve decided to place our cutlines. They are in Helvetica Neue in right alignment.

 Pull Quotes

I feel like pull quotes can easily ruin a layout, but I’m fairly certain our pull quotes don’t fit in that category. They’re fairly simple. The quote is right aligned with white space above, which the eye naturally creates into a box.

Page 4 of the redesigned Asbury Collegian

5. We communicated the new personality to the newspaper staff

After four days of nonstop design work, we took a break for staff training. The training lasted two days and we dedicated two sessions on Saturday to explaining the new design. Not much, but it helped. And it was so encouraging to see the staff embrace the new personality! We also had the opportunity to learn from Buck Ryan, the creator of the Maestro Concept. I can’t go into all the specifics right now, but there’s a lot we learned from his session and a lot we will continue to develop throughout this year.

 6. We did it

Production night came much faster than expected. I encouraged the section editors to arrive early and place the content on the page. When the content was laid out, Erika and I would go through and design the pages while Anna and Courtney edited – at least, that was the plan. It worked for the most part, but we came across many unexpected problems. Let’s just say this past production night was the longest ever! Erika, Anna and I didn’t leave the office until 4:30 a.m. It’s a memory to never forget and, hopefully, never repeat.

If you want to redesign your student newspaper, do it! Seriously. None of us regret all the work put into this project. We’ve had so many students mention how much they like the new paper. Thank you to the amazing Collegian staff who put all this work into the first edition and for the work you will put in for the rest of the year! =) It’s something to be proud of.

(View the entire redesigned issue)

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NYC internships from a graphic designer’s perspective

Guest post by Erika Graham

My summer internship came to a bittersweet end yesterday, and I still can’t believe that I’ll be back at school in less then a week. As an editorial intern for the Toy Book, a leading toy trade magazine based in Manhattan, I had a wonderful time running around NYC and gaining an experience that I’ll never forget.

In order to fit my summer into a 500-word blog post focused on why a NYC internship might be the best learning experience you’ll ever have, I’ve compiled my top three moments at the Toy Book. I also thought that, since I am a guest on a newspaper design blog, my list might hold a little more attention then a large block of text…

Top Three Moments of My NYC Toy Book Internship

  • Writing a bylined article for a nationally syndicated publication. I was asked to write the story for the annual ABC Kids Show a couple of weeks ago, which was definitely the highlight of my time at the Toy Book. I also got to design the layout for this section of the magazine. It always pays off to get to know your editors and let them know what you’re interested in. As soon as my editor knew I had experience with layout design, she started sending me more projects that involved both writing and design.
  • Meeting Dan Marino. I was able to meet him and other NFL legends at the media party for the fall release of NFL Madden 2012, one of the many events that I attended with the Toy Book. Writing that article might have been my top moment, but getting to participate in private demonstrations of new products and the upcoming holiday showcases was a very close second. Sitting down and playing the new FORZA Motorsport video game while the game developer sat next to me and explained it at Xbox’s Holiday Showcase in Milk Studios is an experience that can’t be duplicated at a local internship.
  • The contacts that I’ve made (and the sweet resume addition)! There is nothing like knowing you’ve made a few friends and really succeeded in your work as the internship comes to a close. I’ve added contacts that I can reach out to at any time for help when I’m looking for future internships, that evasive first job, or where to find the best slice of NYC pizza. Looking ahead to the fall semester, I’ve already had several responses to different intern positions due to my great summer experience.

 It’s not any grand discovery that interning while in college is (or should be) a huge priority. But definitely don’t wait until you’re a junior or a senior to start applying! I’ll be a sophomore in the fall, and while the job search is not right around the corner for me, I know that I’m opening doors for myself by taking advantage of the opportunities now.

As for next summer, I’ll most certainly be back in Manhattan, working for a different publication and chalking up some more “only in New York” experiences.

Erika, Riah and Leah in Times Square Spring 2011

A few good reasons to redesign your college or university newspaper

Why not? That’s the real question. While professionals in the newspaper business have written about the advantages of redesigning traditional newspapers, there are some differences between a college newspaper and a general newspaper redesign. First, the main reason behind a redesign of, say, the Charlotte Observer would be to drive more sales. Make the paper look fresh and maybe more people will be tempted to pick it up. However, college newspapers are not sold; we give them away. So what is our motivation to slave away on InDesign and Photoshop during the summer?

It’s a good question and one you might consider answering before committing yourself wholeheartedly to this monstrous (or small) redesign. But here are some reasons for thought that sum up why I am pursuing a redesign:

  1. There’s nothing quite like seeing good work published, especially when you created it. At first I only knew the extreme excitement of getting an article published, now I get to enjoy working with others and becoming way overexcited when our work gets published.
  2. Perhaps this should be first, but I love seeing people pick up the newspaper and actually find it interesting. I think, with this redesign, our newspaper will become more focused toward our age group and more engaging.
  3. I want my college newspaper to be on the cutting edge of technology and design trends. Let’s show off our awesome talent in a bold way and not hide behind a shabby design outdated 20 years ago. Other newspapers are limited by their audience, advertisements and editors. We are only limited by our imaginations…and a few common sense guidelines.

No matter how your college or university newspaper is set up, don’t settle for average. Go for the best newspaper this country has ever seen. Take your newspaper to a whole new level this year and, whatever you do, make sure you bring your readers with you. Bring it to a level above their expectations so they will be excited each week (or day) to pick up your publication.

How to build better front page packages using Buck Ryan’s Maestro Concept

I was in Nashville, Tenn. last month attending one of Tim Harrower‘s workshops when I heard mention of a curious concept called the Maestro Concept. It’s the idea that if you spend a little time incorporate planning, your team will be able to create complete packages for a dominate story.

Have you ever had an experience where a reporter comes in with a story that has the potential to be a perfect front page story but lacked photos, a clear angle or other catchy info graphics or visuals? So at the last minute you try to pull together some pictures (that probably aren’t exactly what you’re looking for) and end up giving your graphic editor some grief with a last minute request for something visually attractive to go along with the story.

It happens in my college’s student news room all the time. Students will send in stories of events or important issues without having any pictures or info I can use to create fast fact boxes.

So what can you do about it? Buck Ryan, the creator of the Maestro concept, has been encouraging news rooms for years to pick a maestro who will orchestrate the stories from infancy to publication.

There are several key elements to the concept. The two I particularly latched on to as a college student are group meetings and coaching writers. The group meeting can occur during a budget meeting but I think it would be better to have a more intimate meeting with the writer working on the top story of the week/day, a photographer, designer and anyone else who would be key to getting the story package.

And sometimes this idea requires team members to rethink some of their habits.

Buck said in an e-mail,
“Maestro requires a new way of thinking for editors (they need to coach reporters to improve focus and time management); for reporters (they need complete their reporting with a sketch in mind and the task of writing sidebars first, suggested headlines and captions); for designers (reader questions drive the design); and for photographers (they write the “lead,” where readers start the story).”

Depending on how your newspaper approaches the whole process, this idea can take more or less work implementing than it would take to implement in my college’s student newspaper. But Tim Harrower said in a recent e-mail that it is worth the work.

Tim said,
I’ve seen papers transform the way they collaborate using the maestro process. Especially smaller papers. That’s the main reason I keep promoting it so heavily. I’ve seen night-and-day transformations in college papers, in particular — which seem to have a hard time getting reporters to take the time for pre-planning. But when they do, the results are often dramatic. (And even incremental improvements — simply adding a sidebar to a story, for example — can increase the readability and usefulness of a story in a subtle way.)

Buck also gave a few tips for college students or professionals who want to give it a go.

Buck said,
Start with one big story and one small team (editor, reporter, photog, designer) who gets the idea. See the process all the way through, celebrate success, offer critique on how to do it better and master the next time, and keep going with the one team until you have a record of success. Then let that team bring along the rest of the staff.

If you want to learn more about Buck’s ideas, check out his book “The Editor’s Toolbox: a Reference Tool for Beginners and Professionals.

Freelancing and Search Engine Optimization

Here are some notes from two workshops I went to yesterday. They were really helpful to me and I hope I can pass some of the most important things on to you.

Second Workshop: Online freelancing

Sandra Romo from California Baptist University gave this workshop; she did a great job. The content is very useful for a student, such as myself, and it definitely gave me motivation to give freelancing a try. Here are a few websites she recommends:

Elance.com – A site where you can bid on articles. You get 10 bids for free per month. She mentioned that there is also a section of the site where you can bid on design projects. I’m not quite sure how that works.

Seed.com – a site that creates content for AOL. You create a profile and write requested articles. There is some risk involved since there’s no guarantee your article will be picked up. It is, however, a great byline for your resume.

Demandstudios.com – This site requires you to apply to work for them to create content for eHow. I believe you get paid around $15 an article. If you can spit out two in an hour, that’s not a bad hourly wage.

Writersmarket.com – Rather than buying the huge writer’s market book, freelancing positions can now be conveniently found online. There is a yearly membership requirement, though.

Mediabistro.com – Free courses, job postings and overall a great resource. With a paid membership, there are even more resources on hand.

Issuu.com – A site where you can create a snazzy looking portfolio that actually looks like a book – the pages turn and everything. If you don’t want ads to run along the side of the portfolio, there is a small cost.

Sandra also emphasized that social networking, investing in a website or blog and creating a virtual portfolio is a must. Great workshop! Thanks for all the helpful resources, Sandra.

Third Workshop: SEO 101 for Journalists

Now this was also an awesome workshop! Aram Zucker-Scharff from George Mason University gave a fast-paced lecture on Search Engine Optimization for websites, blogs and anything else you put up on the web. He said there are three areas search engines pay close attention to: the title, description of the article and keywords.

Title – Is what to call the Article. You might have to sacrifice creativity for keywords in order to get noticed by Google. He also said titles should be no more than 60 character since they will get cut off by the search engine and look rather odd.

Description or excerpt – Is a summary for search engines. WordPress and other blog platforms will often have a field to enter descriptions. Make sure the lead is here and is no longer than 160 characters. There is also talk that Google will pass over or penalize descriptions that do not match the content of the article. Remember, content is still very important.

Keywords – Some call these tags. Keywords can include locations, events, important information, companies, titles and even your name. (It’s also a good idea to develop 10 to 20 keywords to work into your articles, but remember not to over do it.) Also consider using keywords you think you can win with. So don’t just go for a really broad keyword when you can make it more specific. You may show up on page 10 with a broad keyword instead of page 1 with narrower keywords.

He also reiterated the importance of linking to and from sites. If you have a choice between linking to the homepage or linking to a specific article, always be sure to link to the article. This is called deep linking. There are many things you can link to, company webpages, data, stats and products. Just don’t overdo it. I get the feeling that it looks cluttered.

It’s also important to have high ranking sites linking to you. Aram said it’s almost as if the websites are casting their vote in your favor; the more important the site casting the vote, the higher and the more power it has to push your site up in rank. For example, twitter has a page rank of 9, facebook has a page rank of 10 and anything ending with “.edu” will be considered a higher than average rank. (This is one reason why it’s really good to get “.edu” websites to link to your page.) But be careful to not be repetitive. So don’t post the link to your article on facebook then an hour later repost it. Apparently Google penalizes for that kind of repetitive posting on the same host.

Well, it was a great workshop. Aram closed by saying it’s important to market yourself and your content. By doing so in a smart, ethical way, search engines will start to recognize your site even more.

I’ve been to many more workshops since these two and I’ll post more about them later. The workshops have been great so far! I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day.

A Designer’s view on that dominant element

Check out his website and blog at newsdesigns.com

Graphic Designer Matt French

Matt French, a graphic designer at Sun Media, a daily commuter paper based out of Toronto with a circulation of about 870,000, shared his perspective in a recent e-mail on the dominant photo/art on a page.

Sometimes, in order to be fair to all of the stories and their pictures, a page designer will make all of the pictures the same size. Unfortunately, you can’t be fair. There are several very good reasons why a dominant story and photo/graphic is a must on every page. I asked Matt to explain why and I agree with his response completely! Matt has an awesome website on newspaper design, which you can check out here.

Dominate element a must

“It’s the job of a page designer to not only shape what a reader looks at, but how they look at it. Creating a dominant element on a page gives the reader a clear place to start. In the split second that it takes someone to glance at a newspaper page and decide where their attention will go, they will almost always focus on the largest visual image first.”

Grab your reader’s attention..or they will leave

“When there are too many images on the page of a similar size, they compete against one another for attention. Sometimes that can be all it takes to cause a reader’s eyes to wander.

It all happens in a split second, completely subconsciously. The average person’s subconscious operates on a very simple rule: avoid confusion.  If the reader doesn’t know where to look first, that can be all it takes for them to flip to the next page.”

Exceptions, sort of

“There are certain circumstances where using several photos of the same size can work. For example, if you have several images in a sequence (like a series of facial expressions or people in similar poses) then grouping them in a series creates a cohesive element. The trick here is that the images have to come together as one, so they are being presented as a package, and not separate photos.”

When to use picture or graphic

“In the case of having to choose between a photo and an illustration, I would say that you should always go with the art that tells the story best. If the piece is about a person, event or activity, then a photo usually works best. If it’s a complicated issue that is based on data and numbers, then a graphic is often the better way to go.”

Thanks Matt!

Two down, two more workshops to go

The first two workshops have been amazing! Erika and I love it! There’s so much here that completely changes your perspective on writing, designing and the future of news and newspapers.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • Are you focusing on writing or being read?
  • Consider the five paragraph rule.
  • If you aren’t worried about being boring, you are boring.
  • Incorporate technology…multimedia, links and user participation in websites.
  • Smartest business plan is making readers happy.