Yes, folks, I’m afraid Tim Harrower is right. My daily trip through the front pages on Newseum was especially sad this evening as I noticed so many poorly designed papers. But there were a few good ones…Portugal’s “i” comes to mind.
The “i” was actually named the best newspaper in the world by the Society of News Design this February. And how many blocks of gray text do you see? Everything is summary (I assume since I can’t ready Portuguese) with lively color and great fonts.
Good design, like the “i,” doesn’t just happen magically, though. It takes practice and smart people, smart people who will share what they have learned. This Saturday (yesterday) I did quite a big of learning with some fellow students and journalists from around the East Coast as we learned from Tim Harrower at Vanderbilt University.
Tim’s workshop was excellent! It was fun, fast paced and went beyond the basics. Of everything I learned, the most important thing I walked away with is this: the way I design AND write needs to be geared toward the reader. For the three hours it takes to drive back from Tennessee, this idea floated around in my head. And I agree with Tim, there MUST be a change in both the writing and designing; it can’t happen in one without the other. Another thing that really stands out is this question on why student newspapers are so far behind. Why are we taking longer to catch the futuristic vision of journalism?
Why can’t college students design better newspapers?
So why does AARP magazine design better than most newspapers in the United States and why in the world are college newspapers some of the worst designed out of the whole lot? Tim said during the workshop, “college newspapers are some of the dullest in the country. It makes absolutely no sense.” We have so much talent, flexibility and the lack of “history,” which should make it possible for us to create fresh, modern pages.
1. You take too long to see beyond the rules
Maybe it has to do with the way we are taught journalism. There are set ways to research, write and design for newspapers and we get stuck behind this wall of rules. I’m not bashing my or your journalism professors: I have an awesome journalism professor (you can even see his blog and find out for yourself).
I just think college students need to move beyond the rules sooner rather than waiting until you’ve graduated and find yourself in a position on a 100 year old newspaper that would rather go out of business than be creative. My advice, don’t be blinded by the rules. Learn them, then discover your audience.
2. You satisfy tradition, not your audience
Discover your audience. What? Yeah. How many college students care if you are breaking the rule about “no text on pictures?” Answer: none. In fact, they might unknowingly love you for it due to the modern look you’ve just given your newspaper.
You writers aren’t off the hook either. Who said your story MUST be 500 words or longer? Your professor, but what about your audience? Do they care if you leave out some boring information that you’d previously added just to make a word count? No!
Write and design for your audience. College students have it the easiest too because it isn’t as if anyone is buying your paper. It’s free so be free with your imagination. Oh and did you know that some of the best newspaper designs in the world are breaking all those rules you have been taught about newspapers? I love it!!!
3. You see the past
It’s hard to see the future when you are still trying to figure out the past. That has been hard for me too. I’m still new to all this reporting and newspaper design. There’s SO much for me to learn about journalism and I struggle to take this hazy understanding of current newspapers and develop a vision of where they are headed. Is that what you’ve been trying to do, too? If so, rethink it.
Ditch the traditional and create something for your generation. If you could design a trendy, popular newspaper or magazine for your coolest friends, what would it look like? Now take that vision and redesign your last issue. I’d love to see what you come up with.
(If you haven’t noticed, this is not the newspaper of the future.)