Ask A Pro
Examples of Work
'Bend It Like Beckham' page
Nature of marriage theme page
'Green Machine' greenhouse growers page
Anna Kournikova sports page
No Laughs page
'Passion of the Christ' review page
Memories of Veterans Stadium double-truck
Travel page on the Clearing in Door County art school
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Why did you become a journalist?
I knew in high school that I wanted to become a journalist, notably one for newspapers. I was already a news junkie and simply fascinated by how newspapers are put together. I understood the importance of the public dissemination of information and enjoyed being a part of that process.
What’s the most interesting part of your job?
I’d like to answer this question in two parts. First, in my current job as a page designer, I think it’s the creative process involved in features page design. On those pages, you have a lot of visual range for presenting stories. Planning and ultimately creating the best, most accurate way to do so is very satisfying. There’s nothing like picking up the newspaper, seeing your work, and realizing that you effectively presented the information to the readers. Second, in my prior work as a photojournalist, I most enjoyed meeting different people, day in and day out. That was fascinating. In my job, I had the chance to meet anywhere between three to 10 new people, sometimes more, every day. These are individuals I would not have the opportunity to talk with in most other professions. I can’t even begin to calculate how many people I have met because of my job as a journalist, and especially my years as a photojournalist. I learned about other people’s lives, their work, their social concerns, their families, their ideologies – all by meeting and talking with them face-to-face, day in and day out. It was always educational – I was directly learning about other peoples’ worlds – and there really aren’t many other jobs that offer an equal experience.
Do you work on most of your pages on deadline, or do you have more time to think through a page?
For features sections you do – for the most part – have more time to work on pages, although it depends on which sections. However, there are always deadlines looming on the horizon no matter what pages you’re creating. For instance, the designer who puts together the daily Magazine cover has only a few hours to complete the process, while the Sunday Arts & Entertainment section front can usually be crafted over a three-day period. But, again, there’s always an impending deadline – and, really, I think deadlines can add a certain fun challenge to the job.
How do you handle conflict when you think a page should be designed a certain way and an editor has something else in mind?
It’s simple: you talk it out. Sometimes you both compromise and discover other options; other times either the designer or the editor will feel more strongly than the other. But, again, it really is about communicating, talk about concerns and the most effective ways to present the information to the public.
Can you share a few pointers on basic page design for an 11x17 page and an 8.5x11 page?
There’s a cliché that actually has purpose and can be the most important message to a designer: Less is more. A tendency exists for designers, me included, to over-design – too many elements, mixing too many typefaces and fonts, too many photos (all played small or the same size). When you’re working on a smaller format, especially 8.5x11, don’t try to squeeze a whole bunch of visually disparate elements onto a page. So often, they’ll just compete with each other and create a sort of unintended chaotic feel, one that detracts from the message or messages of the stories themselves. When in doubt, keep it clean, simple, and elegant.
Which newspapers (or publications) do you look to for design inspiration?
One of my favorite websites to check out is newsdesigner.org, where designers post pages they have created, along with thoughts about the process they went through. It’s interesting to sift through the layouts and note what you, personally, think does and doesn’t work, and why. It gives you a lot of food for thought about your own work. One of the other things I like to do, believe it or not, is to look at advertising, especially magazine advertising. I flip through magazines – Entertainment Weekly, GQ, Vogue, Esquire, InStyle, Gourmet, Newsweek, you name it – and examine the ads. There is some cutting-edge design work being done in that field, and it can be very inspiring to consider some of the techniques relative to news design.
Any advice for aspiring journalists?
Journalism has gone through some hard knocks over the past few years – a variety of high-profile reporting scandals have unfortunately helped to erode the public’s trust in the news media. But journalism is and always will be an admirable and necessary profession. The First Amendment is so important to everyone in this country, and a free press is such a big part of that. If you’re interested in journalism, study the profession – what jobs exist, what ethical situations we face day-to-day, the history of journalism and mass communication. It’s very absorbing to see how the profession has evolved, and it’s important to see how’s it’s changed and will continue to do so. And don’t limit yourself. Learn about the variety in communications – print, online, broadcast – even if you’re quite certain you ultimately want to work in one form of media rather than another. A breadth of industry knowledge can be useful.
Tell us about the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and why you became involved.
The NLGJA started in 1990 with the mission of fostering fair and accurate coverage of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community, and we’ve been seeing coverage improvements ever since. We offer reporting resources to news organizations; monitor coverage on a daily basis; and provide support and professional development opportunities for LGBT journalists who join. I myself found out about NLGJA in its early years. I was working for a Gannett newspaper in upstate New York at the time, and remember seeing a story about this upstart organization for gay and lesbian journalists. As a journalist who was gay, I was intrigued. I worked with several gay and lesbian journalists in my newsroom, but really hadn’t considered that there were, obviously, many other LGBT journalists across the country. I found contacts within Gannett who knew more about NLGJA, and I joined.
The NLGJA has changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. At first, it mostly was a networking and social venue for me; I realized that I wasn’t as isolated as a gay person working in the news industry. When I went to my first NLGJA convention – in New York City, 1993 – I was both overwhelmed and motivated at the same time. The sense of camaraderie and purpose is one that still amazes me more than 10 years later. A huge impact for me is that I interviewed with The Philadelphia Inquirer at the 1993 convention’s job fair, and was hired three years later because of that initial contact. The NLGJA was the vehicle for getting my current job; I can’t possibly express what that means to me. Additionally, through the organization, my awareness has significantly grown regarding coverage concerns. And from that awareness, I have become more and more active as a leader. Of course, if someone had told me even five years ago that I would one day be the organization’s national president, there’s no way I would have believed them! But my passion about NLGJA’s mission, about its scope and the need for our work, has pushed me to help guide the organization, starting as a chapter leader and then as a national board member. I’m thankful for all of the professional benefits I’ve acquired and personal contacts I’ve made, and I will in turn do everything I can to continue helping the organization to evolve and make a difference. I fully believe in NLGJA’s key purpose – the pursuit of good journalism.