Magazine article Editor & Publisher

But Many a Paper Threatens Its Future Success by Squelching Its Design Director's Influence

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

But Many a Paper Threatens Its Future Success by Squelching Its Design Director's Influence

Article excerpt

Newspapers can't ignore design, and they shouldn't shun color. But even papers that focus on design and color are likely to be disappointed if they treat them as a cosmetic sideshow.

Design and color must be core, integrated elements of a newspaper - together with reporting, editing, and production - if it is going to create a superior product.

Newspaper ugly ducklings and disjointed ducklings are often the result of the truncated roles of design directors, world-famous designer Walter Bernard tells E&P in an interview. Newspapers use different titles for the design directors, some of whom are called art directors.

But the crucial question is: How much influence are they able to assert?

"Too often, the design director's role is minimal because the newspapers don't use them to full capacity," explains Bernard, 62, whose New York-based partnership with Milton Glaser - WBMG Inc. - has worked on redesigns of more than 100 newspapers and magazines, including complete redesigns of The Washington Post; La Vanguardia in Barcelona, Spain; ABC in Madrid, Spain; and O Globo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Many newspaper staffers still diss design with a scorn that could cripple their papers' chances of survival in years ahead, warns Bill Gaspard, 42, design and photo chief at The San Diego Union-Tribune until his recent appointment to lead a major interdepartmental circulation drive.

When Gaspard became senior editor/visuals five years ago, his editor told the staff, "'Visual journalism would be an equal partner with the rest of the newsroom,'" recalls Gaspard. "There was an undercurrent of grumbling: 'Oh, design is taking over the world!'"

Even under a design-savvy editor, Gaspard says, "It was not nine months ago that a very bright senior writer here said to me, 'They call it a newspaper. They don't call it a picture paper.'

"My reaction was pretty much sadness and disgust because we have worked hard at making design a responsible player in journalism, and sometimes it feels like we just haven't gotten anywhere with some people," says Gaspard.

Discussing his experiences as a staff art director and as an outside design consultant at newspapers, Gaspard says, "Design has not been fully accepted as a real part of journalism within the newsrooms. E There is still tension in a lot of newsrooms. It's not hostile; it's not unpleasant. But when push comes to shove for space, you begin to see some of the tensions come out.

"We can ignore a lot of what is going on because we are so profitable still," says Gaspard. "Magazines often list the art director very high in the masthead, often right after the editor, because magazines have long understood the essential connection between the story and how the story is presented. Newspapers haven't gotten that completely yet.

"For some newspapers, I don't think they'll ever quite get it," he adds. "If that is the best we can do, then we're all going to be out hunting rats for dinner in 15 years."

Some papers' survival is likely to depend on design and color, adds Bernard, because "the generation the newspapers have to capture can translate pictures as well as words and are willing to translate pictures as language."

Ugly-duckling papers often don't give designers "any authority or listen to their ideas, or they listen to them in a very pedestrian way, and that's where they fall down," says Bernard. "They merely use those people as art or photography messengers."

An effective design director must have the leverage of an influential position, at least at a level with an assistant managing editor, says Bernard, who doubts there are more than "a very few powerful design directors in newspapers."

Another newspaper designer known from New York to Jakarta agrees newspapers must get hip on design.

"Newspapers are really going to run off the cliff in terms of the bond they have with readers if they don't deliver the news in a more effective way. …

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