Design legend Richard Curtis will leave daily journalism at the end of the year.
In a memo to staffers today, Curtis announced he will retire this month as Managing Editor, Graphics & Photography at USA Today, which he helped found in 1982. “Retirement is
something I’ve contemplated for over a year, and while it has to come at some point, many factors make this the right time,” he wrote. His last day will be Dec. 23.
A towering figure in visual journalism for the past 30 years, Curtis also helped found another journalism institution – the Society for News Design, then called the Society for Newspaper Design. And in making the organization come to life, Curtis helped newsrooms everywhere realize the value of visual storytelling. What we all do suddenly seemed more credible.
On the founding of the Society
The legacy at ‘The Nation’s Newspaper’
The impact that Curtis’ pioneering work at USA Today has had on the field is immeasurable. The paper’s lively use of color, shorter story forms, and, oh yes, that famous weather map helped the new kid on the block make its mark on the way to becoming the largest circulation general-interest daily newspaper in the country.
“I can well remember my first day at USA TODAY in January 1982. It was filled with so much promise and wonderment,” Curtis wrote. “Finally, journalists, artists, photographers and designers would get an opportunity to create the newspaper of their dreams. It was a day for which we all had dreamed.”
The founding of USA Today ranked as the No. 1 “Influential Moment in News Design” when Design journal picked top moments from the last 25 years in 2004.
“The use of color was just an amazing explosion in a sea of the same dreary papers. USA TODAY made us all see how far we could go,” recalled former Society president Nanette Bisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.
That impact, of course, was the bold statement that Curtis intended to make. “We wanted the paper to be lively. We wanted the paper to be reflective of the conversation that was going on in the nation at that time,” he told On The Media in 2007 on the 25th anniversary of the paper’s founding.
On the use of infographics
An outstanding volunteer for SND
There’s a different legacy, too: The one that he embodies by being a mentor to a generation of journalists coming of age during the design revolution.
That’s the kind of inspiration you expect to see from Richard Curtis, whether he’s critiquing page portfolios in hallways at the annual SND workshop or helping students figure out how to get travel grants, internships or, better yet, jobs.
The man has true volunteer spirit. Curtis has been the Society’s president, and for several years was editor of Design. He was recognized with the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. And he remains one of the Society’s most active members and strongest contributors, currently serving as a trustee for the SND Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm.
“Richard has done so much for the industry,” said former SND president Randy Stano, now a professor at the University of Miami. “We all appreciate what he has done for newspaper design and informational graphics. Richard’s a true legend and a great leader.”
What’s next for Richard Curtis? We’re expecting he’ll continue to help lead the Society, as he always has, give generously to students, a favorite cause, and, just maybe, find a little time to enjoy life.
The full retirement announcement
Friends and colleagues:
I can well remember my first day at USA TODAY in January 1982. It was filled
with so much promise and wonderment. Finally, journalists, artists,
photographers and designers would get an opportunity to create the newspaper
of their dreams. It was a day for which we all had dreamed. Thanks to
Neuharth’s vision, the deep pockets of Gannett and the creative talents of
many (including many of you now reading this memo), we did just that, having
produced a newspaper that smartly defied the critics and continues to serve
millions of readers each and every day. Years from now, when we’re sitting
on park benches remembering what it was like in the good old days, we’ll
remind ourselves that we made this newspaper Number One. I am confident it
will remain so.
So it is with some reluctance but also much anticipation of what the future
holds that I announce I’m leaving USAT at the end of December. Retirement is
something I’ve contemplated for over a year, and while it has to come at
some point, many factors make this the right time.
We’ll be having what Dian Scott refers to as the mother of all Tea Dances on
Thursday, Dec. 18 at 5 p.m. in the Design department. I hope you can make
it; she promises some great food. Dec. 23 will be my last day in the office.
This has been a journey well worth taking, and the rewards have been
immense. You, and this place, have given me fond memories of these 27 years,
enough for a lifetime. I can never repay the debt I owe for this experience,
so I’ll just say thanks for what you’ve contributed to those memories.
Please know that working with you and leading this department has been the
highlight of my career. I shall always look upon our accomplishments with
pride and great fondness. It has been a privilege and a distinct honor to
have served you and to have served with you.
Matt Mansfield is the vice president of the Society for News Design and an associate professor for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.