SND Lifetime Achievement Award: Gayle Grin

A tribute in quotes

For her creative work and leadership at papers in Canada that have been an inspiration and her enthusiastic, smart and tireless work on behalf of SND that has benefited us all, the Society of News Design presented Gayle Grin with The Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Annual Award Banquet in St. Louis.

We are grateful to have the chance to honor someone who has been one of our favorite designers and an SND board member for many years with the highest honor the Society can bestow.

A teacher

Gayle didn’t really start as a designer. She was trained as a teacher and that’s what her first job was, a long time ago. But it’s fair to say that this is what she still is: a very good teacher.

Gayle has a gift for explaining, for making you understand things, and she’d be patient enough to repeat it again if needed. She is not imposing her vision, she is teaching it to you. That makes her very special and that’s why her colleagues, back in the old days at The Montreal Gazette or today at the National Post or throughout the Post Media chain where she is the design consultant, that’s why her colleagues appreciate her so much.

Gayle will always take time to explain to copy editors how the design works and why it’s important to show the story, not just to tell it.

In the early days of the National Post in 1998, Gayle would spend an incredible amount of time to create the best possible refers for the top of Page One. She would go to each and every section editor, one by one, and ask for their best stories, explaining to them that to make a promo on the top of A1, their stories must be great and visually stunning. Of course those editors wanted their section to be promoted and so they soon realized they needed to start thinking visually for themselves and to achieve that, Gayle’s teachings were the solution. So that’s what she did, teach them, relentlessly, day after day, for months, for years in some cases, until every single editor and copy editor in the newsroom would be fully trained.

It is no coincidence that, today, most of those who are called Designers at the Post were actually young reporters working as copy editors who were taught design by Gayle and decided on a new career path. A good example of that is Laura Koot, a young copy editor at the Post and now, with the help of Gayle’s teaching, managing editor of The National in Abu Dhabi.

Early days

It’s true that Gayle went from teaching to working in newspapers. But before that she and her at-the-time farmer husband grew fruits and vegetables. She also pumped gas, living dangerously by brandishing a lit cigarette, while doing so. She also did theatrical set design.

She’s used all those skills in working with SND – planting seeds, pumping energy and good humor into the board’s work and discussions, setting the stage for so many of our initiatives. Her level of involvement at the board level, in workshops around the world and in facilitating our annual competition is staggering.

When SND was putting together its Code of Ethics, the last plank — Courage — would not have come about were it not for Gayle’s passionate and persuasive insistence that we push for creativity and imagination along side of more traditional journalistic goals such as accuracy, honesty and fairness.

Her focus as a board member and as president was to keep us from losing sight of our international mission and pushing for a vibrant global identity for the Society. While there are countless instances of this we could cite, one of the biggest of her presidency was being a tireless champion in helping Lily Lu form SND Chinese – already our largest and still our fastest growing region.

Gayle is also a big help nearly every year at the annual Best of News Design judging in Syracuse. She judged the competition, of course. And her paper, The National Post, always has some of the finest work out on the tables. But she’s really been a great help as an assistant in the enormous task of judging every year. As one participant noted, “I love that every year, she runs around with the wide-eyed energy and wonderment of someone who is at their first judging.”

It’s been a pleasure working alongside of her for many years and to present to her SND’s highest honor, The Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bill Gaspard is design director at the China Daily. Roland-Yves Carignan is Managing Editor at Le Devoir.