Down to the wire: Deciding the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper™

Day 4

9:30 a.m..: The judges have come downstairs from their rooms, one by one. There’s nothing to report just yet, but stay tuned.

Day 3

6:45 p.m.: Where are the judges? They’ve been very quiet the last few hours, sequestered in another room, taking and sharing notes. Something is definitely in the air. And I don’t mean the sweet smell of the short ribs at Dinosaur Barbecue. That comes later.

3 p.m.: The favorites among the last 12 have been spread out on the floor. Judges are picking apart each paper, page by page, column by column. “This one has better graphics, but that one has better illustrations.” “I wish they hadn’t thrown away so many inside pages.” “Their front pages are the same each time.” “The pages have good bones, but these column logos are bad.”

10:30 a.m.: There’s very little conversation in the Waverly Room this morning. The final 12 newspapers are being reviewed page by page.

8 a.m.: Good morning Syracuse. It’s 14 degrees and there’s snow on the ground. Now that’s the Syracuse we remember.

Day 2

7 p.m.: That’s it, time for a cocktail. We’re down to 12 at the conclusion of the third round. Expect a final announcement Tuesday.

6:25 p.m.: Now it’s down to 17, midway into the third round. Every judge has endured a heartbreak moment at least once today.

5:30 p.m.: The judges have been tough, but last year at this time, there were only six papers left in contention. Right now, as we conclude Round 2, judges have spared 29 papers. As one judge remarked, we have a lot of chopping to do. For the third round, a newspaper will need four votes out of five to make the cut. Chop, chop.

4 p.m.: Syracuse beat UConn, but there’s no clear victor in the Waverly Room.

2 p.m.: The judges break for a late lunch (and to watch the second half of the Syracuse-UConn game maybe). They’re in the middle of Round 2, trying to narrow the field from 72 papers. We anticipate a post-lunch push through the round.

Noon: We started with 230 entries. Round 1 is over, and we’re down to 72. Now the judging gets tough. Soon, we’ll have judges’ overall impressions. What trends have they spotted?

9 a.m.: We’re back to finish Round 1. The hotel was pretty rowdy last night, probably from the excitement of SND 33 competition right here in the Waverly Room. Or maybe it’s the Syracuse-UConn game today at 1. Maybe a little of both?

Winning pages will be photographed for our annual book, so judges are warned not to get butter on them. It’s surprisingly hard to Photoshop out butter stains from newsprint.

Day 1

6:10 p.m.: We can hear music through the walls. Other guests at the lovely Syracuse Sheraton get to party. Judges are still dutifully poring over newspapers. Cocktail hour? Not for us! (Not yet, anyway.)

Judges have reviewed every newspaper in every category except 1a and 1b, which are the dailies with circulation 75,000-174,900; and 175,000 and over. Once those entries are digested, the first round will be concluded.

The winnowing process is well thought out.

The Waverly room at the Sheraton Syracuse

Manila envelopes await the SND33 judges in the Waverly Room

On each entry’s manila envelope, the judge applies an identifying sticker that signals they have reviewed that entry. An initial by the sticker indicates a “yes” vote. Three out of five “yes” votes save a newspaper from elimination. But the final vote, which is normally by secret ballot (and could be after another round or more), requires unanimous approval to be awarded World’s Best.

In considering a potential World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper, the judges are looking for, well, great design. That means they are evaluating entries on the basis of

  • Writing
  • Visual storytelling
  • Use of resources
  • Execution
  • Photography/graphics
  • Headlines
  • Voice
  • Newspaper’s overall design

5 p.m.: The judging process for the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper is a quiet affair, at least compared to the rest of the competition.

This is the final leg of SND33. Categories 2-19 were decided by a much larger group of judges over last weekend and Monday. But now they are replaced with five new judges and the focus is squarely on Category 1: Which newspaper, or newspapers, will claim the distinction of being named World’s Best-Designed™?

We’re confined to the Sheraton Hotel on the Syracuse University campus, in a smallish meeting room just large enough for the judges, two facilitators, me, and several tall stacks of newspapers stuffed into manila envelopes. Each newspaper has submitted five issues for the panel to evaluate. The entries represent 39 countries.

The judges have been working for about two hours now, sifting through the first entries.

I’ll keep track of their progress throughout the weekend, and by Monday or Tuesday, announce the winner or winners.