Visualize the Games, Vol. 1: Planning and Brainstorming

As part of our summer discussion about the London Olympics, SND’s Year-Long Conversation will feature a series of tips and advice for visual journalists preparing to cover the Games. I will offer up the first installment here, but as this series progresses, we will aim to feature advice from journalists around the world, across multiple mediums and in all facets of newsrooms. The pieces will be concise, to the point, and please feel free to engage us in a discussion about them, commenting here or on Facebook or Twitter, hashtag #sndolympics.

Coming soon: Graphic planning, in print and online

1. Assess your organization’s resources

At this point, you should have at least a rough idea of what your print space will be and how many designers and editors can feasibly be devoted to the Olympics. Similarly, in the absence of ambition and a bit of insanity, your on-hand digital resources now are going to be your resources in seven weeks. Identify now how many people and hours can be devoted to web, mobile and multimedia presentation.

2. Assess your audience’s needs, and identify the pressing ones

Interest in swimming, gymnastics and basketball are pretty universal in the United States, so those are a given. Those will also saturate television coverage, often live. What about the sports of intense local or regional interest? Wrestling in Iowa City, Iowa, or volleyball in State College, Pa., for example. Better yet, who are the local athletes in the Games, especially in mid-sized and smaller communities. Make a list. You’re looking for coverage ideas that will set your work apart.

3. Brainstorm and prototype

Bring your people and your audience’s needs to the table, and toss out ideas and sketches that make them both matter. If you have half a page a day and only a web site to devote, then ask yourself, “How can we make this space and this site a must-read and a must-stop every day?” Start with the pressing needs and those you can better address than national outlets, and commit to them. Sell out to them if you have no choice. If you’re privy to more resources, you can still build your coverage around a hierarchy of audience interest. The more you can do, the more ideas can fit on the table, and the more prototypes and sketches you can build.

4. Critique, tinker and refine

NOW is the time to get realistic. Better to do this now than three days into the Games. Can you sustain your plans from a manpower standpoint? What about an audience interest standpoint? A cutesy idea (“Today’s Olympic Medal Predictions, By My Cat”) can be fun for a day and boring for a week. Take a critical eye to your plans and toss aside those that you can’t sustain. Focus on building on what you’re left with.

Josh Crutchmer is the News Design Director, Minneapolis Star Tribune and SND33 Print Competition Coordinator