Behind the Dallas Morning News’ eight day series, The Girl in the Closet

Sunday marked the eighth and concluding day of the Dallas Morning News’ investigative piece into the life of Lauren and her biological and adoptive families. The story had a huge online presence, so we asked Alma Lozoya, assistant news editor and Sunday front page designer, to give us a look at how it ran in print.

(Click on any of the pages to see them larger.)

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Alma Lozoya: We just concluded an eight-day series about a young woman who as a child was locked in a closet, tortured, abused and starved by her biological mother and stepfather for six years before she was rescued at the age of 8. Reporter Scott Farwell spent a year with Lauren and her adoptive family, and spoke with counselors, investigators, lawyers and many others who were involved in Lauren’s case 12 years ago and in the years that followed. The result was an in-depth look at her story, and her inspiring will to survive. She truly is amazing, and Scott captured her will beautifully. The series, which ran Sunday to Sunday, took the efforts of a huge team in order to give it justice.

On the print side, photo editor Michael Hamtil provided a great selection of current photos, staff file photos of the trial and photos taken at the scene and hospital after Lauren was rescued. A few photographers followed Lauren throughout the year. Most of those photos, however, were of Lauren today, the focus of our final chapter. So that last Sunday, we had three full-color jump pages.

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I had eight front-page elements to design (some days we planned as centerpieces, others as a secondary article), as well as a full-page for the jump and additional space if needed. There were days in the middle that we didn’t have fresh art, but file photos helped tell the story. We started the series with a beautiful profile photo of Lauren today, which contrasted with a photo of her taken on the day she was rescued. Inside on day 1, we established the “look,” or feel I guess you could say of what the series would include. We started with a timeline of her life and a few infoboxes with information on the types of abuse and how to report them. We would run these on day 1 and day 8. Each day, we had one story, the series box and a list of key players to help the reader keep track of who is involved. I used quotes, some with photos or mugs, of key people. Not too many, but at least one a day. I wanted the design to help tell her story as well as Scott did with his words.  On the last day, we lead with a photo of Lauren and a classmate sharing earbuds and listening to music. On the jumps of the last day, photo editor Michael Hamtil provided a really nice selection of photos that covered scenes in the story. We got a good glimpse of Lauren and how far she has come.

I got a few shifts in the time span of about three weeks to get all eight days laid out and ready for the one copy editor assigned to the task, Frank Christlieb. There were several meetings with editors to go over everything, and when we got to day 1 live, it felt good to see our work in print.

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We had a major online interactive presentation, so it was important to refer readers there every day from the front page, from cutlines and from pull-quotes. Photo director Leslie White, David Guzman and Ahna Hubnik created the interactive, and worked closely with the copy editor and the news desk to get the very latest version of each story online.

There were supporting (and often, emotional) videos of the key figures and slideshows and daily chats with the reporter and some of those involved in the case. I posted each chapter on Facebook every day, and I had friends from other cities who were eager to read each installment, as heartbreaking as it was. I know many other of my colleagues shared the story as well.