JFK50: An inside look at the DMN’s special section
On Friday, Nov. 22, The Dallas Morning News highlights a year’s worth of coverage of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination with a 12-page special section. Here’s an inside look at the section by designer Marilyn Bishkin and a Q&A with artist Michael Hogue about the graphics and illustrations in the section.
About the section cover
From the beginning, tone was the most important factor in choosing the cover. It had to respectful but still be a visually intriguing way to commemorate this tragic anniversary. At first, Bishkin tried several historical photos (shown above) but none of them felt “special” enough to warrant being on the cover.
Initially, for tone reasons, she resisted thinking about an illustration for the cover but Hogue had an idea:
“We struggled a bit to find the perfect iconic photo for the cover. As I looked through all of the hundreds of photos we had in our system, not only of the events of the day, but also of events of the time period (MLK, RFK, the Cuban missile crisis and so on) I decided to try a mosaic portrait of JFK that might be able to tell a better story than any single image could.”
When Bishkin saw the concept, she knew she had her cover image and she largely kept the rest of the cover elements as minimal as possible to accentuate the illustration.
JFK50 photo timeline
Another plan for the special section was to create a visual timeline from all the iconic images during the assassination coverage. Bishkin spent a lot of time organizing the photo in chronological order while still focusing on having a visual hierarchy for the three different days that were covered. Subtle typography and hairline rules between days helped move readers quickly around the page.
Over the year, The News had talked to so many different voices about how they were affected by the assassination and editors wanted to find a way to capture that in the special section. When the initial concept left enough type to fill the entire page, Bishkin created a concept where photo, quotes and short vignettes drove the page.
Historical design anniversary
Bishkin is a veteran designer for the DMN and actually designed the 25th anniversary special section in 1988 (it won a silver medal in the SND competition the next year.) The 1988 section reflects a lot of differences in the times (it was an 88-page tab section, all black and white and all done on in page makeup instead of a computer.)
Q&A with Michael Hogue
SND’s past president Jonathon Berlin asked Hogue some questions about his graphics and the coverage.
The video on the history of the Zapruder film is amazing. How did that page and video originate?
(Reporter) Michael Granberry told me the history of the film’s chronology. It’s a fascinating story, not only what happened with the film the hours and days after the assassination, but also in the decades that followed. I decided this would be a great story to tell — not as a narrative — but as a briefly written, illustrated chronology for both print and as an animation. So I worked with Michael to cut his 90-inch story to about 15 inches. Tip: When cutting 90 inches down to 15, it’s easier to think of it as writing a script for a short animation. Adobe After Effects was used to create the animation.
How did the doubletruck map come about?
The doubletruck of the assassination scene had been planned for months. I’d hired a freelancer who loved the project and was set to create a 3D model of Dealey Plaza and we were good to go. But in the 11th hour, the freelancer had an illness in the family and had to back out. I had to scramble a bit and start from scratch. Luckily, our friends from MCT and AP provided a few smaller wire graphics to help fill in some of the blanks. (View an interactive version of this map here.)
The theory claimed that the original motorcade route was to go down Main Street (which would’ve been a nearly impossible shot for Lee Harvey Oswald) but was moved to Elm Street (much closer to the School Book Depository Building).
According to Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum, this theory was spawned by an error made by a DMN artist that had omitted the Elm Street turn from on the map he created:
“Both dailies and the TV stations accurately reported the exact motorcade route for several days in advance. Somehow, the News’ (unnamed) artist made a mistake with the map he prepared for the 11/22 edition. He accidentally left out the Houston to Elm to Stemmons segment, leaving only Main to Stemmons.”
It’s easy to find this map and the conspiracy theory online. Funny thing is, the artist did not make an error. The map ran 2 columns wide on 1A and there was not room to show every little detail of each turn along the motorcade route. I looked through all of our microfilm pages to see if it ran larger inside, but it did not. Any graphic artist would’ve done this map in the same way at 2 columns.
What is it about the JFK story that has the country transfixed?
To boil it down simply, not since Abraham Lincoln had our country seen an assassination of such a beloved leader. But Lincoln’s assassination came with fewer unanswered questions. 59 percent of Americans still do not believe Oswald acted alone. I think people still have a hard time getting their head wrapped around the fact that such a pipsqueak could pull this off by his self. Many people alive today remember the event vividly. It was the end of the country’s innocence for a lot of folks. Can we even imagine a president driving in a motorcade in a convertible with the top off today?
What was it like to cover this story?
The dynamic of covering this story in our newsroom has been strange. In my decade in the DMN newsroom, I’ve never experienced a story that we’ve obsessed over more. And for good reason: 50 years later, our city still obsesses over it. It’s still the palpable shame of our city. And we all want to do anything we can do to help repair it. More than just the newsroom, it’s our entire community that wants to get past the stigma of the tragedy that happened here in 1963.
Any lessons learned in the process?
There were a couple of things that were reaffirmed for me. 1. We’ve got a great staff with a ton of experience to rely on, and, 2. Our institution has a history of excellent journalism to be proud of. It doesn’t hurt any of us to remind ourselves of that from time to time.
What’s the other JFK coverage the DMN has done?
We’ve been planning the coverage for about a year, under the leadership of Sunday A-section editor Tom Huang. Tom has a degree in engineering from MIT and the guy really knows how to plan. Leading up to the anniversary we’ve done dozens of great stories — far too many to mention — but here are just a few highlights:
We produced this hour-long documentary with former DMN reporter Hugh Aynesworth, which will also be shown on our PBS affiliate:
Will Pry compiled and edited a collection of notes from DMN reporters, photographers and editors assigned to the presidential visit in 1963, who wrote down their experiences. These notes had been hidden away for decades. Along with designer John Hancock, they turned it into an iBook:
Earlier this year, staff writer Alan Peppard and photo librarian Jerome Sims were searching through our files for photos. Jerome uncovered a treasure trove of negatives of never-before seen photos of JFK in DFW during his 1960 campaign:
Unbelievably, the NFL played its games as scheduled the weekend after the assassination. I love this story by Michael Granberry, a Dallas native. The assassination may have been the impetus for the Cowboys being the most hated team in the NFL.”