SND35: This Is Why It Matters

It’s true: The same publications tend to win a lot in the Best of News Design. How do we prevent narrative fatigue?

The National Post and the Times of Oman won a lot of awards last year. They are probably going to win a lot this year. One of the misconceptions of SND and in particular its print competition committee is that we do not know this. We see more entries judged than anybody. But the underlying sentiment to a portion of the comments on Dr. Mario Garcia’s long-overdue discussion in the wake of SND34 was almost satirical: “What if we just had 26 squirrels judge SND? (Answer: The New York Times would still win 30 awards.)”

It’s a great bit for cynicism, but not an accurate depiction of SND and its competitions. Whether on the subject of rethinking categories such as infographics to prevent award-worthy work from going overlooked — a process that even predated Dr. Garcia’s discussion among competition committee members and recent judges — or progressively seeking judges that represent new and differing perspectives, SND is actively and annually aiming for a competition that meets both the toughest and fairest standards possible. No undeserving ins or outs is the goal.

Between now and the Jan. 22 international entry deadline (speaking of that, the U.S. entry deadline is January 15, it’s time to start cutting and taping), we’ll have a series of brief-but-purposeful posts in this space aimed at emphasizing the importance of the competition not to SND but to journalism.

Today will be simple: One paragraph on why entering matters. Here we go.

Designers have no ease of knowing where their work falls in relation to that of their peers. Even without Pulitzers and hundreds of best-writing competitions, stories’ resonance with readers can be quantified: web hits, reader responses, rack sales. It’s not so simple for visual journalists. A commonly-accepted adage of design is that if we’re doing our jobs well, readers do NOT notice us. It’s only when we either misstep (say, a display-type error) or take such a bold presentation stand that the work falls outside of two standard deviations of “normal” in our jobs, that we generate much of a reaction. That’s why entering SND35 matters. The goal isn’t an award count or to exalt one publication or another, it’s to set the bar. The more pieces of work from around the world competing, the finer-tuned that bar will be. Individually, you can learn where your work stands among your industry peers worldwide. As a paper, you can quantify your level of visual journalism up against what your audience’s reaction to the same journalism is, and find areas to take away.

That’s why it matters. That’s why entering is worth your time. And because entering also helps fund and fuel the society, and the career opportunities, internships, job candidates and professional skills you may glean from it, it’s worth your entry fee as well.

This is the first of four parts on the Best of News Design Print Competition that will run before the International Entry Deadline. In Part 2 I will relay a first-hand account of the steps the Competition Committee took in response to the March 2013 discussion about infographics, hosted by Dr. Mario Garcia. With the exception of Part III, I will keep them brief.

Part 1: This is Why It Matters

Part 2: The Competition’s Infographics Equation

Part 3: Where Are They Now? A Decade’s Worth of Medalists

Part 4: Entering Without Designing to Enter