[Editor’s Note: Mario Garcia, Founder and CEO of Garcia Media recently spoke with Adonis Durado, art director of The Times of Oman and its sister newspaper Al Shabiba. Dr. Garcia first visited the newsroom in Muscat, Oman eight years ago and affectionately referred to them as “the little trains that could.” Less than a decade later, the papers earned a total of 111 awards at SND35. Below is Dr. Garcia’s conversation with Durado, republished with permission.]
The Times of Oman and its sister newspaper Al Shabiba, published in Arabic, are the toast of the town, the most talked about of the winners, and, as I refer to them, “the little trains that could.”
Believe me when I tell you that these two newspapers, published out of the same newsroom in Muscat, were at the zero stage of anything related to visual storytelling when I first visited them 8 years ago. It became obvious to me that, while management was eager for big change in the way the newspapers looked, they had no idea what that would entail. First, it was necessary to create an infrastructure to allow for visual thinking to come into a newsroom that had never been exposed to it.
Second, it was imperative to hire the right art director who, in turn, would build a team.
Enter the mega talented Adonis Durado, whom I had met at the Gulf News and who by now had relocated to Thailand. The rest is a rich history of change, innovation, and, some say, miracles. (I agree!)
Now The Times of Oman and Al Shabiba have accumulated 111 awards in SND 35. Impressive, but true. I chatted with Adonis this week about this major accomplishment, one that should serve as a model to any organization out there wondering if it is possible for a newspaper to make such meteoric rise.
Adonis, when you came to the Times of Oman, it was a barebones operation. No art director. No real graphics arts department. I had redesigned it and expressed to the publisher that it was basically impossible to keep the changes alive without the presence of a design director. What was the biggest challenge for you to build what is now one of the most creative newspaper art departments in the world?
I think bringing in the ‘culture of design’ in my department is the biggest challenge. You’ve got to change the mindset and attitude of not just the designers, but the editors as well. On my first year, I spent most of my time mentoring my staff; challenging the old habit and tradition of newsroom operation; and bringing up the bar of excellence in our work. I’d say it was really tough, and at times a bit atrocious, as there were countless fights with editors and axing stubborn staffs that do not follow with your vision and guidance. And since I manage newspapers in two languages (English and Arabic), handling two separate design teams made it even tougher. The uphill battle really for me is directing the Arabic team because I neither speak nor understand the language. In most cases, when I communicate with the Arabic designers or editors, I need to call a translator. But I always remember the advice that you gave me when I came on board: “Be the catalyst of change.” Well, I’m so glad I have kept the flame that the Garcia Media has initiated – and it’s burning brightly.
On a day-to-day basis, how would you describe your job in terms of: Communicating with the editors and reporters about story ideas going through the pipeline, communicating with your team about developing those ideas, and checking the progress of how a concept develops?
While attending the editorial meeting, my job is to spot visual opportunities or contribute other possible ways to layer or package a story. I make sure that my senior staff (design editor, photo editor, graphic editor) are involved and contribute in the process. Being a small newspaper, we have lots of constraints compared to bigger papers. We don’t have an army of photographers or budget to deploy them abroad, or perhaps commission work from award-winning photographers or illustrators. Therefore in our line of attack, we constantly ask ourselves: How can we best visualize this story given the limited resources and time? I guess this condition somehow helped us thrive more creatively. I’d like to think that my job is between an orchestra conductor and a hostage negotiator. I make sure everything works well, and nothing is harmed in the process.
How have The Times of Oman and Al Shabiba changed as a result of this global design fame?
I’m not sure if it did change anything. But as far as I know, this serves as a good reminder to us that we are on the right track… and that I should keep this answer briefly so I could start digging on my backlog.