Of all the things I did as a student at Syracuse University, attending the Best of News Design competition was one of my favorites.
The graphic design program at Syracuse is small, and as one of the few people with an interest in editorial design, my professor, Claudia Strong, encouraged me to catch a ride to Drumlins and stop by the judging. I couldn’t believe that all these design professionals that have inspired me were all gathered in one place (and in Syracuse, no less!)
This year, it’ll be all the fun, but without the risk of judges and facilitators getting snowed in, as the competition is being moved to Florida for the first time in decades. The prospect of escaping from the miserable weather of central New York is what has been getting me through this semester.
For students and young professionals attending, it will be a busy and exciting weekend, but the experience can be intimidating at times. It’s easy to get overwhelmed while balancing volunteering, networking, gathering inspiration and having fun, but knowing a little bit about how things work helps a lot.
My biggest tip for first-timers is to just be eager to help. There’s always something that needs doing, whether it’s sorting colored voting chips or asking a puzzled-looking judge what they’re looking for. Your main job is to be a volunteer, and enthusiasm about doing the busy work will be noticed and appreciated by people.
I also recommend taking lots of pictures. The best description I have of the atmosphere is a giant, real-life Pinterest board. You’ll be exposed to so many awesome designs, graphics and story ideas and I find the easiest way to remember everything is just snapping a quick picture of things that inspire you. Having a digital gallery of ideas is portable and super handy to look back on or to share with other people from your student paper after the competition.
Having only volunteered at one competition myself, I thought it would be best to share some tips from people who have been around the block a few times. I gathered some advice from people who have been to the competition several times in a variety of roles.
Louie Rendon, New York Post.
2011 as a student, 2013, 2015, 2016 as a professional facilitator.
“Number one, you just have to have the right attitude. You always have to keep in mind you’re there in service of others. Respect the pages, your judges and just be a sponge to it all. None of the competition is about you.
Second, you have to be a little brave. Whenever there’s down time put yourself out there to make meaningful connections with other people. Ask about other people’s workplaces, how they might tackle issues you’re running into in your work, general things like that. I’ve never gotten a job out of going to SND, but it feels good being a part of the industry and knowing these very cool and talented people who are all over.
It’s hard, and I remember being very intimidated by everyone my first time, but just try and shake that. It’s such a less intense environment than the actual conference since there are fewer people — it’s just great to have more personal moments and foster good relationships.
And finally, try and enjoy yourself! Take moments to really look over pages. Even pages that don’t win anything at the contest are worthwhile and can really re-energize you as you head back to your newsroom.”
Anna Hyzy, Indiana University student.
2015, 2016 as a student facilitator.
“Make sure you attend as many medal discussions as you can. That’s where you get to hear some of the best in our industry discuss a page down to the last detail. It’s a great way to learn what’s trending in news design and what might have run its course.”
Andrea Zagata, New York Times.
2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 as a facilitator; 2015 as a judge; 2016 as coordinator.
“Introduce yourself to your team members. All the volunteers and judges are industry professionals and we all love talking to students.
Sit with different people at each meal. The judging can be pretty intense and people get busy, meals are a great time to make connections.
Be helpful. Your work ethic as a volunteer will be noticed.
Ask for business cards from people you talk to and follow up after. If you have a nice conversation with someone, don’t be afraid to ask them for a critique of your portfolio when you get home if you didn’t have a chance to do it during the contest.
Get inspired. You are allowed to save pages that did not win so you can study them later, but they can’t leave the contest site until the judging is done. You may make yourself a very neat hidden stash somewhere.”
Claudia Strong, Syracuse University professor.
2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 facilitator.
“Walk across the room. It’s easy to feel intimidated when you’re surrounded by smart, talented, outspoken journalists, but the best way to learn about the industry is to strike up a conversation. So pull away from your comfort zone — phone, buddy, corner, chip pile — and walk up to someone you want to meet, stick out your hand, introduce yourself and ask a thoughtful question. What’s your favorite thing about being a news designer? How did you get where you are? What advice would you give your younger self? What one thing you have not done in your career that you wish you had? And follow up that answer with the best question of all: Why?”