Next for news design? Predictions for 2009

Fearlessness in the face of a scary time. Innovation alongside disruptive change. Human stories and out-of-this-world technology. New ideas and old fundamentals.

These are the threads that weave through a set of ideas from a formidable group of industry experts.

SND asked what’s ahead for news design in 2009. Looking into the crystal ball after one of the most dramatic years for the media is not easy, but the answers these journalists, teachers, consultants, artists and editors came back with have this in common:



Lee Abrams
Chief creative officer, Tribune Company

Staffs will be smaller, competition greater, local and global issues that are more complex and polar as well as a worsening economy will continue to hammer at our livelihood. With that said, 2009 will require both fearless journalism and fearless presentation as we need to continue to explore and experiment with new ways to engage the mainstream on today’s terms. Fearlessness is key as is the breakdown of barriers to finding the answers. Elitism, over-reliance on tradition and an unwillingness to aggressively rewrite the book will hamper the incredible opportunities that exist in times of crisis. We are no different and need to collectively attack the problems, invent the solutions and unleash our vision to inspire the pubic and deliver the goods in what promises to be a remarkable period of global craziness.

Mario Garcia
CEO and Founder, Garcia Media

During 2008 we saw consolidation of content among newspapers, better integration of online/print operations and a move toward narrower, more compact formats. In 2009 newspapers will pay more attention to enhance their weekend/Sunday editions, will experiment more aggressively with advertising, and mobile telephones will make strong headways as an integral part of a multi-platform newsroom environment.

Kris Viesselman
Director of Product Development, National Geographic Maps

We’ll continue to see a blending of visual storytelling techniques and an ever increasing value placed on broader skill sets. The discipline silos of the past will continue to erode. The most effective information designers will be engaged in unique reporting, focused writing and tight concept editing. Quality will be valued more than quantity in this time of limited space and attention spans. And, obviously, those who can visualize information/data across multiple platforms will lead this next wave of innovation.

Richard Koci Hernandez
Visiting Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

2009 will mark the death of the video camera and the birth of the DSLR as the tool of choice for photojournalists. It would not surprise me if we see an independent film totally shot on a camera like the Canon 5D MarkII. It’s actually an amazing thing to have such a hybrid camera so soon. And they will only get better. I thought we would see these types of cameras in 2019, not 2009!

Andrew Savikas
Director of Publishing Technology at O’Reilly Media

While I’m pessimistic about the future of newspapers, I’m optimistic
about the future of journalism. We often confuse the wine with the
bottle in these discussions, and it’s hard to dispute that this is the
best time in history to be a consumer of news (however you choose to
define “news”). Filters are more important than ever before, and
newsgathering organizations that survive to continue playing that role
will realize that all writing and reporting is first and foremost
writing for the Web, even if it might end up in print somewhere
someday. They will also realize that rehashing the same story
available from a thousand other sources wastes their resources and
their readers’ time; the Web rewards linking – the more you send
people away to great content, the more they return. News organizations
need to reprogram their DNA away from the printed page, and design
everything (including their business models and organizational
structure) primarily for connected consumption.

Bonita Burton
Deputy managing editor, Orlando Sentinel
Vice President, Society for News Design

2009 will be an exciting year of reinvention. It will be the battleground year for news Web site design. Bikini photo galleries devised for quick clicks will give way to a more refined user experience. In print, design collaboration across markets will explode. Unholy alliances between competitors will become commonplace. There will be fewer design jobs, but more leadership opportunities for visual journalists with ambitious, experimental mindsets. Also, I predict Matt Mansfield will learn to sing “Summer Lovin’” in Spanish for SND/Buenos Aires.

Richard Curtis
Former deputy managing editor, USA Today, and SND founder

Challenges in 2009 (and beyond):

  • How to serve readers with indispensable journalism that is rigorous, vital and sufficiently profitable.
  • Developing a sustainable business strategy.
  • Layoffs, consolidations, mergers.
  • Newspapers going out of business.
  • Burned out, overworked and demoralized newsroom staffs.
  • Staying optimistic, not surrendering, looking for a clue.
  • Giving HOPE to staffers every moment of every day.

This is probably more pessimistic than I really feel. Newspaper companies have absolutely huge obstacles in front of them. The ones still standing this time next year will be true innovators. Should be an exciting and — need I say this? — a very challenging year. Good thing to remember as we face these challenges: What we’ve been doing ain’t working all that well.

William Couch
Multimedia designer, USA Today

Two things immediately come to mind, although they’ll likely need to mature over more time than the next year, and these are probably shortsighted as is, but location-aware content and services, and mobile platforms.

In an earlier post, I outlined why I think mobile devices and platforms will be significant in the future, especially in terms of news and I think location-aware content and services will play an equally important and significant role. When you have a device that knows where you are, whether via GPS, cell-triangulation, wi-fi networks (i.e. iPhone) and data that has knowledge of its origin of creation, we’ll have an entirely new dimension through which we can observe the world around us. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface with this kind of data (having a mobile device tell you what restaurants are nearby based on cuisine preference [Yelp!, Urbanspoon], or equally, which of your friends are nearby [Brightkite, Loopt]).

Right now, the device best able to tie location data with content creation is a cell phone because obtaining the phone’s location is now often built-in with GPS/cell-triangulation capabilities, and this is most often seen with photos shot on a phone. When you email a photo from a location-aware device, like the iPhone to a service that supports geocoded data, like Flickr, you can immediately see where that content was created – in this case, where the photo was shot. Between auto-geocoded photos and user-geocoded photos, Flickr is now able to recreate the shapes of entire countries, down to city-specific neighborhoods because of this data. People are defining physical neighborhoods and boundaries through this geocoded data. Tom Taylor recently mined these “shapefiles” Flickr is able to create and made them searchable. Here, I performed a search on Bucktown, Chicago. Imagine the impact these perceptions of neighborhoods and regions could have on industries like real estate, or local news…

Earlier this fall, Mozilla released Geode, an attempt to bring that kind of location-aware data to the entire desktop browsing experience. When Geode came out, a friend and I were discussing a scenario in the future where, because the device you’re creating content on is location-aware, all of your content could have location data associated with it, and your computer’s operating system could adapt accordingly. Imagine you have a laptop that you use both at home and work. At work you have a well-defined set of applications, files and preferences you work with. When you’re at home, you likely have a varying set. If your OS knew where home and work were, and it were also aware of the computer’s location, it could change your setup and settings accordingly as you move between the places. This could translate to file creation too. In addition to “Created on” and “Modified on” properties, you could also have “Created at” and “Modified at” properties; files that know when and where you created them.

Personally, I remember a lot of things based on the location I was in, especially when hearing music for the first time. I think it would be fascinating to have that kind of data tied to files. would be a great vehicle for this: “You first listened to Andrew Bird in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Most recently, you listened to Andrew Bird in Arlington, Virginia.” To me, that’s an entirely different but equally fascinating landscape to observe.

Svetlana Maximchenko
Editor in chief, Akzia, Moscow

I expect to see:

  • Web influence print news design (more and more every year)
  • Scores of infographics (and other graphics) about the financial crisis (to May or to September every traditional view of the news or features about the crisis will be finished and news editors/designers will have to invent something new)
  • The beginning of influence on news design in the United States and European Union from Argentina, Brazil, China, and maybe Russia smile
  • And I hope to see a lot of young, talented and excited people in the industry from all over the world.

David Kordalski
AME/Visuals, The Plain Dealer

With space dwindling, print photography needs to be assigned and edited ever more smartly for impact. But a new era of visual storytelling will blossom as more still shooters embrace the transition to video and multimedia.

Upstatement’s recommendations for Newspaper Success:

  • Build a wall around the internet, maintain zone of profitability until townsfolk learn to Twitter via Morse code.
  • Scratch and sniff inks, because you want to know what bad news smells like.
  • Get creative with distribution methods: Why not print the news on slices of toast? No waste, just delicious crumbs of information.
  • Playoffs: like layoffs but more fun.

Kevin Wendt
Editor, the Huntsville Times

Editors will eliminate layers between reporter and publication – both in print and online – to retain as many content-generators and information-distributors as possible.

Jeremy Gilbert
Assistant professor, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

Journalism schools are facing similar challenges to the news industry. What skills and tools should they teach? Where will new graduates and alumni be able to practice their craft? However the proximity of skilled computer science programs offers a unique opportunity. In 2009, journalists will start to see incubation of new media companies from journalism schools. Rather than turning out graduates for old media organizations, look for collaborations with computer scientists to yield impressive results.

Alan Jacobson
Brass Tacks Design

The economy may improve in 2009, but this improvement won’t undo the secular changes that have undermined newspapers’ revenue models.

So newspapers will continue the staff-reducing trend that began in 2008: consolidating news gathering and news production with sister papers and even competing papers.

The best defense is a good offense. To remain viable, newspapers must develop better revenue models for print and new revenue models online. Newspaper designers always have ideas. They should contribute to this development effort.

Readership-boosting strategies are no longer enough. Publishers will reward those forward-looking journalists who discover how to monetize online journalism.

In 2009, newspaper pages will be smaller, newspapers will publish fewer pages and fewer newspapers will publish at all.

And with newspapering moving to the web, how many newspaper designers do we really need? Should colleges even be teaching this stuff?

Clearly, newspaper design is not a growth industry.

Al Trivino
Editorial art director, new projects, News International

  • 1. New platform: the newsbook.
    A publishing conglomerate, a software/hardware developer and a telecommunication company will join forces to create a new digital media where to read, view, listen to, share and store newspapers, magazines and books. It should retain the rationale behind reading and browsing in print.

  • 2. Total design.
    Editorial creative directors will get involved in ad campaigns to deliver both editorial and publicity contents to a right target without damaging the integrity of the brand. Free-newspapers/magazines will keep leading the way — they have already walked that route and know some rights and wrongs about innovation in sales.

  • 3. Content fragmentation.
    Both in print and online the industry moves toward a text or image-only driven presentation – infographic, picture or video-only. The golden times of Life magazine are back. There is a chance to rediscover and invent visual journalistic genres -photo or video essays/profiles/interviews/news in brief. A picture will still be worth a thousand words, and a word will be worth a thousand pictures as well.

Anders Tapola
Sub-editor, Smalandsposten, Sweden
President, SND/Scandinavia

2009 will be the year:

  • When many more free papers are born.
  • When the circulation of newspapers will dip again – more than ever before.
  • When the Internet will be much stronger as the major source for information.
  • When social networks will be even more important.
  • When more lay-offs than ever before will happen in our business.
  • When big companies will buy smaller ones – just to survive.
  • When almost everyone becomes his or her own media producer.
  • When we say that the newspapers are going to die a painful death.
  • When we also say that we must do something radical to save the newspapers. And we still almost believe what we are saying.
  • And that’s a big challenge that I still think we can handle.
  • And it will also be the year when the biggest headline will be: Peace in The Middle East!
  • So: A Happy New Year to all of you!

Gayle Grin
Managing Editor, Design and Graphics, The National Post
Immediate Past President, Society for News Design

What do I see ahead in 2009? My mission as president this year was to reach out to SND’s global membership. Through presentations in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, Moscow and Shanghai I realized how big SND really is. I was truly inspired by the enthusiasm for SND by the designers I met.

There has been a renaissance for design in some places. Papers in Russia, China, India, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, are emerging in visual journalism and as design leaders. In some countries in the past, politics did not support opinion and commentary so these papers have readers very hungry to read, too.

Another visible trend is the use of illustration to interpret the news. This was very apparent at the SND competition in 2008. We are very used to illustration with feature stories. As newspapers become more analytical we need visuals which are thoughtful and interpretative. Especially internationally, I saw illustrations used on comment and opinion pages as well as the front page. As North American papers are becoming more risk-taking this past year, we will see this trend help vitalize North American papers.

For the most part, internationally, the integration of print and online was seamless. Readers will get their information in any medium it suits them at the moment — whether that be online, newsprint, magazine, radio, or television. Newspapers across the world will continue to break away from the ‘print-first’ thinking and will plan across many medias.

Another facet of a strong international SND is a broader perspective. Currently newspapering in North America is having a major identity crisis, but by looking beyond the North American shores we see newspapers thriving in other parts of the world.

I trust that SND will continue to grow internationally and, in doing so, continue to build on the great potential for global cross-pollination in design.

Jonathon Berlin is the editor of Design magazine and design + graphics editor at the Chicago Tribune.

About Jonathon Berlin

is graphics editor of the Chicago Tribune and a past president of the Society For News Design.