Preparing for SND Denver: Checking in with Damon Cain

It’s only eight months to the 32nd Annual SND Workshop & Exhibition, in Denver. We take a moment to check in with event site chair, Damon Cain of The Denver Post:

Q: As you’re beginning to block out your program, what are your key areas of focus? Any speakers confirmed yet?
A: We’ve lined up some pretty big names in the industry, and we’ve lined up some folks who may not be so well-known but have always impressed me with their work. All are big vision people, though, smart people, talented and skilled people. Clearly, we’re going to have some fun in Denver, but I don’t need to tell anyone that these are serious times in our industry. I think we’ll all benefit by having some serious discussions. There has to be some takeaways, obviously. Folks need to walk away from Denver with their mitts full of practical solutions that they can take home and put in place. I’m getting pretty damn excited about it all, quite frankly.

Roger Fidler, Mario Garcia, Roger Black, Dan Zedek and Svetlana Maximchenko

Roger Fidler is coming. Mario Garcia will be here. Roger Black has given us the thumbs up as have people like Dan Zedek and Suzette Moyer. Svetlana Maximchenko, the wonderfully creative and engaging editor of the Russian youth newspaper Akzia, will be here to show us the evolution of design in her neck of the SND world. I’m getting some outstanding assistance with all of this from our new president, Kris Viesselman, and our VP, the indefatigable Steve Dorsey. So, yes, it’s coming together nicely.

I have to tell you, it’s amazing how changes in the industry in the past year alone have shaped our thinking about the program. Some of the sessions we were thinking about a year ago? Toast. Right off the top, we’ll be focused on the evolution of the electronic report, how to address the issue of design for the multi-platform environment that our newsrooms are becoming. The question we need to answer in this particular area, I think, is how do the essential skills of a visual journalist — creativity, visual problem solving and aesthetic judgment — fit into all of this.

And just so we all understand, we are not leaving print behind. Quite the contrary. Print lives in Denver and we’ll get our hands all messy with it at the convention.

Q: What sort of hands-on workshops are you planning?
A: Well, there’ll be a student workshop that will focus on the skills that our new pioneers need to learn in a multimedia world. Jennifer George-Palilonis from Ball State will be leading that effort.

Also, we’re in the early stages of planning a print lab. I have a couple of young and talented people who want to tap the creative energy and talent at the workshop to produce a live print publication on-site; something very experimental with the opportunity to innovate. The idea is to think of it as a 72-hour newspaper design R&D laboratory. I took to the idea in a heartbeat. I mean, when I go to SND conventions I spend half of the time being star struck by the talent that’s walking about. So, yeah, I want to do this. We’ll be detailing this more in the weeks and months ahead.

We’ll also do a multimedia workshop on the Thursday preceding the workshop, but that’s not fully defined yet. Stay tuned for details.

Q: I’m a designer at a small newspaper. Will there be sessions geared toward me?
A: Absolutely. I’ve enlisted the help of Colin Smith from the Salt Lake Tribune and Jonothan Boho from the Indianapolis Star to generate the thinking and planning for this. I’m also trying to drag Paul Wallen back into the business to help out — even if it is just for a long weekend. We’re looking at bundling a string of instruction in design essentials for folks who are just starting out, for high school students and publication directors, for folks who have just taken on design responsibilities at their papers and for designers at small and mid-sized papers who have not had the benefit of any kind of formal instruction. And I’m guessing there are some folks at larger newspapers who would benefit from some of the instruction Colin and Jonothan are planning.

We’re looking at two three- to four-hour sessions. The first would be about the essentials of design no matter the platform, you know, topics like typography and grid and color, using templates, preparing for stories in advance. The second in-depth session would focus on stepping it up, building pages with few if any resources, photo editing for designers, the secrets of dynamic pages. We’re also talking about providing 30-minute one-on-one “redesign” sessions for participants who take part in both of the larger sessions. Okay, not really redesigns, but a session where we can give you five things to make your paper’s design better in pretty short order. This is pretty ambitious but very important.

Listen, not to be overly critical, but we’re 31 years into SND playing a huge role in newspaper design around the world, and yet there are a lot of papers out there that need design help. That is our target audience with these sessions. That is part of the mission here in Denver, to reach out to those folks and to those newspapers.

Q: I’m an online producer at CNN. Will there be sessions geared toward me?
A: I didn’t know they were coming! But, yeah, I think they’ll find some of our sessions interesting and helpful. They may find a couple of our video sessions interesting, and we’ll have roundtable discussions about news design for e-readers and tablets and what’s new in mobile publishing. I’m guessing they’re as interested in producing news and entertainment for the iPad as the rest of us. They might even use the opportunity to recruit some very good multimedia journalists! Recruiting used to be a huge part of SND conferences of the past. Maybe we’ll have a rebirth of that.

Q: SND-Las Vegas had its contortionists, SND-Houston a chocolate waterfall. Anything crazy planned in Denver?
A: Two words: Mechanical bull.

Please keep an eye on our convention website, Like the program of speakers, it’s still under construction, but you can get a look around Denver and Colorado, you can contribute to our postcards gallery, register for the workshop and book your hotel room. Check back for more updates as we get closer to September.

If you have ideas about what you’d like to see, hear and do in Denver this fall, e-mail Damon Cain.

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