More Best of News Design™ questions answered as judging days get closer

Last month, Best of News Design™ 31st edition coordinator Mike Rice, who is the Arizona Daily Star’s Visual Team Leader/Design & Graphics, gave us the low-down on how best to prep those annual entries. Today we check in on the eve of the big competition at Syracuse University to see how things are shaping up:

Q: As the edition coordinator you worked closely with the competition committee to select this year’s judges, what was the most difficult part of that process? The most fun? And how was it different this year from being a competition committee member in years past?

The selection of judges is a lot more difficult than people may realize. You have to wade through hundreds of nominations to come up with candidates who have the talent and the experience we’re looking for. Then you have to make sure you have a good mix of men to women, US judges to international, etc. THEN you have to make sure you have the right contact information… The fun comes once we get to Syracuse. It’s a lot of work to pull off the competition — but everyone enjoys it.

As for being the edition coordinator — I imagine the biggest difference will be once I actually arrive in Syracuse. In the past, I’ve been responsible for keeping one team of five judges on pace to finish their categories by the end of the long weekend. This year, I need to keep an eye on ALL of the judging teams — not to mention putting out any fires that may pop up.

This is my second year on the committee and my fifth year volunteering with the competition.

Mike Rice uncupping a category for judging during SND30 last year at Syracuse University. (Photo by Kenney Marlatt)

Q: How did you get started with the competition? Why do you keep coming back?

I’d heard from several colleagues that working at the competition was an amazing learning experience. (They were right.) So I threw my hat in the ring to be a facilitator. All it takes is one well-timed e-mail to get involved.
Why do I keep coming back? Where else can you work side by side with a mix of the best visual journalists from around the world?

Q: What’s your favorite moment as a facilitator? What have you learned at Syracuse over the years?

If I had to chose one, it would probably be when we put the redesigned Excelsior out on the tables. Immediately you could see the judges (who were tired from many days of judging already) perk up and take an interest. The medal discussions were very interesting that year. A close second would be any of the various eating competitions the facilitators have come up with to entertain themselves during long periods of waiting between rounds of set-up work.

If I’ve learned one thing watching the competition it’s that when it comes to layout, pretty isn’t enough. There has to be content to back it up.

Q: What’s your best hope or prediction for the weekend?

I hope that we finish on time and avoid any mutiny when a certain football game is scheduled to air. (We’ll most likely still be dropping chips at kickoff.)

Q: Weather sometimes plays a role in the judging weekend, what are your thoughts as you get ready to head to sunny Syracuse at the end of this week?

My fingers are crossed for clear skies on Thursday and Friday as judges and facilitators fly in from their corners of the world. I’ve been stranded in the airport myself during the trek to Syracuse; it’s not something I wish on anyone.

The Weather Channel has its own predictions about SND31 that don't exactly match Rice's. (Source:

Q: Even since we started doing this interview the weather forecast has taken a turn for the worse — any concerns?

We’ve got 22 judges traveling to Syracuse from five countries.

The weather in Syracuse will be unseasonably warm with clear skies. At least that’s what I keep telling my ulcer.

Q: Syracuse is doing really well this season. Are you a die-hard Cardinals fan? Any early March Madness predictions this year?

If I’m going to root for any college team, it’s going to be the Arizona Wildcats — mostly due to proximity. As for predictions, I’ll leave that to the sports staff.

Q: Finally, Mike, it’s become an SND Foundation fund-raising tradition in recent years to break up the long, tense weekend with karaoke one night after judging comes to a halt. So, what’s your go-to karaoke song?

In five years, I have never gotten up to sing (other than getting dragged up for the “We Are the World” finale — a tradition started by Chris Rukan that really needs to end this year).

Come back to all weekend for updates from the competition judging site at Syracuse University. Live coverage will begin on Saturday.

Steve Dorsey is the DME/Presentation + Innovation at the Detroit Free Press and SND’s 2010 vice president. He was the edition coordinator of SND’s 21st print competition. Follow him on Twitter: @dorsey

About Steve Dorsey

@Gannett VP innovation. Boards: @INMAorg, @SND. He was the 2011 president of the Society; 2015 Lifetime Award recipient. Dad to Fiona; partner to @paprgrl76. Relocated Detroiter. Tigers fan. Designer. Editor. SU grad.

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