JUDGE’S JOURNAL: Five things I learned as a Syracuse newbie

SND 32nd edition judge Jon Wile reflects on his first visit to Syracuse and the Best of News Design competition. He's sporting a Barry Sanders Lions jersey for a Syracuse tradition -- Sunday is jersey day.

Like most people out there, I’ve entered work into the competition thinking there is no way it could lose… And then it does. Frustration and disappointment set in. I wonder what was wrong with the page or why a team of judges didn’t like it. But after my first taste of the competition yesterday as a news judge I have noticed a few things:

1. Good pages lose — a lot: The amount of good work that ends up on the cutting room floor is astonishing. It happens here. Newspaper design has evolved so much in the past 10 years that the bar has been raised dramatically for this competition. A lot of good pages lost, and they went down with 0-5 and 1-4 vote counts. (There weren’t many 2-3 losers amongst my judging crew.)

2. There are no bad winners: I used to look at the book and wonder how a page was better than my non-winning page. Let me be very clear here — it’s very hard to get three out of five judges to say “yes.” Awards of Excellence don’t happen by accident. If you can get three judges to like an entry then it deserves to win. An Award of Excellence is not a gimme in any sense.

3. Yesterday was looo-ong: We spent 14+ hours judging pages. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. I knew the days would be long, but this went beyond my expectations despite how many professional and student volunteers there are helping.

4. Your work changes on the table: I had an entry that I really liked. Before I got to Syracuse I thought it was the best thing I had worked on all last year. However, once I saw it on the table next to everything else in the category, I knew it wasn’t going to win. Not with all the great work sitting around it. My page lost in two different categories.

5. Losing stings worse in Syracuse: I’ve won Awards of Excellence in each of the last five years, but it stung worse to watch about ten of my entries lose yesterday in person (I don’t get to vote on work from my organization). Seeing the loses in person will help me raise my game when I get back to work.

JON WILE is the senior news designer for The Washington Post. He’s also worked at the The Plain Dealer and Detroit Free Press. Follow him on Twitter at @worldwidewile

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