Epilogue: The judges reflect on the WBD entries

Now that the winner has been announced, the judges reflect on what they have seen over this long weekend in Syracuse:

It’s unusual for this competition to result in just one winner. And of course no single publication can embody every quality that all others should emulate.

In taking a broad look at this year’s entries, we are compelled to acknowledge the huge volume of great work that’s out there. Newspapers around the globe offer so much inspiration.

In fact, looking through the range of entries, it was striking how much of the world was actually represented in a competition for the world’s best. Of course huge parts of the globe – India and Africa chief among them – were missing. But before us were a United Nations of languages, formats, styles and voices. Entries came from not just North America and Europe but from China, the Middle East, Latin America and Russia. How thrilling to swim in such diverse visual traditions and standards. The variety came through even when all were covering a similar story, such as Haiti’s earthquake disaster.

Whether they were colorful, sports-crazy tabloids or broadsheets with long political commentaries, the best papers served their societies by reflecting their character through their visual voice. And they did it with consistency and conviction from cover to cover.

It’s clear that everywhere journalists are putting great thought and effort into making the most of what print has to offer: a beautiful, immersive experience that leaves the reader feeling smarter.

More and more publications are putting color on every page, and even investing in higher-quality paper and production quality. Newspapers came in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from compact tabloids to extra-wide broadsheets to hybrid multi-section publications that deftly mixed formats, including glossy newspaper magazines. We witnessed examples of great care with modular advertising that maintained the visual elegance of both the advertiser and the publication.

Entrants artfully balanced predictability and surprise, solemnity and fun.

It was especially encouraging to see an ongoing commitment to illustration and infographics. Informational graphics continue to evolve into more sophisticated formats as we face an ever-growing glut of data. Double-trucks dazzled with elaborate charts and drawings. Tiny, efficient charts brought an element of surprise and sophistication to corners.  Online data visualizations seem to have influenced the presentation of data in print, and while we did see some excesses, much original thinking and experimentation brought data and other information to life.

Several papers presented hybrids of text, photos and graphics – visual storyboards, really – that sought to explain complex information and processes in accessible and clever ways. Artists are breaking down the walls of each of the individual genres they draw on. Across the board, newspapers’ ability to organize information for overwhelmed readers has never been better.

Use of typography was remarkably sophisticated across the board. The collective standard has risen over the years to the point that fundamental problems are few and far between. We see Chinese newspapers refining their typographical approach. What will the rest of the world learn from their efforts?

Amid all our positive observations, we became concerned about the state of photojournalism in the pages we saw. We missed emotional photographs. Glossy magazines and newsprint pages with vast, luxurious expanses of space were largely devoid of powerful photojournalism.

The lack of strong, documentary images puzzled us. We wondered if this has something to do with reduced investment. The industry has lost so many positions for picture editors and others, and yet great photographs can’t be made without time, care and commitment. Perhaps in places where the work is being done, print space to showcase it is no longer available.

Having had the luxury of seeing hundreds of papers in the last few days, we’d like to raise a red flag on this issue. It’s one of print’s great powers to enable users to savor moments captured in the best photos. How can we recapture and deliver this value to readers?

As publishers’ portfolios broaden to include a variety of digital offerings, the most successful will continue to experiment and invest in the qualities that make print publications special: their ability to capture a moment in time and invite us to ponder it on our own terms; the way they engage our senses and dazzle us with beauty, emotion and intelligence; their portability, utility and capacity to both relax and stimulate their readers. Sometimes, the publications that did this the best were the smallest. There’s much for all to learn from the nimble, experimental newspapers that are gaining fame for their innovation.

What we recognized in this year’s winner was its fresh, unique approach to this challenge. “i” can inspire visual journalists and publishers anywhere in the world to rethink their models and revise or create new ones that best serve their audiences. They may look nothing like “i.” It won’t – and shouldn’t – represent everyone’s approach.

We hope the message from this year’s World’s Best competition is one of encouragement and inspiration. We laud the creativity and tenacity that are required for a newspaper to find its own voice and express it with conviction and excellence, no matter the size of the staff or access to other resources. These times dare us all to animate our colleagues’ talents, and to bring focused expression to our communities’ voice.

The judges:
Haika Hinze, Die Zeit
Heidi de Laubenfels, The Seattle Times
Svetlana Maximchenko, Akzia (Moscow)
Carl Neustaedter, Ottawa Citizen
Sara Quinn, Poynter Institute

About Lee Steele

is design editor of the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers and 2015 president of the Society for News Design.

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