2012 Resolution: January Update from our self-improvers

In early January, you were virtually introduced to a handful of visual journalists who boldly volunteered to take part in SND’s Year-Long Conversation. Their goal? To learn new skills that will help prepare them for new challenges that lie ahead in our ever-changing industry — and share their journey with you here at SND.org.

Here are their first of what will be monthly updates this year:

Shajan C. Kumar

What I learned this month: I have taken a deep plunge into the sea of tablet content design. (I have) gone through the models of numerous apps produced by Indian newspapers and magazines. All of them have tried their level best to achieve greater reader satisfaction levels. Some have treated tablet design close to their web page design. Comment boxes, Contests and Videos run popularly.

At first look all pages look alike! You have a headline. A bit of introduction, a lead picture and, very rarely, an infographic. The news videos are treated as a separate section altogether.

An analysis of research statements made by readership survey companies on tablet sales in India in 2011 leave you with clear answers when it comes to the quality of content: We need to improve a lot. A sensible understanding of the medium and the target audience should get the first preference.

Knowing how readers use the publication is vital for any optimisation process. The Adobe Digital Publishing Suite offers sound features to analyse how readers engage with both editorial and advertising content. Publishers can track and analyse application installs and launches, measure reader engagement with individual articles and ads, and much more.

Where I learned it: Adobe InDesign 5.5 and QuarkXpress 9 are the two software packages I was keen to look at in detail to achieve better design for tablet content. It happened just because of my experience with the print design.

Below are some links Shajan used in his research:

RIND Survey, A journal of the Press Institute of India
The Hindustan Times  iPhone app
The Indian Express iPad app
The Times of India iPad app
Dinamalar iPad app for Tamil newspaper
Dinikbhaskar iPhone app for Hindi newspaper
Malayala Manorama iPhone app for Malayalam newspaper
WoodWing multi-channel plugin for InDesign

What was most challenging about what I learned: It is just a beginning. I may need some more time to research on the subject. As with print, having created a stunning tablet issue is just half the battle. Publishers need to think about how to monetise their tablet content successfully.

What I plan to do next month: Want to look beyond Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress 9. Many third-party solution providers are seriously pitching in to the tablet content design area, which I believe will make a quality difference. So I really want to follow them for better results!



Carrie Cousins

What I learned this month: I made it through my first few lessons in Codeacademy’s Code Year program. I am learning about computer coding and language through weekly hands-on tutorials that pop right into my inbox. The first lessons were pretty simple and made me feel like I was going to get this faster than I ever imagined, but Weeks 2 and 3 set me straight. Coding can be pretty tough. On the flip side, I have been working more with HTML and love it. I am working with a couple blogs (one in WordPress and another through Blogger) and I have learned how to see what all the marks mean. I have been working with some HTML web tutorials as well.

Each Code Year lesson is almost like a little game. You get a description of your goal and then work with code in the box on the right. Each time you get the code right, you can move on to the next lesson.

Where I learned it: I started only with Codeadacademy tutorials. But this was just not enough to give me the context that I needed to be successful. So I have added in a little web reading as well. I started with the basics of HTML at w3schools.com. The lessons are super simple and allow you to see exactly what happens when you try to use certain HTML tags.

Tutorials at w3schools.com explain how HTML formatting works in a visual way with great examples and then breaks down how to use tags to get those results.

What was most challenging about what I learned: The coding is difficult. I am finding success in the tutorials because I can follow and imitate the patterns that make things work. What I seem to be lacking is the why. I am not sure why the languages, the most recent lesson was in JavaScript, work the way they do. Things seem clunky on the screen and don’t read well. I really think finding a book that details some of the background and framework will really help me move forward.

What I plan to do next month: First, I plan to find a book on coding. I really want to understand more about what I am doing and not just make things work by following patterns. I also plan to really start using more HTML and get into more tutorials about more than just formatting type. I also registered for a webinar on Jan. 31 “iPad Publishing for Everyone! Learn to Create Your Own iPad App.” I know I am not quite ready to take the leap to tablet design quite yet but I hope to soak up some great information and tips in the webinar.



Donnita Fisher

As the managing edtior of five weekly newspapers in one of the fastest growing counties in the country, life is often a blur. As a journalist in her early 50s who started her career on an IBM selectric typewriter, I can’t afford to get left behind in the digital age.

What I learned this month: This month my learning experience included attending the Texas Press Association‘s Mid-Winter Convention. I always learn something from the sessions and this year was no exception. Visiting with In-Design expert Russell Viers always provides insight in to working smarter.

This year’s convention also included a publisher roundtable where Mark Engebretson, publisher of The Lake Country Sun, provided information about how his paper used Facebook to cover wildfires that swept through the area last year.

Engebretson speaking earlier this month at the Texas Press Association’s Mid-Winter Convention.

With a subscription base of close to 2,000, The Lake Country Sun has almost 7,000 Facebook fans! Mark attributes this to his paper commitment to using Facebook as a means to get information to its readers on a daily – and sometimes hourly or minute-to-minute basis.

What I plan to do next month: One of my goals for the year is to somehow use our digital product to bring readers to our print product and vice versa. So this month I made charts from our on line poll results and included them on our opinion and commentary page (at the bottom):

We’ve also made a more concerted effort to update our Facebook page with different kinds of information … local sports teams, an ad for a salesperson, water hazards, etc.

I’m hoping to find the time to take the Poynter online course Mobile Content: Seven Business Strategies for News Media in February.



Wesley Watson

What I learned this month: I purchased a new Wacom Intuos4  tablet (large version) and have been teaching myself how to use it. There are two programs in which I’ve been practicing: Painter  and Illustrator. Painter has been for painting, obviously, and Illustrator I’m using for digital inking. The examples I’ve included are for an illustration that will accompany a story about backwoods ski safety.

Wes’ sketch and his inked image using Painter on his Wacom board.

Here’s more of his inking for the ski safety project.

While it’s serious information, we’re making it into a game of sorts. Our thinking is this: A kid is not going to read 30 inches on safety. But they’ll play a game; and illustrations will help cement the information into their memory. The illustration I’m showing comes about at a part of the game where if you make a wrong choice during an avalanche you end up in forest where the safety you seek is replaced by trees hitting you with the force of baseball bats.

Where I learned it: There’s not a lot of resources here in Wyoming for some of the things I want to learn — tablet-based drawing and painting, 3D modeling — so I rely a lot on books and the Internet. The setup I’m using is my home one. With a drawing tablet, I’m quickly learning that it has much more to do with becoming familiar with the technology than it does anything else. It’s all about the feeling. But when you get it, you begin to forget that you’re using a tablet.

What was most challenging about what I learned: The tablet is surprisingly easy, so outside of coughing up the money for its purchase (I’m usually a cheapass), the hardest thing has been to jump in and just start doing it. … and not put my bowl of Cheerios on top of it. Once I started, though, it began to feel like I should have been working this way all along — especially with the Illustrator work. In Illustrator, I’m using the tablet to do my inking for comic-type illustration. I’ve been amazed at how much faster it is to work this way. I still sketch on paper, but scan the image and apply my digital ink. For me it’s faster, cleaner and much tighter than the inking I do on paper.



Talo Chileshe

What I plan to do next month: I have multiple illustration projects coming up, so I’m going to continue to stay in that area for the time being. Animal illustration ­— my favorite — will pop up probably twice, so I’ll be exploring traditional, realistic illustration with the tablet. Among other things, we are going to be beginning our project on mountain lions.

What I learned this month: I have made a head start with InDesign. I want to be using InDesign to design magazine and newspaper pages. I work at a University Newspaper, the Lusaka Star, so I am changing from CorelDraw to InDesign to design pages. I will post the actual work by the end of February.

Where I learned it: www.learnindesigntutorials.com

What was most challenging about what I learned: Creating paragraph styles. Placing and cropping images. Wrapping text.

What I plan to do next month: Working on an advertising leaflet to go in newspaper that has over 300,000 circulation. Want to create a website using HTML 5 and CSS3.

What are you doing to improve yourself this year? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Joe Greco is the corporate design director for GateHouse Media.
Contact him at [email protected]

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