Syracuse Student Symposium summary

A summary of the Syracuse Student Symposium — held Friday on the Syracuse campus — featuring presentations by Jonathon Berlin, Richard Johnson and Adonis Durado:

To view the speakers presentations and read an archive of our “Cover It Live” blog from the event here.

Jonathon Berlin:
Mistakes I’ve made

(For video of Jonathon’s speech, click here🙂

Jonathon is the current President of the Society for News Design and graphics editor for the Chicago Tribune.

Journalism is personal. You’ll never be able to remove yourself from the journalism you do. But remember, it’s not about you. The story comes first.

The more stuff you can do, the better. But be self-aware of what you’re strong at and what you’re not-so-strong at. And know the people in your organization who can help you.

You can have the best of intentions, but if you get it wrong, it doesn’t matter. It degrades your reputation. Whether you’re making something large or small, give it your best. Backstop yourself ont the things you KNOW you don’t do well.

You have to be the person who sees the forest for the trees. It’s important to have a perspective of what the work is. You’re the one who has to make things all come together. You have to be aware of what your publication is willing to do.

You are explaining how things work. Your stuff has to be understandable or it’s not worth it. We have to think about how people use what we do.

Your work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You have to do a lot of extra work (not in front of a computer) to get it published, especially if it’s something radically different.  You have to get your colleagues used to what you do.

Take care of yourself. You’re not going to be a great worker unless you take care of the other aspects of your life.

You’re going to have a million choices and as you go out and decide what you want to do. The choices are going to be tough. Don’t sweat making the wrong choice. Just make the best decision for you at the time.

Richard Johnson:
You have to experience what
you want readers to care about

(For video of Richard’s speech, click here🙂

Richard Johnson is graphics editor at the National Post. His work has taken him all over the world, from nation building in Africa to stadium building in Detroit. He began as a war correspondent for the Detroit Free Press in 2003, embedded with the U.S. Marines during the invasion of Iraq. He used pencil and paper to capture life on the front lines for a national series titled, “Portraits of War.”

One of the frustrating things about journalism for him is a great deal of it is done via the Internet or over the phone. It’s important to get out there and experience things we’re trying to get readers to care about. Combat photos can begin to look the same. He was desperate to find a way to put sketches together in a different way so people would read the stories.

Johnson had rules for drawing (his own): the experience has to be immediate and fresh. He only draws live or from photographs (but only in the first 24 hours).

In order to sell the idea of going on these journeys, he blogs, he writes for the paper, sketches for gallieries, shoots photography, straps a video camera to his helmet. “The price I have to pay to get my ass in the field and draw pictures,” Johnson said. He thinks about 50 percent of the live sketches make it into the paper.

Johnson said it can take around 90 minutes to complete a sketch and it tends to get easier as the tour continues. To file, To file, he takes photographs of his sketches and emails the photo back to Canada.

He said there are three or four stages to embedding. The first people you encounter are press affairs desk jockeys. Then, if you get out of the base you get closer to real soldiers. If you get to combat positions, you meet the ones that hate journalists. But you need those guys to tell the story. But you are “baggage”, something they have to carry and one more thing that can go wrong. But soon they adopt you and you’re “their” journalist.

When he was embedded with troops he works 14-18 hours a day. When he’s not drawing, he’s writing.

You can see some samples of Richard’s work on his website:


Adonis Durado:
Going from good to great

(For video of Adonis’ speech, click here🙂

Adonis Durado is design director of Muscat Press and Publishing House, publisher of two major dailies in Oman — Times of Oman and Al Shabiba (in Arabic).

He says there is a distinct difference between good pages and great ones and many designers have trouble knowing the difference. According to Durado:
  • A good page is respectable; a great page memorable.
  • A good page reaffirms a reader’s expectation; a great page churns out surprises.
  • A good page is achieved by mixing the right ingredients; a great page by reinventing the formula.

Good design is howthe designer brings together the pieces and apply the elements of good design. Does this page instantly grab your attention? Does this page excite you? Does this engage you to read on?

Durado used to think there’s a thin line dividing good and great. But he says compelling evidence shows there is more than meets the eye. Design is visual manipulation. And a great designer is a great manipulator. The design is more than just the elements. It evokes readers’ emotions. A great designer also knows when to exercise restraint.

He says a great page is full of conceit. And if you design with conceit you give added value to the contextual form.

Visual conceit is a method of dressing up, enriching, adding layers or dimension to a story.

Conceptual conceit is using the concept concept as controlling metaphor

Stylistic conceit is visual style as the dominant force. Not the concept or idea but the look.

A great page embodies organic and architectonic qualities. Design is not just a vessel or container. It is the physical shape of the story. Durado said everything in a great page is  “architectonic” (Everything gels together and removing even a small part makes it all collapse.)

Durado said the designer who succeeds is the one who writes his own headlines. Durado says he does that and then has others check them or debate whether it is the best approach. 

Craftmanship is extremely important and execution is critical. Having a good concept alone is not enough. Style alone is not enough.

Durado listed these sites for inspiration:
Durado also says every designer should watch the movie “The Five Obstructions.”

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