World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper: The Final 6

SND 34 Day 3
It’s Sunday morning, and judges are agonizing over the fine details of 15 finalists.

Day 3, 3:15 p.m.  We returned from lunch to find the judging table cleaned up. The final six newspapers are stacked there. Judges are mulling about, looking at the finalists, pointing, pacing, turning pages. The winner or winners will have received affirmative votes from all five judges. This is where it gets interesting.

10:30 a.m. If you’re still on the table, you’re a beautifully designed newspaper. But this isn’t a beauty contest. What does it take to get eliminated at this point? Lack of graphics or illustrations, formulaic interior pages that don’t improve on their templates, or even designs that seem unevolved from SND33. Judges want to feel excited by the page work, and that feeling shouldn’t dissipate as they pore through the entire edition. Small, clever details are what count.

9 a.m. Our alert, not-at-all groggy judges are reconvening. As they enter the meeting room, the final 15 newspapers are spread out on the tables. No, I’m not telling you which 15. All will be revealed in the next 24-48 hours. Stay tuned.

One paper qualifies to continue in the competition. It takes a nod from at least four judges to save a newspaper from elimination.
One paper qualifies to continue in the competition. It takes a nod from at least four judges to save a newspaper from elimination.

Day 2, 5:30 p.m. We pigged out during a late lunch at the iconic Varsity pizza joint, so no one right now seems to be thinking of dinner. Now the judges are getting tough, picking apart some strong designs. The newspapers that have survived so far are up for debate and tougher, page-by-page scrutiny. Lack of design consistency seems to be the biggest obstacle an attractive paper has to clear before becoming “World’s Best.” So for each paper, four out of five judges have to agree to save it from the big green recycling bin.

Denise and Paul sift through 1A-category newspapers.
In the hushed atmosphere of the judges’ chamber, Denise and Paul sift through 1A-category newspapers. Newspapers that fail to make the cut go in the green bin.

Day 2, 11:20 a.m. At Drumlins, first winners in the general competition are already being announced, but back here, the wheels turn more slowly. Judges have just eliminated their first newspaper from the largest circulation category. I heard someone say “weeeee” when the envelope was tossed into the bin, but then the judges’ chamber returned to silence. Just the sound of envelopes opening and pages flipping.

Judges are huddled in the Syracuse University's Sheraton Hotel to decide which newspaper is the World's Best-Designed™.
Judges are huddled in the Syracuse University’s Sheraton Hotel to decide which newspaper is the World’s Best-Designed™.

Day 2, 7:45 a.m. In about 45 minutes, a big bus eomes to take judges and facilitators to Drumlins‘ massive ballroom to review thousands of entries vying for a piece of SND34 gold. Those judges will examine parts of a newspaper: graphics, the front page, sports, breaking news (the Call for Entries explains it all).

But we’re remaining behind at the hotel, in a conference room just large enough for five slim-hipped judges, a facilitator, and me, your faithful blogger. We’re reviewing “Category 1,” the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper. From over 30 countries, 224 newspapers are packaged in their unassuming manilla envelopes awaiting inspection. A few were eliminated in the first rounds yesterday; judges will likely be less forgiving today. It’s not enough to have a break-out design on section fronts. Judges expect thoughtful, thorough design on every page.

From left, Denise Reagan, Paul Blickle, Alexandro Medrano, Steve Dorsey and Juan Velasco commence judging at the SND34 World's Best-Designed™ Newspaper competition
From left, Denise Reagan, Paul Blickle, Alexandro Medrano, Steve Dorsey and Juan Velasco commence judging at the SND34 World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper competition.

Day 1, 3 p.m. It’s begun. SND34’s Category 1, the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper, will be decided in a few days.

Five judges have flown in, just before the snow storm started, and are sequestered in a room at the Sheraton Hotel at Syracuse University. Here’s a quick bio of each of them:

Paul Blickle arrives from Berlin, Germany, where he works at Zeit Online, running projects related to data visualization. Blickle was infographics editor and art director of In Graphics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

Steve Dorsey, vice president of research and development at Detroit Media Partnership, is right at home at his alma mater. He is also a visiting professor at Syracuse and a recurring visiting faculty member at Poynter as well as an SND past-president. Follow him on Twitter.

Alexandro Medrano is corporate director of innovation and strategic planning for GIM, and is also responsible for the design of Excelsior in Mexico City, where he resides. Follow him on Twitter.

Denise M. Reagan is editor of Folio Weekly, an alt-weekly in Jacksonville, Fla., and an adjunct professor at the University of Florida, where she teaches news design. Previously, Denise was AME/visuals at the Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter.

Juan Velasco, art director of National Geographic magazine, was a graphics reporter for El Mundo, in Spain, and graphics art director for the The New York Times, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. In 2002, Juan founded the consulting company 5W Infographics. Follow him on Twitter.

Watch for updates all weekend and into next week, when the winner, or winners, will be announced.

About Lee Steele

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

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