What to expect at the Best of News Design judging

Editor’s note: On Friday, a bevy of visual journalists will come to Syracuse University to help with the Society for News Design’s annual creative competition. Some will judge the competition, but many students and professionals will help as “facilitators.” It’s a tough job, but one that comes with incredible learning opportunities and gives everyone involved a wealth of inspiration. Last year we asked judging veteran Andrea Zagata to write this guide for first-time facilitators. She’s coming back, and so is this post, because it’s full of common-sense tips on what to pack — and what to expect — if you are also coming to SND34. Even if you aren’t coming, she gives great insight into the type of things that go on over this weekend.

Also, check snd.org all weekend and Monday for live coverage of both the Best of News Design and the World’s Best Newspaper competitions. For the first time, both competitions will be judged simultaneously.

What to bring

Pack comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes, a heavy jacket and clothing to layer. It is cold outside in Syracuse in February, but warm inside with so many people constantly on their feet.


You will probably end up on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel with someone else who is attending the conference. It might be someone you haven’t met. You will recognize them as an attendee when you see them eyeing your Converse All-Stars, nerdy glasses, and other hipster attire suspiciously. Introduce yourself. This will be your first of many introductions, so get used to it.

When you check in at the hotel, you will receive a packet with an itinerary at the front desk. If you don’t, say “Where is my packet with the itinerary?” The most common reason (I have encountered) to not receive a packet is because you look like a student. This might only be a me problem, but fair warning just in case. There will be an Identification badge in your packet. Check to make sure your name is spelled correctly, get your sharpie marker out if it isn’t, but DO NOT LOSE THE BADGE.

If you have time, go to your room and take a nap. Trust me. I know you didn’t get any sleep on that plane, and you’re going to need it.

You may get a note under your door regarding an impromptu facilitator dinner. If you do, attend. Attend everything you are invited to, even if you are exhausted. It’s worth it.

Whenever possible, introduce yourself to someone new. Ask what they do. Talk about design. Talk about your dog, cat, kid, paper, website, pay wall, ebooks, mobile apps. Introduce yourself to somebody on the elevator in the hotel. Try not to be shy, everyone’s pretty nice, whether this is their 10th contest or their first.


Early in the morning, you will meet in the hotel lobby and be bused to Drumlins (the judging facility.) Don’t be late, don’t miss the bus or you will be shunned. Wear your coat — it’s cold out there, folks. Sit by somebody you don’t know, or maybe somebody you met on Friday. Get ready to see more newspaper pages than you could possibly imagine.

Eat bagels and fruit for breakfast when you get to Drumlins. Hang up your coat. Not necessarily in that order.

The judges are split up into teams that handle each category, and the facilitators are split up in a similar manner. Each group has one facilitator with some contest experience and good grasp on the operation to take charge of the pace for that team. They are your team captain, and they should be able to answer any questions you may have. At some point, your team captain will contact you and let you know that you are there to serve them until Monday when the contest is over. They will order you around because they know what needs to be done and in what order. Get used to it and don’t take it personally if somebody gets bossy. You will have downtime to look at pages yourself, and to get to know the people in your group, so take advantage of it, but only after you make sure you’re not needed elsewhere. The mechanics of how the judging itself works will be explained to you by somebody who is not me.

You will see judges looking around blankly and standing by a page. They are looking for YOU. They probably need you to read a translation on a page, or check to see if they have voted or some such. Make yourself available to help them, that’s your job. Ask them what they need, or at least stay in close proximity so they can call you over. Introduce yourself, so you can be known by your name, and not “Hey you.”

You will eat lots of fruit and small blocks of cheese. Not because you are hungry, but because it is there. You may witness a sled race or a cracker-eating contest. It’s all part of the experience.

There are students around to help, so don’t be afraid to ask them. If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing, ask your team captain or somebody else in your group who has been there what you can do to help. It may be that nothing’s needed, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Expect to work long days and be exhausted. Expect to be ordered around by people who have been there before. Expect to nearly fall asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel and need coffee in the morning. Expect to see and speak more design than you will for the rest of the year.

You will be fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. Introduce yourself to more people, people not on your judging team, at meals. Or maybe take advantage of the time to get to know your team better. If you see their name tag and you’re a HUGE FAN, tell them so, but try not to faint. Fainting is not a good first impression.

Expect to have extremely strong feelings about some of the work you see on the tables. Keep it to yourself. Never tell a judge how you feel about an entry or let them hear you talking about it. If someone wanted your opinion, you would be a judge and not a facilitator, and even then you wouldn’t be allowed to talk until the medal discussions.

Take note of who is standing around you before you speak. Always.

Listen to lots of discussions about design. Sit in on medal discussions if nobody needs you elsewhere. You will learn more than you thought possible. Try to soak it all in and feel encouraged and inspired.

Learn. Network. Work your butt off. Sing Karaoke. Syracuse.

Andrea Zagata is a sports designer for The Buffalo News. This will be her fourth time as a facilitator at the creative competition in Syracuse.

About Andrea Zagata

is a news designer at The New York Times.

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