SND35: This Is Why It Matters

It’s true: The same publications tend to win a lot in the Best of News Design. How do we prevent narrative fatigue?

The National Post and the Times of Oman won a lot of awards last year. They are probably going to win a lot this year. One of the misconceptions of SND and in particular its print competition committee is that we do not know this. We see more entries judged than anybody. But the underlying sentiment to a portion of the comments on Dr. Mario Garcia’s long-overdue discussion in the wake of SND34 was almost satirical: “What if we just had 26 squirrels judge SND? (Answer: The New York Times would still win 30 awards.)”

It’s a great bit for cynicism, but not an accurate depiction of SND and its competitions. Whether on the subject of rethinking categories such as infographics to prevent award-worthy work from going overlooked — a process that even predated Dr. Garcia’s discussion among competition committee members and recent judges — or progressively seeking judges that represent new and differing perspectives, SND is actively and annually aiming for a competition that meets both the toughest and fairest standards possible. No undeserving ins or outs is the goal.

Between now and the Jan. 22 international entry deadline (speaking of that, the U.S. entry deadline is January 15, it’s time to start cutting and taping), we’ll have a series of brief-but-purposeful posts in this space aimed at emphasizing the importance of the competition not to SND but to journalism.

Today will be simple: One paragraph on why entering matters. Here we go.

Designers have no ease of knowing where their work falls in relation to that of their peers. Even without Pulitzers and hundreds of best-writing competitions, stories’ resonance with readers can be quantified: web hits, reader responses, rack sales. It’s not so simple for visual journalists. A commonly-accepted adage of design is that if we’re doing our jobs well, readers do NOT notice us. It’s only when we either misstep (say, a display-type error) or take such a bold presentation stand that the work falls outside of two standard deviations of “normal” in our jobs, that we generate much of a reaction. That’s why entering SND35 matters. The goal isn’t an award count or to exalt one publication or another, it’s to set the bar. The more pieces of work from around the world competing, the finer-tuned that bar will be. Individually, you can learn where your work stands among your industry peers worldwide. As a paper, you can quantify your level of visual journalism up against what your audience’s reaction to the same journalism is, and find areas to take away.

That’s why it matters. That’s why entering is worth your time. And because entering also helps fund and fuel the society, and the career opportunities, internships, job candidates and professional skills you may glean from it, it’s worth your entry fee as well.

This is the first of four parts on the Best of News Design Print Competition that will run before the International Entry Deadline. In Part 2 I will relay a first-hand account of the steps the Competition Committee took in response to the March 2013 discussion about infographics, hosted by Dr. Mario Garcia. With the exception of Part III, I will keep them brief.

Part 1: This is Why It Matters

Part 2: The Competition’s Infographics Equation

Part 3: Where Are They Now? A Decade’s Worth of Medalists

Part 4: Entering Without Designing to Enter

About Josh Crutchmer

is design and graphics editor at The Plain Dealer.


“… in about 10 weeks, we’ll see [excessive punctuation sic] …”

This is an entirely valid opinion. The professional thing for me and the industry to do is to respect it, and I will. I hope we all will.

But while we’re on the subject, I hope that my valid opinion, outlined above, is respected as well.

For clarification, I didn’t trumpet readership as a reason entering matters. I trumpeted improving and developing personal and organizational skills as a designer and journalist as reasons entering matters. My opinion is that this is important, but I will respect your right to disagree.

I also respect and agree with your thoughts on gimmicks and cliches. My opinion is that the competition next month will not reward gimmicks or cliches. Moreover, by not rewarding them, the competition encourages designers to rise above using them.

My opinion is that encouraging designers to rise above gimmicks and cliches is a positive thing. I would hope that you and others would agree, but I would respect and understand if that is not the case.

Your opinion is that many things matter, and this one is not on the list. I respect that opinion.

My opinion is that the competition matters.

We both explained our opinions. I respect yours and hope that you will respect mine.

tl;dr …. [excessive punctuation alert] Agree to disagree, I always say.

I don’t want to stray too far from the topic of this post, which is simply: I believe a well-organized and well-judged competition provides incentive for individuals to improve as designers and journalists. That was my only purpose in writing this.

With that said (and I’m just goign to rhtow in a few typos, and punctuation! errosr for god measure, since I am working on three days of no sleep in and around a family emergency), you’re entitled to that opinion. I respect it, and I thank you for respecting mine as well.

I hope the industry can take a cue from this back-and-forth, as it’s healthy for two people with differing points of view to show they can respect one another, as we’re doing, even when we may simply agree to disagree.

With that, I’d like to clarify a few more areas where my opinion differs from yours, though I admit it does not entirely.

First, I disagree that I made you laugh. I am not funny, in my opinion, and would find it hard to believe I made anyone laugh. Totally willing to be wrong here, but it’s a hunch.

Second, I disagree with the example of the Plain Dealer page to illustrate a gimmick and undermine the cred of this post.

The reason I disagree is, my opinion is that there was nothing gimmicky about that page. Yes, the whole most-powerful-in-sports thing was a bit much, but that wasn’t my decision. I linked to it to illustrate a time when presentation drew a response outside of mere design sites, blogs or forums, my opinion is that it serves as an accurate example.

But to your point, I think that was a deadline solution borne of a series of events, two being critical: First, no access to live photography of James (as ESPN had The Decision. I think a screen grab would have been odd, though I’m willing to be wrong). And second, the design was working in concert with the editorial tone of that page, that day. If you had only read the stories, you would have come across with the same theme: All this time here, no championship ring, and he’s high-tailing it out of town.

In my opinion, I’d like to encourage similar efforts and would hope that my peers would as well.

I do believe there are rampant gimmicks and cliches in use, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to say this again: I agree with your larger point that fewer cliches and gimmicks would be best for everyone.

But it’s hard for me to say that coming up with presentation in the absence of live-news photography is a gimmick. Similarly, it’s hard for me to say that the presentation reflecting the editorial tone of the content on that page is a gimmick.

So I guess we have to agree to disagree on this matter.

And lastly, I disagree that the Plain Dealer is — and let me quote here so that I don’t get anything inaccurate or out of context — “now not even a daily print publication.”

I’ll explain why I disagree: because it is an indisputable fact that the Plain Dealer is a daily print publication.

The relevant sentence: “As always, single copy editions of The Plain Dealer will be available at over 2,000 locations every day.”

My opinion is that indisputable facts should generally be agreed with, so I am hoping you’ll respect that opinion. However, I understand if you disagree and will respect your right to.

tl;dr pretty pages good [runs into street wearing cheerleader outfit; is hit by newspaper truck]

I think the SND needs to do some soul searching. It’s a platitude to say this competition is important to journalism. There is a very real possibility that your competition is reinforcing design practices that harm – rather than help – newspaper readership.

How many of your winners are increasing sales year over year? Are we doing these things because we think they’re cool, or because they’re proving to make the product more valuable to readers?

There are plenty of copy and design desks cranking out page that help increase sales. I’ve been lucky to work for a few. But I’ve also worked my flashy design magic in shops where it was very obvious the front pages we produced were hurting sales. That happened partly because management wanted to win competitions like this, rather that focus on their real audience.

That is well-said, Robbie. But I do think the issue is complex.

If you believe that SND, and the work its members provide, is important to journalism, then I would argue that identifying the best work in the organization is important to journalism. That’s what I was trying to accomplish with this.

(Similarly, I think the APSE organization and competition are valuable to journalism, though I don’t think success in their competition equates to sales increases for their publications. I think it encourages better writing and editing in sports, and that’s what I believe is important. I think the SND competition can and does encourage designers to improve as journalists, and that’s what I believe is important.)

My original post did not encourage participating in the competition as a means of increasing sales. I apologize sincerely if I came across that way. I have read and re-read my post and I cannot see it saying, “win the contest and you’ll sell off the racks.”

I intended to argue that improving your skill set as a designer and producing work that hopefully CAN work to make the product more valuable to your audience is important.

As far as your last sentence, of course that can be an issue, absolutely. But I don’t think it’s accurate to paint every winner with that brush. I am going to try to touch on that in the fourth part of this series.

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