Editor’s note: This week, 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 assist as “facilitators.” It’s a tough job, but one that comes with incredible learning opportunities and gives everyone involved a wealth of inspiration. Several years ago, we asked judging veteran Andrea Zagata to write this guide for first-time facilitators. She’s coming back (this time as coordinator), 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 SND37. 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 general judging and the World’s Best Designed Newspaper competitions.
What to bring
Pack comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. It wouldn’t hurt to bring more than one pair of shoes to change it up and give your feet a break mid-week.
Jeans are fine — sweatshirts, t-shirts, just be comfortable. Think night copy desk attire. Bring clothing to layer – the weather can change in a second and if it’s cold outside, it’ll be warm inside.
Jersey day is Sunday: On Sunday, many people participate in “Jersey day” by wearing a jersey of a local or favorite team. Pack your favorite sports gear if you want to participate (but many don’t, so no pressure).
If you’re flying, there is a shuttle that will take you to the hotel. If you spot somebody who looks suspiciously like an art director/designer/photographer or other newspaper type, introduce yourself. It will be the first of many introductions over the weekend, so you may as well start somewhere.
When you check in at the hotel, you will receive a packet with an itinerary and lots of useful information at the front desk. If you don’t receive the packet, ask for one. Then spend some time actually reading it. Don’t skim.
There is a student session at Newhouse School on Friday from noon-5 p.m. It features excellent speakers and a chance to hang out with the students, as well as free food. It’s basically like a mini SND conference, and well worth your time. It’s also a chance to meet people before the judging starts and make friends to go to dinner with later Friday evening.
Identification badges will be handed out either Friday night or Saturday morning. Check to make sure your name is spelled correctly, get your sharpie marker out if it isn’t, but DO NOT LOSE THE BADGE.
Judges will have Friday dinner together, but facilitators are on their own to make plans. This is a great time to text your new best friend from the shuttle or the student session and see who wants to hang out. If you find somebody who has attended the judging before, they will likely know what is going on. Usually the facilitators go somewhere for dinner together (it’s often pizza), and it’s a fun way to talk to some of the people you will be working with for the next several days. There is a map in your packet which includes some food locations.
Whenever possible, introduce yourself to someone new. Ask what they do. Talk about design. Talk about your dog, cat, kid, paper, website, furlough, website, projects. Exchange business cards. You never know whom you might be riding the elevator with. (Unless they’re helpfully sporting their badge, of course.) It could be somebody whose work you admire and you might have a fan girl moment but hopefully this is on Friday and there is time to recover. Try not to be shy, everyone’s pretty nice, whether this is their 10th contest or their first.
If you want Starbucks in the morning, there’s one close to the hotel, but I suggest you leave early — it’s a popular location and there is often a line.
At 8:45 a.m., meet in the hotel lobby to be bused to Drumlins (the judging facility). This is an excellent time to find your team captain (noted in your packet). Don’t be late, don’t miss the bus and don’t make somebody call your room to see where you are. That’s embarrassing. There were many volunteers turned down this year due to capacity, so if you are here, make the most of it, because there’s somebody out there who would love to take your place.
Wear your coat (and your hat and your mittens) in case the bus breaks down, or accidentally hits somebody, and you find yourself stranded. (Not that this will happen, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Syracuse is a cold, cold place.) There’s a coat rack available at Drumlins, so you can ditch the coat later.
Don’t forget to eat some breakfast at Drumlins – you’re going to need some energy for the day ahead. Get ready to see more newspaper pages than you could possibly imagine.
When you are done with breakfast, find your team captain (especially if you haven’t met them yet). The judges are split up into groups that handle a certain number of categories, and the facilitators and divided in a similar manner.
You will be with your team for the whole weekend, and your captain is in charge of the pace in which you go through the categories. If you have a question, your captain is the person to ask. If you aren’t sure of what you are supposed to be doing, your captain will know.
There will be some down time to look at pages yourself, and to get to know the people in your group. But remember that the contest is under a tight timeline and has to finish by Monday, so don’t leave your team hanging while you socialize.
Before you get caught up looking at an entry or engaged in a deep conversation, always make sure you’re not needed elsewhere. Remember there is plenty of time to talk at meals and at the hotel after the judging is done for the day.
If you see a judge looking around blankly and standing by a page, for example, they are likely looking for YOU. They probably need you to read a translation on a page, or check to see if they have voted, or have a question Make yourself available to help them, that’s your job.
You may ask them if they need something, or just stay in close proximity so they can call you over. The best way to be available is to stay on your feet near where your group is set up, looking at pages, making sure the entries are set up properly, etc. I know your feet are tired, but the judges’ are, too. It’s fine if you need a break (everyone does) but keep in mind that everyone is working towards the same goal – to complete the judging of thousands of entries in a single weekend.
Always take note of who is standing around you before you speak. All the work on the tables is what someone thought was one of the best things they did that year. If you think it’s awesome, that’s great. If you think it sucks, that’s ok too. But sharing your opinions in a noticeable manner is rude, and unfair to the judges, the people who paid money to enter, and just about everyone. So please use discretion.
The judges are not allowed to speak about work or discuss it amongst themselves unless it is in a medal discussion. Listening in is one of the best ways this weekend to learn what makes a design good or great. If your team is doing a medal discussion for a round and you’re not needed to help elsewhere, take a listen.
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.
If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing, ask your team captain or another experience facilitator how can do to help. It may be that nothing’s needed, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Don’t be offended if somebody asks you to do something or pulls you out of your chair to work — everyone is there to help.
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.
Introduce yourself to more people, people not on your judging team, people you haven’t met yet, at meals. Talk to the students who are there volunteering and if you have time, take a minute to look at their work or talk to them about what they are studying. If you have an internship open at your company, tell them about it. Connecting with the students who give their time and volunteer to help run the competition is one of the most valuable ways to spend your down time.
You will learn more than you thought possible. Try to soak it all in and feel encouraged and inspired.
Sunday night is karaoke night, and if you are a facilitator, you have to be there. Karaoke is one of SND’s biggest fundraisers of the year, and it operates on a challenge system. That means you pay $50 for Chris Rukan to sing “Barbie Girl,” and if he doesn’t want to, he can pay $50 to NOT sing it. And so on. It’s super fun, and if your boss, coworker, friend or nemesis happens to be there, this is your chance to give them a hard time while raising money for an excellent cause, the SND Foundation, which gives money towards the education of students. So bring a couple extra bucks to donate if you can, but regardless, come and enjoy the show.
Monday is the last judging day, ending in the Best in Show discussion. It’s easily the highlight of the competition, and your only chance to hear from all of the judges at the same time. Enjoy it. Monday night dinner is on your own, and your chance to say goodbye to all the amazing people you’ve met and talk about the incredible work you’ve seen.
Learn. Network. Work your butt off. Be inspired. Sing karaoke. Syracuse.
Andrea Zagata is the 37th edition coordinator and lead sports designer for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. This will be her 8th time attending the creative competition in Syracuse.