SND39: Entering For Your Team For the First Time

This is the third of three posts in advance of the SND39 entry deadline — so long as you get your entries to SND by Feb. 8, regardless of where you are sending from, you are in the clear — geared toward advice for the first-time entrant.

The previous two pieces can be found here:

SND39: Why You Should Enter

SND39: Advice For Individuals Entering For the First Time

The intended audience for this final post are those of you who are managers, art directors and editors entering the Best of News Design for your entire team for the first time. The general theme is, keep your entries clean, and your edits cleaner.

Enter to win, rather than to give everyone a chance. While SND’s entry fees are still the cheapest in the industry for comparable competitions, $20 for a single page or $35 for multiple pages can still add up quickly, and you’re most going to want some kind of return on your investment. The fastest route is there is by aiming for quality over quantity.

Over the course of a year, one of the best ways to get there is by saving good work as you see it. Put it in a file cabinet or closet away from foot traffic and lights, but add a sticky note or two about why you liked it. Maybe the photo edit was strong, or the typography was especially impactful — identifying this at the time of publication helps at the end of the year when you’re assessing what you did right and what you can improve.

If you did not do that, your method at this time probably involves looking over an entire year’s worth of archived PDFs and pulling standout work for possible competition entries.

Regardless of method, you’re going to want to take responsibility for this as the manager. Asking designers to submit their favorite work is fine, but it should not override your responsibility for your final edit, entry and tally.

Only after you have identified what you believe to be the best work should you start attaching names to entries. At this point, if you look around and realize certain designers’ work is being entered over and other and others aren’t at all, then you can start looking to take fliers on some of those who missed the first cut. But if you commit to an equal amount of entries for everyone, you’re going to want to be absolutely sure as a manager that everyone’s work rises to the exact same level of excellence.

The work you put the most time and resources in is likely to stand the best chance. It’s true that the biggest challenges designers have often come in the opposite scenario — “making something out of nothing” — and that work can be satisfying when it rises to award-winning levels, the reality is that your biggest enterprise, best breaking news coverage and most-planned special coverage is almost always going to stand the best chance in a competition.

Luckily for you, nearly every possible combination for entering this work exists. In a special business section alone, you can enter the entire section as a special section, the pages as special section pages, the best pages together as a business cover story, and the pages as business pages. Yes, each category is going to have a different standard applied, but if that is where your truly excellent work lies, you’re going to stand a better chance if you enter it four or five ways than if you enter it once and enter four things of obviously lesser quality instead.

Cleanliness counts. Generally, the more cluttered a page (or pages), the harder the main visual on the page is going to have to work to catch a judge’s attention. So on pages that may have a powerful centerpiece and four other stories, you’re going to want to scrutinize those other stories as well. Do they step on the centerpiece? Do they have four separate headline fonts? Do they use an average photo that distracts from the really good visual in the centerpiece? None of these are dealbreakers, but each of them means whatever that really good visual is has to overcome them before they can properly grab a judge’s attention during judging and get a second look.

Edit those long-form entries down. Category 5 — Special News Topics — is for one to five days of coverage. Category 9 — Special Coverage — is for six or more days of coverage. Obviously, both categories can get quite bulky, and at some point this year an entry with more than 50 pages will wind up on the table. If one of those entries is going to be yours, you absolutely must ensure that all 50 pages by themselves are excellent. The longer the entry, the more chances it has to highlight a deficiency or shortcoming in the design, art direction or photo editing. Entries in Category 5 can be as short as two pages, and in 9 they can be as short as six pages. It is almost certain that some winners this year will meet both of those criteria. Judges are not allowed to consider what they can’t see, only what is in front of them. So, your focus should be on making what is in front of them the best it can possibly be.

The entry drives the portfolios, not the other way around. A common mistake and surefire way to land in the out piles is to begin your edit with a portfolio entry and then declare you are going to enter all six (or eight, if it’s a staff) pages elsewhere. Start out at the other end of the spectrum. Scrutinize work for a place to be entered on its own, and at the end of that, ask yourself if one designer or the entire staff has done enough work that rises to the level of excellence that you want to make a portfolio out of it.

And finally, be open with your staff. Feelings can be hurt over lack of entries, and expectations can be overextended easily. The best remedy for both is to be honest about why you entered what you did and why you cut what you did. If you do it right, it’s a natural extension of being a critical editor, and will flow from editing discussions you have with your team year-round.

Best of luck.

About Josh Crutchmer

is design and graphics editor at The Plain Dealer.

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