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Three brief case studies for wonderful Election Night design


First of all: Sorry, there will be no national roundup of front pages today.

Here’s why: On big news days like today, the Newseum suffers from web sites big and small scraping their front pages and even hotlinking to them. The results have been slow access times (that was certainly the case for me today) and server outages.

So I don’t blame the Newseum for occasionally putting watermarks on their pages like they did today. In fact, they’ve even asked me what I thought and I told them to go for it. However, I feel like the watermarks detract badly from the aesthetic value of the pages. Which, obviously, is the primary reason they’d be here in this blog — or in one of my slideshows — in the first place.

Therefore, my policy is that I don’t post watermarked pages. Unless I’m writing a story about watermarks.

So, no roundup today. I don’t think you’ll miss it: Poynter’s Julie Moosposted a nice collection of front pages, however, as did Josh Voorheesof Slate. Tell ‘em I sent you.

What we have instead are three brief case studies. And each of these sets of pages are just wonderful. And perhaps there’s even a lesson or two we might take away about hub-based design.

Click on any image below for a much, much larger view.

Buffalo, N.Y.
Circulation: 147,085

What do you do when you have a winner but no picture of the victorious candidate claiming his win? You improvise.

In this case, with a creative crop of one of the multitude of pictures the wires — in this case, Getty Images — were moving of the crowd gathered in anticipation of President Barack Obama‘s delayed victory speech.

Vince Chiaramonte, the design director for the Buffalo News, tells us he…

…wanted to send you our final edition cover since Newseum only has our early edition. Unfortunately we weren’t able to push our deadlines beyond 1 a.m. and went without a live shot of Obama.

The page looks pretty nice in an honor box.

In order to show some continuity, Vince also sent along his Tuesday front…

…which ably displays the wonderful typographic sensibility for which theNews is known.

Vince also sent us this full-page treatment of a “what to watch out for tonight” story — an illustrated narrative of the same type of material that was in my own big election project — that ran in Monday’s paper.

The illustration is by staffer Daniel Zakroczemski.

Vince tells us he designed all three of these pages:

In my role as design director I’m trying to bring the energy of features and sports to news.

Meanwhile, a thousand or so miles south…


Award-winning Tim Ball — who left the Washington Post earlier this year to go freelance — has been working with the folks at the new Advance hub in Birmingham.

Tim writes:

We had two rounds of deadlines in Alabama last night, and since Huntsville’s press run is smaller, we had no opportunity for replates there. So its entire run ran with a beautiful Nikki Kahn file photo from the Washington Post.

You may have noticed the version of this page that appears at theNewseum today doesn’t have the reversed topper. That’s because of some strange glitch with the Advance papers’ system, called Newsway. The header actually reversed — like you see it here — in print.

Tim says he was particularly frustrated that he wasn’t able to update the device he was using to show electoral votes — those little stars under the nameplate. But such is life with late-breaking stories like Election Night coverage.

Tim continues:

Much as we liked it — and Obama’s quote, via Twitter — we really wanted to update with a live photo from his victory celebration and a live quote from that speech, and so that’s what you’ll see on the Birmingham and Mobile fronts.

The photo — by Chip Somodevilla of Getty Images — is now live. A new quote has been swapped in. And, or course, all the numbers have been updated, including the popular vote totals at right and the stars at the top of the page.

The Mobile paper was nearly identical today, save for the ad across the bottom.


Average daily circulation for the Huntsville Times is 44,725. Circulation for the Press-Register of Mobile is 82,088 while the Birmingham Newscirculates 103,729 papers daily.

And, speaking of design hubs…


I was particularly struck this morning by the wonderful front page work done by the Wisconsin team at Gannett’s Design Studio in Des Moines.

This team puts out ten papers every night. Sometimes, the front pages are a bit similar. But, more often than not, team leader Sean Mckeown-Young manages to find a way to give each paper its own different little visual spin.

His team did this last night, despite the tight deadlines and the story that really dragged on late last night. This was an important story, too: Wisconsin was one of the critical battleground states that might have gone either way. (CNN called the state for Obama at 10 p.m. CST.)

For Gannett Wisconsin’s Appleton paper — circulation 41,767 — Sean managed to get in a live shot of Obama’s victory speech from the Associated Press.

Note there’s no lead story on the front. The picture and the decks all refer to stories inside.

There are lots of moving pieces here, but everything stays organized, thanks to a wonderful use of typography and judicious placement of rules and tint boxes. The downpage story was huge today: Wisconsin’s first-ever female senator.

Dan Flannery — the regional executive editor for Gannett Wisconsin Media and the executive editor for the Post-Crescent — tells us:

We had a fairly late deadline of 1:30 a.m. to get our front-page out, so when I saw the president would be speaking well before then, I asked managing editor Jamie Mara to make sure that we got a “live” shot on our front. I think we were the only Gannett paper in the state to go that route.

In perusing other papers around the state and country, it seems many made use a tight, close shot of the president on their front. I think most of us probably thought — with good reason, given the polling — it would be a late night and there might not be available fresh art for the front.

I’m glad we were able to take advantage of the situation, and that our team here and in Des Moines picked a presidential-looking shot.

Earlier in the evening, Sean and his team had to put to bed four papers in Sheboygan (the Sheboygan Press, circulation 14,246), Oshkosh (theNorthwestern, circulation 14,113), Manitowoc (the Herald Times Reporter, circulation 10,253) and Fond du Lac (the Reporter, circulation 10,186).

I’m told Sean mocked up all these covers in advance and then worked with individual designers as they worked into the evening. Here, they used a file photo of the president, but it was still fairly fresh, shot as Obama spoke Monday night in Des Moines.


Small bits of qualifying text explain to the reader that results were not final by presstime. But check out the electoral vote totals: Clearly, the President had reached the magic 270 votes he needed to clinch a victory.

Of those two, I like the one of the right better: I like the serif type at the bottom of the photo as well as the two stories below, as opposed to three. What I don’t like about it is the story atop the main photo. Perhaps this printed well today in Manitowoc and perhaps it didn’t. Don’t try this at home, folks, unless you’re absolutely sure you can print your front page in register.

Now, for these next two examples, Sean and his crew got a little more fancy in varying their visual theme. Yet, I feel that both pages are more safe production bets than that last one.

On the left, the design crew reversed the main story out of black. Presumably, they used a solid “K” color, as opposed to a four-color black. Which would have made for a safer print job.


On the right, notice how everything has been tilted diagonally. Not only does this add some motion to the page — which works well with the “Forward” headline, but also it makes for a better space  in which to display the senate winner at the bottom right.

The colors in that one are a bit more garish than I’d normally advise one use. But what the heck: The state’s new senator is wearing bright red and the background of the main photo is bright blue. In this context, that gold ribbon was just perfect.

I asked Dan:

Q. The photos are fairly large today. Not quite “poster size.” But still, pretty big. Do readers like big pictures on big news days like this?

A. I’m not sure any of us know for sure what readers “like” on big news days, but I’m pretty sure that they expect something out of the ordinary. And that’s what this election was, in many respects, especially in Wisconsin.

Of course, we knew that going into the day and planned for it.

The big photo play was probably going to be the Gannett Wisconsin presentation plan no matter who won the presidential election, obviously.

I haven’t discussed the development of the strategy with anyone at the Des Moines News Design Studio, but from a production standpoint, it makes sense to not have to completely “reinvent the wheel” 10 times in 10 Wisconsin papers. There was some similarity in the papers, no doubt, but there were also touches and devices and elements that were unique to each market.

Here’s how the folks in Des Moines displayed the page for the Wisconsin group’s largest paper, the Press-Gazette of Green Bay.

The team was compelled to use a file photo here. But what a great shot that is — the president looks defiant and determined. My only complaint: I can’t seem to find a photo credit anywhere.

With the big, bold one-word main headline and the clean downpage treatment of the senatorial race, that might have been the most impactful page of the batch. Yet, I really liked the headline Sean and his folks used on these last four papers.


Won two.” Very nice. Note that the Wausau Daily Herald (left, circulation 15,506) placed the story into a light space in the background of the photo while the Marshfield News-Herald (right, circulation 8,139) reversed the story out of a darker spot. Again, this is dangerous to do. I hope this printed OK. It sure looks good on the PDF.

Judging by the electoral vote totals, I’d guess these were some of the last pages of the night.

Downpage, the front is admittedly a bit scattered and grey. But that was addressed in these last two front pages: The Daily Tribune of Wisconsin Rapids (circulation 7,924) and the Stevens Point Journal (circulation 7,845).


Here, the design team anchored the main story in the bottom left of the photo, put a black box behind that story — which, again, allows for any misregistration issues — and topped it all off with a larger display of the senate race using the cutout picture we saw earlier.

The only beef I have with this last pair is minor: I’d like to see the Daily Tribune nameplate taken down just a notch or two like the others were. I think it overpowers the headline here.

The result is a set of ten papers that obviously belong to the same group. But don’t have quite as much cookie-cutter feel as we see from some hubs. This Wisconsin group is particularly good at this: I look at these pages every Monday — for my own enjoyment — to see the great ways they display Packers’ games.

Dan took one more question from us:

Q. Sometimes, hub-designed papers tend to look awfully similar. But your folks in Des Moines managed to create essentially five “looks.”


How important is it for small regional dailies to have their own look and feel?

A. I think it’s critical to be as distinctive as possible.

The truth is, it can be a challenge in times like these or when the Packers are playing a big game. But we’ve done this long enough, as a group of papers and partners, to know how to make each of our products market-specific. We’re all aware that one of the potential challenges in the design-studio concept is to take the path of least resistance on these kinds of stories.

But we’re also very aware that we’re selling these products locally, to readers who have choices between our papers and neighboring papers. We need to make sure — and, by and large, we do — that each of us produce distinctively local products.

(Full disclosure: Yes, these ten Wisconsin papers ran my big election preview graphic this week.)


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