Thursday, March 26, 2009

Back to basics

Back in the Good Old Days, when "design" was called "layout" (and page dummies were drawn with rulers and proportion wheels, and disgruntled compositors would put billiard balls in the pneumatic tubes* if the newsroom was slow in moving the pages, and uphill both ways in the snow), one of the basic rules everyone learned was: Make people look into their stories.

The idea is simple: If there's direction in the photo -- somebody's looking or pointing or jumping or shooting one way or the other -- you want to use that direction to steer the reader's eyes into the appropriate story, rather than the one next door. And it really works -- put another way, when you do it wrong, the result really sticks out.

As it does in today's Denver Post reefers. If you're not a regular reader (or if you're the sort of reader who doesn't spend much time with the feature columnists), and you don't know what John Hope Franklin looked like, you can be forgiven for thinking that the guy in the picture must be the guy holding court with the "queen." And it would have been just as easy to take advantage of the eye's instincts and -- oh, do it right.

There's a lot more to complain about in this small sector of 1A. "Serious snow: Will it clobber Denver?" is the sort of Stupid Question TV stations ask before they head off to the commercials. Unfortunately, someone's already answered it a few inches higher -- that'll be the forecast of "heavy snow" you see just above the reefers.

The Stupid Question prize, of course, goes to the lead hed, "Is This Mess Over?" If you think "yes" is an option, you should probably avoid games of skill or chance, excess use of the pointy scissors, and the craft of hed writing in general. To its credit, that's not even the question the AP story suggests: the idea that "some people" may be "thinking the worst is over."

If newspapers are going to have a claim on the audience, it won't be through immediacy, or interactivity, or the ability to make the frontpage sound like a tank-town TV anchor in full cry. It might be through maximizing things we can still do well. But if the best we can be is a browser that you have to bring in from the driveway, or a TV that doesn't move or talk, we're going to lose without a fight.

* You may now raise your hand if you ever played Mortar Crew with the pneumatic tubes.

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3 Comments:

Blogger tsl said...

The matching blue backgrounds for the photo and 'queen' hed don't help, either.

4:12 AM, March 27, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

There's a white border! What more do you want???

Yes, that's why there's "float: left" and "float: right" options.

Papers can't compete with the Internet on its terms. They have to go back to doing what papers do well. People usually read more of something they start when it's in their hands - but you have to give them a good reason to pick it up.

9:08 AM, March 27, 2009  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Har, and the headline box also appears to be Duke Blue (PMS 286) for the trivia-minded.

Don't forget pica poles - useful for scratching backs and slapping pasties on the bum.

11:01 AM, March 27, 2009  

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