SND42 CanCon edition: Some of the best newspaper pages from Canada in 2020

By Brad Needham

When I got access to all the entries to the Society for News Design best in print newspaper design competition, I was like a kid in a candy store. It was such a delight to see some of the best pages from around the world. But as a proud Canadian (slightly dampened by our slow progress on COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly for essential workers), I quickly searched for Canadian entries. I was both tickled to the see the incredible creativity that flowed from home, but also a little saddened to see there was little variety in entrants. Lots of entries. Very few titles. Dominated by the Globe and Mail, a selection from the Toronto Star and some from Le Devoir.

When I entered the contest in 2007 and 2009, I entered as a designer for the now-shuttered Guelph Mercury. We had a circulation of just over 10,000 at the time, if I recall correctly. We were the little engine that could. Sadly I didn’t see that this time. Two of Ontario’s design heavyweights (despite being relative lightweights in circulation), the Mercury and Barrie Examiner, have both closed. Other papers are being done in internal or external production centres. To be very clear this doesn’t mean there isn’t some incredible and award-worthy work coming out of these places. You only need to look at my profile on Tammy Hoy to see what is being done. But there is less time for most places to spend on design. And they’re not entering anymore, as media organizations shift their focus to digital (I assume that’s why?). Hopefully that will change for SND43. I hope to spread the gospel to Canadian newspapers so that there are more titles next year.

But I digress. As much as I like to think everyone is here to read my witty insights and elegant prose, I know it’s beautiful newspaper pages that drive this blog!

So first, here are some from the Globe, with very brief bits about what I like. As with most beautiful pages, they speak for themselves. But as I learned at SND42, there is so much to say about why these pages are excellent.

The Globe and Mail, The way through

As a subscriber to the Globe and Mail, I loved this page the second I peeled it out of the plastic bag (maybe two if it was raining — or, gasp, snowing — that day). It is hard to come up with a novel concept when it comes to the unmistakable shape of the COVID-19 ball, with its protein spikes always threatening to hook on to something. But this was new (for me, though as you can see here another newspaper did something very similar, proving how hard it is to take a unique approach in newspaper design). A tangled COVID knot, showing the almost unnavigable path through this complicated situation. Beautiful and well used white space. Of course it’s a Saturday Globe cover, and I’ve come to expect nothing less, but this was one of the standouts even among the weekly excellence.

Globe and Mail, Too much oil

At first glance even a seasoned designer might not see this idea as novel. Reverse white text on a black background. But this isn’t just to make it pop. This page works, it rises to a new level, only because it’s about oil. Too much oil. The black has a real purpose. And you can see the oil swishing at the top. It’s someone taking an old idea and making it new, giving it purpose. It’s a bold use of space.

Globe and Mail, The Trump Administration, illustrated by Kagan McLeod

This page is almost entirely driven by its illustration by the incredibly talented Kagan McLeod (who also did the National Post cover illustration to mark Prince Philip’s death). There is so much happening. It’s so busy, but in a good way. Like a Where’s Waldo picture, you can spend so much time taking in all the different ideas and details. The text is played respectfully, letting the illo do most of the talking.

Globe and Mail, Where do we go from here

While the Globe had many more outstanding pages, this is the last I’ll look at. I like it, again, because it takes an old idea and makes it new. I see lots of graph-driven pages. But usually those graphs dominate the page in order to make them stand out as main art. It’s a graph after all. But in this case, the graph is tiny. I mean, it is a graph after all. But that makes it stand out even more. It’s a tiny focal point. But your eye goes there. And it illustrates a rapidly shrinking number. Once big, now also tiny. And another Report on Business cover. I love to see so much creativity on business pages.

Toronto Star

Toronto Star, Fate of the Union

Some in Canadian media will recognize this Toronto Star page, as it was also nominated for a National Newspaper Award for presentation/design. On top of COVID-19, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, there was an election for the ages in the U.S. And one complicated by COVID. Often results are late. Often a country is divided. But in 2020, both reached new levels. Mail-in ballots meant delaying your press start by three hours likely wouldn’t net you results. The question mark made up of the states was such a creative way to illustrate this. Red, blue, too early to call. Fate of the Union is such a great headline as this was one of the most important election in U.S. history. And the world was watching.

Toronto Star, A day to reflect, Canada

The work that must have gone into this page is extraordinary. It takes 3,000 images from Star photographers since the beginning of the pandemic lockdown and makes up one image of a woman wearing a Canadian flag mask. And the head works so well with the mosaic. But again, it comes down to how much work and the thought process that must have gone into this. It’s mind boggling.

Le Devoir

Le Devoir, American colours

This Le Devoir page is a fun and different approach to the U.S. election. Going into it it was anybody’s guess. The polls were so close. So Le Devoir highlights that with empty stars, ready to be coloured in, complete with pencil crayons.

Thanks, Canada

There were more great entries from each of these papers. I salute the effort they put in, as well as papers like the National Post and others, which didn’t have entries as far as I could see. Print is still kicking in Canada, and while it might not be as vibrant as that in the States and other countries around the world, it’s still alive. I hope 2021 will see more entrants, and, more importantly, more bold and inspired print designs. If newspapers want to show readers they still care, they need to make an effort. And I will be here to celebrate it when they do.

Have thoughts? Share them below.

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