By Brad Needham

The world has a lot of newspapers. With the help of Freedom Forum’s Today’s Front Pages website, the pool I generally look at as been narrowed down greatly. I will look at the best front pages I’ve seen from newspapers around the world. And this is A1 only. Papers like the L.A. Times and New York Times, and so many others, do amazing things with features sections. One day I will look at those. Today, A1s. And like the post from Canada’s best, I am highlighting the papers that go above and beyond regularly.

Anyone who follows my Instagram will see the same papers again and again. That is not because I am ignoring other papers. It’s because these papers are consistently producing great pages, while other papers don’t. Many do once in a while. The papers below do it regularly.

I will pull out a few of the top pages from each, and then put the rest in a slideshow. There was some outstanding work in 2021.

Dennik N Slovakia

What can I say about this tab. I have been in awe of Dennik N since I first started really paying attention to pages from around the world. I look at 500+ every day, and every day I could highlight the front page from this publication. They definitely have their own style. The cover often has cartoons, and the characters come back again and again, like the health-care worker (shout out to them, as it’s been a trying two years to say the least). On average, I enjoy more covers from this paper than any other in the world, though Reporte Indigo has some breathtaking stuff as well. All illustrator-driven.

This 9/11 page was one of the most powerful, and simplest, to mark the 20th anniversary. It was so close to another cover, not featured here. Just the idea of adding a thin line to the top of a thick line. It was just 1. Now it’s a 1 and a tower. Simple. Powerful.

Cover of Dennik N commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

This little dude made a few appearances. Health-care workers were in the spotlight as COVID ravaged our lives. My life is more difficult. I can’t imagine working in health care right now. This little guy was always just right.

I don’t think much needs to be said about this one. It’s just simplistically beautiful.

I could go on forever with the paper. They do amazing stuff. Maybe one day I can talk to one of the designers. Here are some more from this amazing paper.

Reporte Indigo Mexico

Like Dennik N, but to the extreme, Reporte Indigo is driven by illustrations. Unlike Dennik N, which often has basic and simple illustrations, Reporte Indigo has elaborate pieces. The work is always stunning. Always worthy of recognition. I don’t have as many from them as they aren’t on the Freedom Forum site. I only found where to get them partway through the year (the entire paper can be downloaded from their website, and you can see it on PressReader). The art goes on throughout, every page pretty much. I can’t imagine how much time and effort this takes, so kudos to them. It’s gorgeous. This first one is truly mind blowing.

I just loved this visual when I first saw it. And I love the little dudes walking past the flag. That is some attention to detail.

Reporter Indigo newspaper front page, drawing of man stretching between books as people walk over him.

And here are a few more. You get the idea, but damn, they look so labour intensive. A for effort, and unreal execution as well. But loving how hard they work.

de Volkstrant Netherlands

The tiny little words on top of the flag say it all: World’s best designed newspaper | European newspaper of the year. De Volkstrant is not at all like the ones above. It doesn’t rely on illustrations. It is elegant and clean. It is a paper that has mastered the use of white space. Did I mention it’s elegant. The fonts are so smartly chosen. I chose a similar looking font when I redesigned the Guelph Mercury because I am a fan of elegance in newspapers. And the little numbers they do are great.

Did I mention de Volkstrant turned 100 last year? I hope it has 100 more years in print with pages like this. Again, it’s not elaborate. It’s just beautiful. What a photo.

Just after I say they don’t rely on illustrations … a beautiful illustration by Paul Fasssen. But even still it fits their personality. It’s pretty, as is the text around it.

And just a few more to admire.

The Villages Daily Sun Florida

I have made it no secret that I love The Villages Daily Sun, a paper with a print-first mentality. Print FIRST!! Like Reporte Indigo, the designers here put a lot of effort it all the time. As I mentioned in my post on Adam Rogers and Colin Smith, they also worked hard to match the design to the community. That’s incredible. Unlike a lot of papers, there is never any doubt when you’re looking at a Daily Sun page. Branding, baby.

But back to effort. All I need to say is just look at this page. Mind. Blown.

Not a lot of papers went big with the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but the Daily Sun did. And it’s striking. Newspapers need to look forward, but they also need to look back.

And a few more.

Diari Ara Spain

Diari Ara grew on me slowly. But I kept seeing pages that clearly had a lot of thought put into them. And then I saw one I loved. And then another. This one struck me and I’m still not precisely sure why yet, but I just loved it. It speaks to me. I do love a good sepia tone. And the blurry person. It adds mystery.

This was one of my favourite 9/11 pages, marking the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

Politiken Denmark

Politiken has a harder news feel than some of the others. It uses sketches, less colour, often plays on the the white, red and black in its design, leaving other colours to wish they were invited to Politiken A1 party.

So … when they use colour … boom! The paper often has such a hard feel to it. Then Christmas Eve, and here is this beautiful page. I have no idea why or what, but I love it.

And just a few more from very little colour to a lot of colour.

Kleine Zeitung Austria

Another tab, and more great work. There aren’t a lot of papers like Kleine Zeitung in North America. There are tabs of course, but I don’t see things like this. It’s a lovely paper, doing lovely things all the time. This depressing page might have been my fave of the year, right under the wire.

I should always translate the text, and I worry about this one. But it is striking. It’s just such a clean page, with a nice illustration as the centrepiece.

They have had so many good ones, and here are just a few more.

The Spokesman-Review Spokane, Wa.

I have had a years’ long love affair with The Spokesman-Review (don’t tell my paper). Anyone who follows this blog will know this as I was lucky enough to talk to Caitlin MIller, an emerging designer for a recent post. Until becoming a volunteer with the Society for News Design for last year’s Best of Newspaper Design competition, I would have said it was the best designed newspaper in the world, after the Virginian-Pilot stopped performing it’s magic. I say that with all due respect to my former employees at Pagemasters North America. They did some incredible things for the Pilot after it moved production to PMNA. But it used to be the best cover in the world most days. I digress. The Spokesman-Review has a similar feel. It lets stories breathe, it goes big, it uses its flag in design. And it continues on other section fronts. I admit I have cheated here as I lost some from page files in a phone swap, so I am including some section covers. Sorry! As a side note, some other amazing things they do: they have today’s and recent front pages on their site, inside pages from today’s pub, historical pages and they list the designer. I wish more papers did this.

I love a few things on this page. I love the big reverse text head. I love that it is played in the background. The apples, and just the air.

The thing about the Spokesman-Review is that it has character, a consistency. I can say the same thing about each front page, yet it never gets boring. They try new things while somehow keeping the same flavour and feel day after day. A credit to Chris Soprych, I’m sure. Again, great typography. A playful bit with the dandelion. Air. And the flag. They play with their flag all the time. When that’s your brand, that’s bold.

And here are a few more, with some inside pages.

Jyllands-Posten Denmark

I love this tab. Just smart design, often simple and clean. It’s great. This page was my fave because of the smart and creative use of playful typography.

I love when newspapers do portrait-type art like this. There is no face, it’s simple, but readers will know who that is instantly. This is so nicely done.

And a couple more.

There were more from other papers. But these were my faves from papers who frequently went above and beyond. I am excited to see what 2022 brings, but I hope for more like these.

By Brad Needham

Some newspapers have clearly given up on print design. It’s about content and digital. Obviously both of those are key to the future of media organizations everywhere. But I still believe print design is important. And that’s why I celebrate it here and on my Instagram account, both of which have been around for about a year now. While my Instagram shows great pages from day to day, this blog tends to focus on designers or bigger topics.

While I want to celebrate all newspapers making an effort (and I do on Instagram), the next two posts are going to show a few papers that consistently deliver striking and thoughtful designs. This post will focus on Canada’s big three: The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post. Perhaps next year I will add more, though I don’t see many papers upping their effort. Next post, the rest of the world.

Each of these top papers tends to have a solidly defined style. I will look at my top three pages from each publication (at least that I highlighted this year on my Instagram), then a slideshow of some other pages. To be clear, I know there is some amazing work happening inside these papers and on other section fronts, but this is about A1, and only includes papers making an effort — and a splash — frequently. I won’t look at one-offs, or rare successes in this post. I will feature them in order of my connections with each, so Toronto Star, Globe and Mail (only as managing editor of Pagemasters North America, which handles most of the page production for the Globe and Mail, though the pages featured here were likely done in house) and the National Post (I recently started working at Postmedia).

Toronto Star

This was probably the page of the year in Canadian media for me (the top Globe page rivals it), though not necessarily from a design perspective. There were some stronger pages visually, more complex. But this is a powerful page, which gave a lot of real estate to a key issue at a key time. The reverse text, the big headline asking a big question, the little moccasins with a big message. It came out a day late (only because the day-after coverage in many Canadian papers was lacking), two days after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children, but it struck a chord.

The Star will less frequently blow out its front page for an international issue than the national papers, but it did here. It was the strongest Canadian 9/11 anniversary page, with a strong image and beautifully handled typography.

In the summer of 2021, the Star decided to focus more on print design (I’m not making this up), hiring an art director as well as three others to focus on design, graphics, illustrations, etc. This is an example of this, with a striking, contrasty photo illustration from Ramon Ferreira.

Here is a small sampling of some other great Toronto Star pages. All great in their own way, all very Star. The beautiful illustration by Hawlii Pichette, the strong art and colours on the Afghanistan page and the excitement of an epic gold medal win on the Olympics page.

Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail is always swinging for the fences and often knocks pages out of the park, well beyond A1. The Globe tends to have elegant or pleasantly elaborate illustrations, big art and sometimes subtle headlines. Its weekend A1s can run with the best in the world.

This page might have been the best purely from a design standpoint. It’s simple, but smart. Likely planned for ages. It is powerful as well, about the “Two Michaels,” who were wrongly imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days. This was Day 1,000, a grim milestone. Some will argue this, but the Globe owned this story, especially in Canada. Every day the Globe kept track of days the Michaels were detained on the front page. I don’t know how early it started, but it was there for hundreds of days. This was the culmination of that. The tallies, how they work around the flag. No art. The contrast. It’s a stunning and powerful page.

The Globe had one of the best Election Day and and best election results page. But I love this visual. And fantastic use of white space.

I love this illustration by Klawe Rzeczy. It’s busy, it’s chaotic, but it is absolutely eye catching. And despite the Globe getting illustrations from various illustrators, it always seems to feel like the Globe. Refined.

Here are a few more. I love the keys from the keyboard. And, again, in Globe style, the white space. They do not fear white space because they know how to use it. They also did a stained glass look (see National Post below). It’s too bad it cost the Canadian women’s soccer team some play, but it’s a nice page. The dart board. White space. Red. Contrast. And the pencil. I did a page like this, so of course I like it! Again, bold white space. And Calgary. I love it for design, but also I’m from Calgary! Finally, the bear. So dark, and boldly dark, but the Globe can get away with it as it prints on glossy paper. I should have said that earlier as that is key to some of its success in print.

National Post

The National Post has been known for its design since its inception in 1998. For a long time it stood above the rest. It’s still exceptional, especially once you get past the very often great front page. The inside design doesn’t try too hard. It is elegant and clean. So much so that others have tried to imitate it, without success. The vertical flag is something I often talk about. It adds so much. Funny that these three papers all have very different flag styles, with only the Star having the classic text across the top. Sorry, tangent. The National Post is still giving it its all, particularly on Saturdays.

I debated my fave, but in the end this vibrant illustration won out. It’s played well with the other content on the page, but it, in itself, is just so striking. To tie things together, it’s done by Becky Guthrie, now the art director at the Toronto Star. The Canadian media scene is a small world.

But then there is the Christmas page. This has been a tradition for the National Post since it started, conceptualized as a way to compete with the Globe’s art-driven Christmas page. They took the boldly overtly religious approach to set themselves apart from the Globe. The reverse flag. The colours.

This page is a basic, clean design. There are other extraordinarily designed Post pages, but I wanted to give props to a big news page. Like headlines, designs are often more celebrated for feature-type stories as they are easier to illustrate. This was a big news day in Canada. The Two Michaels home at least. It was the best page for this event.

The National Post’s Election Day page was great. Still maybe my favourite. It’s very different from the Globe’s white space. A big monster headline. Contrast-y text on a dark background. I just love the symmetry on the next page. I almost chose the Prince Philip page as one of my top 3. It was close. What a piece of art by my good friend* Kagan McLeod. The next is an Olympics page. As I wrote then, the Post won the Canadian newspaper Olympics with outstanding design day in and day out. And a classic Post cartoon cover.
*I don’t actually know Kagan other than over Twitter and through seeing his illustrations in each of the top three papers here, but I’ve been a Kagan stan for a while.

So while 2021 proved to be just as maddening and depressing as 2020, just with vaccines, it still provided plenty of brilliant newspaper front pages. I am thankful to the editors and designers at all the papers here, who keep pushing boundaries and working with passion. And to those at the papers who still do the once-in-a-while great pages. Every little bit counts.

Next up, a look at papers from around the world, featuring publications such as Dennik N of Slovakia, Denmark’s Politiken, The Villages Daily Sun from Florida (you must have known that was coming) and more!

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By Brad Needham

Newspapers often go all out on Christmas Eve, often with stunning illustrations or photos on their front pages. This year is no different, except that it’s very different. With Omicron raging, lockdowns, limits on gatherings. It’s been a hard year or two for most, regardless of the season. No commentary on religion here. Just design and the feeling of hopefulness the season often brings. And the incredible front pages don’t hurt! After about two years with COVID-19, it’s nice to have hope so I appreciate these covers even more this year.

For whatever reason, Canadian newspapers seem to blow out their covers disproportionately compared to other places in the world. I looked through about 20 Canadian covers and at least half had very Christmas-y covers. The proportion of America papers was much, much lower, which was surprising. Many didn’t publish today.

Canadian Christmas Eve

Alas, the covers. First I will start with Christmas Eve in Canada. Each of Canada‘s big three has a very different feel, in line with its target audience. First up, the National Post. The stained glass look and the black really pop. It’s such a striking visual. The National Post has been doing this since its first year, 1998, and every year I love it. It’s become a Christmas tradition. It definitely has a stronger religious feel than many others, but that is by design. Of course their vertical flag, as it often does, helps creating a more powerful visual.

Next up, the Toronto Star. The Star has recently hired a handful of staff to focus on print visuals, including an art director, formerly from the National Post. It shows. This illustration is lovey. Happy-making.

Then the Globe and Mail. Like the National Post, the Globe has been doing a similar cover for years. A beautiful oil painting, from the Art Gallery of Ontario, with a little text. In fact I have learned they have been doing it since before 1998 at least, featuring art from its parent company’s art collection. Most years it’s more of a winter theme rather than Christmas.

Then there is the Guardian from Charlottetown, P.E.I. Just a pretty, hopeful and happy painting, submitted by the very non-winter-named Summer Kelly, 11. Amazing work from a young artist.

Around the world

And now for covers from around the world! This Het Parool cover is one of my faves. I just find the illustration to be so magical and eye-catching/pleasing.

Reporte Indigo is known for their illustrations. And they don’t disappoint here. So classy. Stunning.

Kleine Zeitung has a beautiful illustration but they don’t gloss over COVID. It’s part of our lives.

This cover from de Volkstrant is just simple and elegant. Really pretty art.

Anyone who follows this blog or my Instagram will know I love The Villages Daily Sun. This page just fits their style so well.

See: When a newspaper starts to look like its community

And this McDowell News front page. It’s different! Christmas stats. Very American. Nice contrast. It’s fun and informative.

There were more, but these were the tops that I saw. Thanks to all the newspaper designers out there, still doing their thing. I appreciate how much effort still goes into these pages. Happy holidays, everyone.

The Villages Daily Sun goes above and beyond in visual journalism, print specifically. Colin Smith and Adam Rogers tell us more.

By Brad Needham

Print might be on the way to becoming an afterthought for some newspapers, but not the Villages Daily Sun in Florida. It is proudly and heavily visually designed for print. They don’t even have an Instagram account. I know because I posted a front page on my Instagram account once and couldn’t, for the life of me, find their Instagram handle. Yet shortly after I posted it, they found me! An editor sent me a note saying they don’t have Instagram and they are a print-first publication (but they do have a Tumblr account!). As a longtime mostly print journalist and print designer, I love that. So naturally I asked them if I could talk to a designer. Not only did they oblige, they sent me two! And they each sent pages. And a visual philosophy.

I am so thankful to have heard back from both Colin Smith, the senior project designer, and Adam Rogers, managing editor of innovation. I had a lot of fun reading through their thoughtful answers, looking at their stunning pages, and feeling like I’m not alone as a print lover in a digital world.

The first thing they sent me was their design and visual philosophy document. It is fun to read. Here is how it begins.

I knew right away these were my kind of people. They have designed a newspaper to reflect their community. Not just in content, but design. Amazing. How can you not love a philosophy like this?

We’re not just filling pages, we’re a daily friend offering news, information, community moments, support and, most importantly, surprises on every page.

The answer? You can’t. You must love this, or you’re on the wrong blog. This blog is for all the print that’s fit to print.

I will turn it over to Adam and Colin. Eds. note: these responses are from early September.

How did you get into newspaper design?
Adam: It was something I sort of stumbled into as a student at Youngstown State in Ohio. My degree is in TV and video production, but I was minoring in multimedia design. That led me to a page design opportunity at the student newspaper The Jambar where I ended up working for four years and decided to focus my career efforts on print design.

Colin: My academic background is urban planning and architecture. I started news design at my college paper, then it became my first job out of college. I’ve been in the industry ever since.

What do you like about newspaper design? And what makes it different from other design?
Adam: I really like that you have the opportunity to start with a fresh canvas every single day. With 365 editions each year, you can experiment. See what works, what doesn’t and learn from it. And I feel like whether its design or general knowledge of the world, I learn something new every single day.

Colin: Philosophically, I like being able to tell stories to wide audiences on a daily basis. I especially love working on redesigns — the chance to weave visual worlds for our readers to explore. On a personal level, I like the frequent, immovable deadlines of daily news production — it’s perfect for a procrastinator like me.

What was the most fun you have had with a design?
Adam: I would have to go back to a doubletruck presentation I worked on during the 2016 election showing all of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s connections to each other and to the state of Florida. It involved some colourful photo illustrations of the candidates riding flamingos. Honestly, Colin Smith and I had a lot of fun throughout that entire election cycle creating illustrations for a variety of topics along the way.

Colin: The Daily Sun has definitely been the most fun at I’ve had at a paper. I love redesigns, as I’ve mentioned, and this was at the first paper where (aside from the nameplate) nothing was off limits. It’s a paper that wants to have fun in a community built for having fun. That’s opened up so many paths visually. The editor has been a huge part of that evolution. She really has helped push me in directions I would have never thought exploring at other publications, and I think it’s really made a unique product in the process.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
Adam: At the Daily Sun we focus a lot on just being consistent. We have built a beautiful core structure for our newspaper that highlights our colour palette and carefully selected typography. From there we make strategic decisions on when to break from the templates. And when we do, we usually go pretty big.

Colin: Great question. When in doubt, I go to the grid. Barring that, then I tend to focus on clean typography and common alignments. I don’t like to modify my type too much, so generally it’s one colour and one alignment. And you can’t go wrong with a beautiful dominant image. I tend to shy away from cutouts mostly because, after 20 years, I’m just tired of doing them (although I will if I must, but it’s not my go-to move). And I’m always a sucker for a symmetrical layout.

Tell me about a design idea you loved that was rejected or just wasn’t working so you had to abandon it.
Adam: I joke a lot about having a pile of abandoned pages that I burn for warmth during that one week of winter we get in Florida. And that’s true to some extent. After a decade it’s tough to narrow it down to one that stands out. Our projects and pages grow and evolve so much during our design process that I’ve learned to not to get emotionally attached to an idea. We try to put the our readers and the storytelling above our own egos.

Wherein most newspapers follow an assembly line model, our process is more circular, with reporters, editors and designers working in concert to iterate and elevate our content in ways that surprise our readers and surpass expectations.

Colin: Too many to count, honestly. I used to revise and revise and revise before showing a page/project/redesign, but that philosophy doesn’t work at a paper where we have a very deliberate style we’re going for. So now I do a quick mock-up, get input from the editor to see if I’m going in the right direction or not, then I either refine what I’ve done or archive it and try something else. Honestly, I’ve never flat-out thrown a design away. If something doesn’t make the cut, I’ll usually file it away possibly for use later. Generally if I’m really excited about a design, I’ll find a way to get it used. Although I’ve had print/web designs implemented then discarded after I’ve left a paper, so I guess that’s stung a little more. But such is life.

I like the idea of your design direction matching your community, i.e. a heavily designed community begets a heavily designed newspaper. Tell me more!
Adam: If you were to visit The Villages (which everyone really should some day) you would see that the developers put a lot of time and thought into the small details. We like to say that the community is designed to take you back in time, but you can’t always hit on exactly when. We’ve taken their fun but meticulous sense of design for the community and have made the newspaper reflect that. From the colour palette down to our use of woodcut and victorian flourishes, we have pulled inspiration from all corners of the community.

Colin: I believe the true power of newspaper design is the ability to create a visual microcosm of the community that is filled with all the surprises, delights, familiar places and new experiences that one expects from a journey in their city or town. I believe the areas of the paper should capture the personalities of a place (quiet cafés and loud clubs, bustling streets and quiet leafy suburbs). Visually, The Villages is a master planned community with several strong visual identities. On top of that, residents here have very active lives and fascinating stories to tell. There is always so much going on, and so much life to capture, that it really puts the onus on the Daily Sun to be as energetic and vibrant as our readers.

Visually the editor challenged me to come up with an overall design that was both nostalgic and thoroughly modern. That’s why you’ll see Victorian text flourishes paired with vibrant citrus colors to create something that blends a fondness for the past with an optimistic vision of the present. The goal was to create a kinetic vibration throughout the entire publication that is both familiar and yet also completely unique to our community.

I’ve been told the idea your covers are based on (lots of small bits of information) carries on on the inside. This concept and a few others seems to make this paper stand apart from others. Can you show some examples and tell me why you decided to do that?
Adam: That is very true. While The Villages may be a mecca for retirees, they break every stereotype for seniors imaginable. We are blessed to have a very active and engaging community to cover. Our readers are very busy and we want to respect their time. So we implement of a lot quick hit information and alternative story formats that make the news quickly and easily digestible. We use this approach in every section in concert with traditional longform presentations.

Colin: Adam probably already went into this, but just in case he didn’t, here you go. Even though the vast majority of our readers are retired, they are still quite busy. Between social gatherings, planned events and daily excursions we owe it to our readers to get as much information into every page as possible. Since Villagers come from around the U.S. and the world, we try to get as much into each edition as possible. Our high ad stacks make it difficult to get a lot of traditional articles on a page, so instead we run a collection of briefs, photos and alternative story formats along the tops of inside pages (we call them attics) with a longer read below it.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick a few favourite pages, what would they be and why?
Adam: First I would go back to a 2013 page on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I worked on this page with the help of executive editor Bonita Burton and it evolved from a traditional centrepiece that we just kept pushing bigger and bigger. Our design and typography has changed a lot since then, but this did land me my first SND Award of Excellence and I was truly humbled. Then I would say a 2016 front page information graphic that was part of our multi-year “Redefining Justice” investigation into Florida’s death row. It really pushed my organizational skills and I spent a lot of time making sure the information we were presenting on a complex topic was digestible. And then more recently an inside page on the atomic bomb that was part of a yearlong series we did on the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. I really like working with historic photography and finding ways to present it in striking ways.

Colin: Ooh, that’s a good question. I mean, I’ve been redesigning our paper for so many years it’s hard to pick just a few. But if I had to:
+ Redesign/Template-wise, I love our A2-A3 world map — I really had a fun time drawing the map, and the page has so much personality. We used to have a sea monster on the page, and I do miss it.

+ We have some templated local front pages that really have a lot of visual oomph that I’ve enjoyed putting together, too. 

+ When I’m not redesigning the paper, some pages I’ve worked on that I really like have been a Christmas cover with a Santa sleigh based on an 1800s patent application (we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one, re-running it pretty much every year).

+ An oldie but a goodie, but I also really had a ton of fun designing our 2016 election coverage and doing those illustrations. 

Tell me a little about your process. How do you come up with ideas?
Adam: For our bigger projects, we huddle up a lot to brainstorm. Sometimes it’s really simple to just run with your first idea, but we talk a lot here about not stopping too short. One thing Bonita says to us a lot when approaching a page is “what can we do that we’ve never done before.” And then the brainstorming kicks off. Even if it’s not a huge project, just turning to one or two other people in your pod or in the newsroom can help elevate an idea or a page. We’re sort of all in this together.

Colin: Ideas for stories is pretty simple. Generally main stories are planned weeks in advance and special projects are planned months in the future. The bigger the project, the more the lead-time for visual discussions — from data visualization to the need for photo reporting and illustration. Actual designing for special projects doesn’t begin until about two weeks in advance, with final design beginning in earnest a few days before publication.

As far as the ideas, it’s a back-and-forth process where the narrative is weighed with how we’ll tell the story visually and one, the other or both are adjusted until we’re happy with the final result.

And that’s a wrap from Colin and Adam. But what fun. It seems like the Villages Daily Sun would be any print designer’s dream job. Thanks to both for all their insight.

From really northwest to regular northwest America, this newspaper designer is making the most of her opportunity at newspaper that loves its design

By Brad Needham

One of the things that frustrates me about trying to promote newspaper design is that it is often so hard to find out who is responsible for all the amazing designs I see. I would love to shoutout all the amazing talent behind the stellar newspaper front pages from around the world. But I can’t just turn to the masthead or page 2 and see, Cover Design by … as one might in a magazine. That’s why I was tickled when I posted a Spokesman-Review arts cover on my Instagram account and I got a response from the paper. They told me they would pass my message onto their designer (including the comment about wondering if the reverse text was readable in print). And then Caitlin Miller, the designer in question, contacted me on Twitter to tell me, yes, indeed, the text was perfectly legible!

The page just popped for me. The contrast. The big display. Smokey Robinson‘s eyes and the joy in his face, which is especially notable in a never-ending pandemic.

I have long been a fan of the Spokesman-Review’s design, particularly their front page. I think it’s one of the consistently best designed newspapers around. They give it their all and achieve solid, and sometimes outstanding, results. I hope I have the good fortune of talking to an A1 (1A?) designer one day (nudge, nudge!). Side note: I love that the Spokesman-Review posts, every day, its front page, other section fronts and historical pages on its website (link to Sept. 23 front page). The more we can celebrate print the better, and they have a lot to celebrate.

Being such a fan, naturally I asked Caitlin if she’d be willing to talk to me. And she said yes! While she’s not been in the industry long, she’s making a splash. And unlike most U.S. designers, her career started further north than this high-kilometre Canadian has ever lived or worked (and I lived/worked in Fort McMurray and Fairview, both Alberta, as well as Prince George and Fort St. James, B.C., which are pretty far north).

Caitlin talks about her growth as a designer. And she talks about working within the framework of your newspaper. Some papers, like the Spokesman-Review, really pride themselves on design. Other papers, particularly in the present print media climate or smaller papers, don’t go big on design every day. Caitlin now gets to work with a team that loves design, one that submits a pile of pages to the Society for News Design‘s design competition every year. And I bet that passion for design is contagious!

Here is our chat. I have sprinkled a few more of her eye-catching Spokesman-Review designs throughout the questions, and end with some pages from her pre-Spokane days in Alaska.

It’s a never-ending learning experience, and I love that.

Caitlin Miller on working in journalism

How did you get into newspaper design?
I fell into it. What got me into print news was a semester working at The Sun Star as the managing editor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Certainly, no design experience! My job in that position was strictly editing and guiding writers (albeit at writers’ own discretion of accepting my edits, but that’s working at a college paper for you).

I kept my eye on the local paper as a possible job prospect in Fairbanks for a while. After I graduated, I was working at a hotel and would read the paper daily, including checking classifieds. Finally, a copyeditor position opened. I knew the former editor-in-chief of The Sun Star was working as an editorial assistant at The Daily News-Miner and hit her up. Funnily enough she had deleted my number from her contacts, but when she figured out it was me, she was supportive of my interest and put a good word in. I applied the next day, and a month later I was hired. I learned newspaper design on the job and taught myself a lot of what I now know, but I knew I couldn’t grow staying in Alaska, which is how I found myself at The Spokesman-Review. It’s a never-ending learning experience, and I love that.

However, I knew that I always wanted to work in newsprint. It’s a bit of a family legacy, with my grandfather and his father working in it, respectively in different aspects.

What do you like about newspaper design? And what makes it different?
First, I like that I’m using both sides of my B.A. I hold a degree in English and art and being able to interact with both design and words is satisfying to say the least.

(A writing mentor) opened my eyes to the beauty of page layout; she gave me a reader’s perspective.

I was meeting with a writing mentor at a coffee shop one day, and as we were catching up, she had asked me where I was working, and I answered that I was at the paper and explained my job. We found ourselves in conversation about the benefits of a physical copy (versus web) reading of a newspaper. She opened my eyes to the beauty of page layout; she gave me a reader’s perspective, a perspective I’ve never interacted with before as a designer despite my own reading of papers. But things always look differently from another’s eyes, don’t they? Through her gaze, we discussed the way readers interact with stories, how a jump from the front page to an inside page, or a refer/tease, could bring a reader to stories they wouldn’t have likely known about otherwise. Not everyone thumbs through all the pages of the paper. How many of us non-sports people don’t give sports a single glance? Or maybe a parent only bought the paper to keep record of a story on the front page related to their child. Suddenly, that parent finds himself or herself on Page A5 reading about a column on a local event involving a nonprofit that seeks to benefit cancer awareness.

What was the most fun you have had with a design?
My favourite pages are those with the most agency. In a way, this applies here, also. Those pages that I’m given a feature story or column with lots of art, I like being able to take the lead and do what I see fit with it. I like that editors who give me the content trust my judgment. They also know I’m not afraid to ask questions, so communication between us is so very important, including sending page proofs for them to see and affirm or correct where needed. Pages where I am given lots to work with, and pages with breaking news also are fun to work with. I’m really thankful for templates however, because sometime a page just needs that basic layout and nothing more, and that’s cool.

I hope I can, with the pages I provided, express the “most fun” I’ve had with design. It’s hard to explain otherwise, and these include my favourite pages as well.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
I do a lot of cutouts. Always have. But, gosh, do they take time. It can really depend on the page I’m working on. Feature-y pages will likely have cutouts whereas hard news pages will likely not, at least from me thus far. Colour does play a role, oddly. Sometimes I look at a page after I’ve completed it and go, “Wow! How did this work out!”—and it turns out that all the photos visually correlate by complete happenstance. I tend to avoid lots of white space, however. But at The S-R, I’m learning the benefits of it. We use it far more than I’m used to, whereas before, I was very adamant on squaring everything off and making sure everything fits tightly on a page.

Tell me about a design you loved that was rejected.
I don’t think I can answer this exactly how you want it answered, simply because it isn’t about something being rejected. I don’t think I’ve had an entire page design rejected before; however, I have had aspects of designs criticized and rejected. It isn’t a good feeling. But talking through it and learning from it is important. Maybe it’s something the design editors were avoiding you didn’t know about. Great. Now you know not to do that ever again. Or maybe it’s a learning experience between you and the more experienced designer who suggests the text be more horizontal in nature and less vertical. Awesome. Now you can take that experience and apply it to future designs that might have similar elements that could benefit from it.

It still feels crummy sometimes having your work criticized. But it’s worth it.

It still feels crummy sometimes having your work criticized. But it’s worth it. The team effort is important, and you can learn a lot from working with others and seeing design through your critics’ eyes.

Are there any designers or publications other than those you have worked at that you are sure to look at?
If I’m in a new city or town, or visiting family, I’m sure to pick up the local paper. It’s hard not to look at design now wherever I go. This includes magazine covers — it’s interesting the crossover between the two, like siblings of sorts. But I look at both general design, and what stories they put where, such as what the designer of that paper chose (or perhaps editors — this really depends on the size of the paper!) for the lead, down the rail, centrepiece, down page, etc. It can say a lot for what the town sees as important, and a lot of time localization is prioritized over national wire stories.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick a few favourite pages, what would they be and why?
I’ll address my career thus far. I’ve noticed with The Daily News-Miner my favourite covers are the ones where I have the most agency. And perhaps the same can be said with The Spokesman-Review. While at the News-Miner, I have a handful of pages I love.

The News-Miner doesn’t like much for creativity, per se, but the Our Town page, a localized feature page that ran weekly, allowed me to kind of do what I want within means. And I loved it. I had a good knack of what was allowed on A1, but Our Town meant I could explore making cutouts, changing fonts, applying gradients. Many of these pages had strong interaction with local audiences who were regular followers of the editor of that page. And, I have to say, there is such satisfaction in knowing how well I did when that editor comes to and tells me the impact I made. I’ve also seen cutouts of various stories from various pages I’ve constructed framed, and that’s a whole other feeling on its own. At the DNM there are other front pages I love for other reasons, ones I’d include in a portfolio, but they certainly don’t hold an impact like the one’s that have made a personal connection with me emotionally. Maybe the emotionality of it sounds biased, but it really can help a person grow as a designer to know what they’re doing is good in some way or another.

As far as my work at The Spokesman goes, I haven’t quite hit that emotional satisfaction yet, but being at a much larger paper might have much to do with that. However, working with the Seven cover at the Spokesman (weekly entertainment feature section) really allows me to explore my skills as a designer, and there is much satisfaction in that. I really can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Tell me a little about your process. How do you come up with ideas?
There isn’t much to say about this. Either I have a good idea of where I’m going with something or I don’t. A lot of times I can look at the content and know exactly what is going where, but I think experience has a role in this. And other times I might spend three hours just trying to figure out and experiment with where I’m going to take a page. I may even sometimes have multiple ideas in my head. It’s interesting, working at The Spokesman is such a different experience coming from a small paper. Before, a lot of decision making was solely up to me, regarding what stories go where and what art should appear where. At The Spokesman there’s an editor for everything, including photo placement.

The Spokesman Review has some exceptional designs. How much pressure is there to continually produce great work? Do you swing for the fences every day?
The Spokesman staff is so supportive. However, while I’m fairly confident in my abilities, I certainly feel a lot of pressure! I took over the design of the Seven cover after a couple of months being with the company. Prior to that our A1 designer was doing the cover and he certainly has far more experience than I have. Chris Soprych is helpful in many ways. There are days where I just don’t have a clue what do with the art I get. Frankly, sometimes it just isn’t good enough to work with to produce an eye-catching cover. But then he shows me how he’d approach it and from that I’m able to learn different approaches. I’m thankful, and this experience is a huge part of why I wanted to join The Spokesman-Review.

Certainly, communication is important and helps relieve some stress. I’m not the only one who looks at the page or cover. And others’ suggestions can certainly make or break a page in its success. Constructive criticism is always important. And I really enjoy that so many people are involved with the process and looking at the final proof. I’m also coming from a paper prior to The S-R where I was the only set of eyes on pretty much everything, so it’s all been both a learning experience and a huge relief.

For the young and aspiring designers, remember we do this because we love this.

Do you have words for wisdom for young, aspiring designers?
For the young and aspiring designers, remember we do this because we love this. Remember that behind the scenes we still make a difference and affect a reader’s interaction with the paper as whole. We’re not in this for the pay. We’re in it because we love what we do, and we love journalism. But also, for those who may feel stuck at a job that you feel no mobility in, don’t be afraid to extend yourself beyond what’s familiar and apply all over. Call. Talk to editors and tell them you want the job. It may seem old school, but working in newsprint is, believe it or not, still old school. Basically, don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, bug people and be adventurous!

Fave designs

Below is a selection of Caitlin’s favourite designs. She explains what made each of them special. We’ve seen the Spokesman-Review pages. That’s where she is now. This is where she began. “I really feel like the Seven covers for The Spokesman-Review show my potential as a designer in contrast to what I was more so limited to designing at my former job.”

My one issue with this page is the text wrap around the columnist’s mug has a weird break that I didn’t catch until months after when I was going through my portfolio and applying to other papers. Jorgy Jorgensen played a huge part in the Alaska community and touched a lot of people’s hearts. This page brought many people joy and the columnist received many thanks from the community for making it happen. It’s really special to be a part of the community in this way, even being behind the scenes. 

This cover page was the moment I realized the power journalism has in a community and how a page designer can contribute to making an impact.

This cover page was the moment I realized the power journalism has in a community and how a page designer can contribute to making an impact. It was also the moment when I knew I found the right career for me. There was a lot of excitement that led up to this page: it was the weekend and unplanned; our 12-page paper needed to be expanded into a 16-page paper, ads had to be moved, everything that was supposed to go on the front page got moved inside. At the time the governor of Alaska had vetoed the state budget, an action that would in turn affect all parts of the state and everyone of all ages. Many were upset by this — Alaska had been facing years of budget cuts already. I knew when I sent that cover I did something. And sure enough, I woke up the next day and discovered that at a protest, Fairbanks residents who didn’t have posters or signs to hold, used our Override editorial front page.


I feel like these pages really captured how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people (pages above and below). We weren’t expecting there to be a Midnight Sun Game that summer. The team that usually hosts the annual tradition cancelled the game due to the pandemic, but a couple of teams from the area came together to make sure it still happened. It was really a “beacon of hope” for a lot of people in a time when so many traditions were cancelled. I think Laura Stickell’s story shows the importance of community and how coming together plays a large part in human morale. It was our sports writer’s last day with the News-Miner and she sure went out with a bang. Great story, great photos.

Want to be featured?

I am always looking for newspaper designers to talk to, whether you’re at a college paper or the Washington Post. Reach out to me through the comments or at bradneedham@gmail.com.

By Brad Needham

On the heels of a major and deadly earthquake in Haiti, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban two decades after it lost control after a U.S.-led invasion. That is a lot of big news over a couple of days. While there was very little in terms of big pages for Haiti, the same was not true for Kabul. There were several striking pages. It’s a significant story, and one that will be playing out for a long time to come. There will be dire consequences for many in the country, particularly girls and women. Newspapers were right to give it the main play today.

I find it fascinating to see the design choices, both in terms of layout and photo choices. So often there is one photo that stands out. In this case most of the pages used one of two photos. And in some cases the designs and headlines were almost identical. That is not a knock. That’s newspapering. This isn’t the time to for wild design choices or plays on words. These are serious news pages. And these newspapers, all of whom have a strong focus on the world, presented the dire situation to their readers in a way will have an impact. Hopefully the world acts.

Here is a selection of some of the amazing pages from around the world, with the pages mostly speaking for themselves.

The Guardian, Monday, Aug. 16

Globe and Mail, Monday, Aug. 16

The Globe, above, and Hartford Courant, below, are so very similar, but also so well done. They are both powerful pages, achieved with a good, big and clear headline, strong art, and nice but simple treatment of other elements.

Hartford Courant, Monday, Aug. 16

And again this photo. Wow. Used in many papers today. Both the above and deVolksrant below were just three of many who went with this powerful image.

deVolkstrant, Monday, Aug. 16
Jyllands-Posten, Monday, Aug. 16

And a helicopter photo, also used by a handful of papers, including the next three (different pictures or crops, but same idea). The comparison of Vietnam and Kabul is an interesting play in Arab news. A beautiful and powerful headline. It says so much in so few words.

Arab News, Monday, Aug. 16
Dagens Nyheter, Monday, Aug. 16
Die tageszeirung, Monday, Aug. 16

George Floyd’s death was more than a tragedy. It was a murder. It was a catalyst for an uprising, in the U.S. and around the world. It was a wakeup call, one of many, but one that seemed to resonate with people outside of the Black community. George Floyd, who was killed after allegedly buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20. Killed by police. For nine minutes and 29 seconds, police had him on the ground, knee on his neck. Somewhere around the eight-minute mark he lost consciousness. But the knee remained. This was May 25, 2020.

His death came to be a symbol of what’s wrong, not only in America, but around the world. The systematic racism that exists and thrives.

Newspapers covered his death in the immediate aftermath and long after. There were many necessary stories, many appearring on front pages around the world. And while newspapers won’t run out of key angles to write about (assuming the editors and decision makers are keeping this story in the collective consciousness), how do designers keep the story fresh, to help keep it dynamic? Sure, a newspaper can put a story over the fold on its front page. It will get attention. But the design can play a key role in elevating the story. You can’t have readers get complacent and gloss over the story. A designer needs to pull them in, and sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices visually.

More than a year has passed since his death. In a world of 24-hour news and social media, most stories don’t get the spotlight for long. This story, the issue it thrust in front of the comfortable and privileged, needs to be there.

One year after Floyd’s murder, there were two pages that stood out for me, each taking very different approaches to their designs. But both highlight the power newspapers have, and the responsibility they have. And the power of newspaper design. It’s not just the words.

The first page that caught my eye was the New York Daily News. It was striking. A big photo of Floyd. His face instantly recognizable, brightly lit in parts and not in others. Starkly placed on a black background. The white newspaper flag adding contrast. And a great newspaper page almost always has strong words. Or strong words elevate a great page to unforgettable. This one simply says: One year. 9 minutes. 29 seconds. Black text on white on black. Those words are so significant. Anyone familiar with the story will know what it means. Anyone not will be appalled. How the words are played is significant. It was a masterful page. It captured the feeling one year later, and helped keep this story in front of readers.

New York Daily News cover, May 26, 2021

The next page took a very different approach. The similarity was that it was also on a black background. Reverse white text on a black background. But it isn’t a picture of Floyd that makes this page. It’s words. All words. It was a powerful message. When a newspaper makes a decision to run a page without art, the words have to do it all, so they have to be done well. When an issue is so consequential, sometimes words are all there is. The Star Tribune is an exceptional paper. It’s in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. While this became a worldwide story, this paper owes it to its community to keep this story front and centre. This page was breathtaking, yet simple. So many words, but that’s why it works. In this instance. In others, it wouldn’t. But it was the right time and the right play and the right words.

Newspapers owe it to readers and to society to run stories like this, to keep these issues, issues like this, like the unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Canada, in the collective conscience. It was in the news again when Derek Chauvin, the police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, was found guilty of murder. And again when he was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.

But these pages above, and the ones below (which I’ve shown in previous posts) highlight the power of print design. Three of them show, or somewhat show Floyd’s face, which has become a symbol of the movement and a way to illustrate the story. And newspapers try to present his face in novel ways. As long as newspapers are trying to raise awareness of serious issues through design, I will keep showing them.

Above: de Volkstrant’s stunning and masterful illustration of Floyd’s face, and of the movement it catapulted into the world’s consciousness, and the Houston Chronicle, with a powerful sketch of Floyd.

A newspaper front page can do and say so much. It can capture a key moment in history (man on the moon, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, tragic death tolls). It can celebrate big moments (sporting victories, like Italy’s big Euro 2021 win, or Argentina’s historic Copa America title — a victory for the country and short people everywhere — Google: Lionel Messi height, as it’s the thing most googlers care about after age and money). And it can hold people to account. One of the primary functions of newspapers is to hold people to account. Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. These are terms heard in the journalism sphere all the time. And sometimes power doesn’t mean the 1 per cent. Sometimes a city, a country, the world, needs to be reminded. They need to be held to account. Sometimes I need to be held to account. Not just the powerful, but the privileged.

I want to look at two issues from the past few months over two posts. I am looking back because part of the problem can be after a cover comes out, calling out the privileged to act, or at least think, the issue gets a ton of attention and then fades away. Other issues arise. News is happening everywhere, all day, every day. But I want to key in on the design, and how it helped raise awareness.

I am looking at the coverage around unmarked graves of Indigenous children being found at residential schools. Another discovery was made in Saskatchewan (after a previous discovery in B.C.) on June 23. On June 24, most Canadian newspapers dropped the ball (I will celebrate, and not critique design here, but I will critique editorial decisions). Postmedia, which has a local paper in Regina, had the story first. An example of why local news matters. Postmedia’s coverage on the first day was strong. The rest were lacking. But the next day, the Star attempted to make amends. The previous day highlights the challenges to newspapers. The story was somewhat late breaking. There wasn’t a ton of information. But, and it’s a big but, the story required more attention than it got. It was the tear-the-front-page-apart kind of story: 751 UNMARKED graves of Indigenous children were found at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. I won’t say hundreds, as every one is important. I highlight unmarked to emphasize the contempt, the lack of humanity, toward the children, the families. Here is what the Star produced the following day, Friday, June 25.

Toronto Star, front page, Friday, June 25. How many more?

This page is powerful for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the picture of the small shoes. Clearly for a child’s feet. The wording written on them is powerful as well. WE WILL STOP THIS. WE GRIEVE WITH YOU. WE MUST ADDRESS THIS ONGOING GENOCIDE. And the reverse white text on black. The big, all caps headline, with a powerful question: HOW MANY MORE? The start of a story by David Robertson, an Indigenous graphic novelist and writer, and Michelle Good, the author of “Five Little Indians.”

We know there are more. Many, many more. Unmarked graves of Indigenous children who were taken off to residential schools. As a parent I can’t imagine. When my daughter goes to school, she’s safe. That’s just a basic requirement. Safety. I assume she’s learning important lessons. (In Grade 1 and 2 she did learn about residential schools, and I’m grateful for that, as I never did as a child. We’ve been able to talk about it.) But she’s safe. I can’t imagine the trauma, the fear, Indigenous parents must have felt. But I should. I should know. This isn’t ancient history, and even if it was, I need to know. The privileged, who have never worried about these things, need to know. I know this front page is only a piece of paper. But it helped. It brought it to the forefront. And it needs to stay there. Which is why I was glad the Star followed up a little later with this cover, questioning whether Canada’s history is something to celebrate.

Toronto Star, front page, July 1, 2021.

This page was 100 per cent driven by the beautiful and powerful illustration by Chloe Cushman. An amazing, talented illustrator with a knack for evoking emotion with her work.

And credit where credit is due. This was one of the Postmedia pages (the Calgary Sun) the day after the graves were discovered. They had more time, as they knew earlier. But it doesn’t matter. Newspapers need to react. Most didn’t. The ad aside, which unfortunately didn’t reflect the seriousness of the issue, but pays the bills to allow front pages to keep happening, this page was one of the best in Canada the day after. It has a strong image, a big and powerful headline (one-word headlines aren’t uncommon but the right word has an impact).

There are going to be more. Probably a lot more. And despite knowing this, each discovery should feel just as shocking and unsettling as the last. One unmarked grave should elicit intense anger, and spark a call to action. I ask all the white and/or privileged parents in Toronto or Calgary or New York or London: when your kid goes to school, do you expect to see them again? Just think about it. Imagine. #everychildmatters

An observation perhaps not worth noting is that every one of these front pages has a tiny throw to a sports story that might have otherwise been given much bigger play.

My next post will be about pages on the the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.

By Brad Needham

In 1999, I started journalism school at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. I had big plans. National Geographic photographer. Maybe foreign correspondent in war-torn countries. By the time I graduated in 2001, everything was on track. Except the job. In 2002, I set up a meeting on the other side of the country with a well-known Canadian photographer. Maclean’s, here I come, I thought. My best friend, C.J., and I set off on a road trip. Thousands of kilometres, one week, and a 1991 Chevy Sprint Turbo. Bubbles. And now I ask you to come along. Jump in the way-back machine, imagine yourself in a sky blue Sprint Turbo (the Turbo is worth mentioning every time. Every. Time. Just ask C.J.’s brother), and join me on my cross-country, 20-year journalism lookback journey. I don’t like to celebrate myself often, but I also don’t leave my profession often. After this, I will return to regularly scheduled broadcasting in this blog by focusing on designers still in the biz, and those who are lightyears more talented than I am. I peaked in 2010 (there might have been a higher peak, but the journalism world was having none of it, as it started to contract around this time).

Anyway. Bubbles. The journey began in Calgary. A couple of provinces in between, mostly fine, and then Ontario. Many routine police stops later (driving late at night with Alberta plates in Ontario) and almost no time to sleep, 36 hours later in total, we made it. I had my meeting. I brought my best stuff. I was proud. The verdict? Some potential. He loved the photos later in my portfolio, and said about the one for which I nearly had my head run over by race horses: “you were just there.” Yes, I was. And it was a damn fine photo (if I ever find my pre-digital portfolio, I will add the pic here). Alas, maybe photography wasn’t my path.

Enter Fort McMurray. The daily newspaper, the Today, offered me a job as an editor/designer. I moved up there (on a map, as the Friendly Giant would say, look up, look waaaaay up). It was there, as I have mentioned a few times in this blog, that I discovered the Society for News Design’s Best of Newspaper Design books. And I found my new love. Newspaper design (in case the book title didn’t get you there).

But the city was small (and cold) and the bugs were so, so big (when hot). So I went to test my writing chops in Red Deer, Alberta at the Advocate. Less than a year later, I was off to the promised land: Ontario. First at the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, then to the Barrie Examiner (RIP), then to the paper that firmed up my love for design (because someone told me I was good at it. Spoiler: it was SND), the Guelph Mercury (RIP). I was proud of some of my work in Woodstock and Barrie. Even Fort McMurray. Looking back, pre-Barrie work wasn’t as good as I thought it was at the time. But the Mercury made me. I was given so much freedom and time by my mentor and boss, the legendary Phil Andrews. I oversaw the Here section, a weekend features section all about Guelph. It was for this section that I won my first Society for News Design award, and still the one I’m most proud of as it was for a portfolio of work.

Those are three pages I think were part of my portfolio. I know “Getting corked” was, as it was the one in the book! I made the book (sitting in my soon-to-be-former office, so no pics available). The book that started me down this path. It was a dream come true. I even was fortunate enough to attend SND Boston where I picked up this fashionable … tote bag.

I then had the good fortune (with my newfound design street cred) to be asked to redesign the Mercury, from top to bottom. This was no refresh. I was even tasked with redesigning the flag. That is quite an honour. And scary as hell. Thanks to the Virginian-Pilot (at the time the best designed paper in North America, maybe the world, imho) and the Star-Tribune for the inspiration. Especially to the kind soul at the Pilot who sent me a box full of print copies to help me get further inspired. I was very pleased when the first issue went out (below) and almost all the feedback was positive. That’s almost unheard of! People hate change. But they appeared to like this. To this day, this is one of my proudest career accomplishments.

First day of the new Mercury.

Two years after my first SND award, I won again, this time for a front page that I was given full freedom on, the fifth anniversary of the major blackout that swept through Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. When I designed it, my boss said he looked forward to seeing that page in the next SND book. And much to my surprise, he was right.

Shortly thereafter, I moved on to the Waterloo Region Record. And shortly thereafter after, so did production of the Mercury. It was a sign of things to come in the industry (and this blog post). But I continued to work on the Mercury from the Record. At the Record I continued designing, but also moved into a very basic art director-type role. I had a vision, drew it poorly on a small yellow sticky note and handed it off to one of the Record’s great designers, Tania Praeg-Geddes and Diane Shantz. And wouldn’t you know it. Two years after “All the lights went out,” with the help of the great Diane, we did it again. We earned the Mercury its fourth SND award in five years (it won another for a page produced by again soon-to-be-former colleague, now at The Canadian Press then at the Mercury, Kate Hopwood). This time the page likely won mostly for Diane’s brilliant illustration. It was much better than the hairy legs I drew on my sticky note. 🙂

Then came the email from the Toronto Star. They had an opening. I answered the call. I did some work I was proud of at the Star, but my heavy design days were over. Sitting at another bank of desks was a team of designers, whose entire job was to design covers. But I am happy to say I got to do some front pages for what is or was (depending on who you talk to) Canada’s largest daily circulation newspaper. The one on the right below isn’t a super fancy design, but it was my first A1 at the Star. So it’s special to me. I loved my time at the Star. But, as previously mentioned, the industry was contracting.

I was laid off and I moved to Pagemasters North America. It was eight glorious but mostly design-less years as a manager, overseeing a team of incredible editors, helping them grow and develop. So I still had a hand in others’ designs. Even super designer Tammy Hoy occasionally asked for my advice. Five of those years were spent overseeing the Star after they outsourced to Pagemasters North America (see, the Mercury was a sign of things to come in the industry and this post).

And now I depart marking what is likely the end of my journalism journey, at least as an active participant. For now. Anything is possible, but I am excited for what lies ahead. I know I have been so fortunate in this industry. Or as some would say, unfortunate. I made it 20 years. I lived through some not as lean times. I was blessed with opportunities and support. The Mercury was an incubator. It launched many to greatness. As I start looking back, I look ahead. I hope to be able to blog more, and showcase print design talent from around the world, from those who are sticking it out in this industry and doing outstanding work. I will do it here, and hopefully even more often as I will need my print design fix, and on my Instagram. Until then, a journalism cliche …

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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.

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