Search-and-destroy: pesky journalism design myths

Tom Gayda, Director of Student Publications for North Central (Indianapolis) High School, writes to research a story for Blend Magazine, a new publication from Ball State and distributed by the National Scholastic Press Association. This is a magazine made especially for high school journalism students from across the country. “The story I am working on is about journalism myths, related to newspaper editing and design. I am going ‘myth busting’ with this article. Would you care to offer up your thoughts on some common myths? Why certainly! Let us begin! MY ANSWERS ARE IN CAPS, because, well, this needs a little shouting. Myth #1: White space is an enemy. REALITY: WHITE SPACE MUST BE USED JUDICIOUSLY. SAY, 5% ON NEWS PAGES. USUALLY, NO MORE THAN 15% ON FEATURE PAGES, BUT SOME MAGAZINE PAGES CAN PUSH IT. WEB: MOST NEWS SITES GET VERY LITTLE; ON FEATURE OR SALES SITES, THE RULE BOOK IS OUT THE WINDOW. Myth #2: Never use “you.” REALITY: THE HEADLINE RULES ARE CHANGING. YOU, US, WE ARE ALL ACCEPTABLE. AS ARE HEADLINES WITH QUESTION MARKS.

Myth #3: You go to jail if three hyphens appear at the end of three consecutive lines of text. NO READER HAS EVER CARED ABOUT THIS EXCEPT THE FUSSIEST OCTOGENARIAN TYPESETTER.

Myth #4: Head size in a photo should be at least the size of a dime. IN PHOTOS WHERE YOU CARE FOR THE PERSON TO BE RECOGNIZABLE, HEADS SHOULD BE AT LEAST THE SIZE OF A DIME. CROWD SHOTS, OF COURSE, ARE DIFFERENT. Myth #5: Body copy MUST be Serif type. DON’T TELL EUROPE. IT’S QUITE OFTEN TO SEE SANS BODY TEXT THERE, ESPECIALLY IN MAGAZINES. AND OF COURSE, IN U.S., GRAPHICS AND SMALL SIDEBARS ARE QUITE OFTEN IN SANS, AS SMALL CHUNKS OF TEXT ARE EXTREMELY READABLE IN SANS (NOT ALWAYS SO WITH LONG STORIES). Myth #6: You will go to purgatory if your photo has no cutline/caption. CLARIFICATION: YOU WILL GO TO HELL IF IT IS A NEWS STORY AND THE LACK OF A CAPTION WILL CAUSE CONFUSION OR MISCONNECTION BY THE READER. Myth #7: Never pose a photo. NEVER POSE A PHOTO AND CALL IT NEWS. PORTRAITS AND ILLUSTRATIONS ARE A DIFFERENT STORY – POSING CAN BE CRITICAL. Myth #8: Pull quotes are weak. STUPID PULL QUOTES ARE WEAK. IN MOST CASES, THE READER IS BETTER SERVED BY A SMART AT-A-GLANCE BOX OR GRAPHIC. USE PULL QUOTES ONLY WHEN THEY ARE EXTREMELY PROVOCATIVE, DARING OR SEXY STATEMENTS, THAT ARE GUARANTEED TO PULL THE SCANNING READER INTO THE STORY FURTHER. Do you have your own thoughts about these myths, or others that have vexed you along the way? Add them here!

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