Osama Day 2 front page: Dissecting
St. Pete’s mastery of editing, design

Osama front pages: St. Petersburg Times mastery of editing, designToday’s second-day front by the St. Pete Times is a standout. Here are three reasons why.

I may be an average consumer of news about the Osama capture/killing – viewed the press conference, and listen to NPR in the morning, spend 20 minutes or so surfing stories on the web, follow Facebook/Twitter feeds and review front page layouts at Newseum. I like to be informed, but I don’t obsess about it. So it’s no small feat that today’s St. Pete Times front (click above to enlarge) jumped out at me as particularly newsy, inviting, and well-assembled. From this paper, it’s no surprise. Here’s why:

  • GREAT HEADS – AND DECKS: St. Pete has always been ahead of the curve in balancing “newspaper of record” headlines (“How they got him,” which a number of papers used) with the surprising angle that may have eluded popular conversation. I hadn’t heard that the SEALs practiced on a replica of the compound – how cool! – reported in the first large deck headline. Even though this fact doesn’t appear until about 2/3 of the way into an (edited) Washington Post version of the story, editors here felt it was worth pulling up high. I scanned the paper as a reader today, and this really pulled me in. The headlines on the front page of other papers I reviewed today – including New York Times and Washington Post – were more “newspaper of record” and really told me nothing I hadn’t known. Not wrong, exactly, but they point out the need to ask the question, in every aspect of newspaper publishing: What can we publish, or pull up to the surface, that can really invite readers in?

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Osama front pages: St. Petersburg Times editing and design mastery, infographics

  • INTEGRATED GRAPHICS AND GLANCE BOXES WITH SMARTS. Many papers ran a version of a map of the compound today. But packaged under the headline “Hunting bin Laden” and married with tightly edited details (“First information,” “Narrowing in,” and “The operation”), the graphic package above carries a wallop. Editors take the story out of the last 48 hours and put it into historical context, serving time-starved readers who may only have 30-45 seconds to scan a front page (that’s many of us, let’s face it), as well as those who have extra time and want to dive in for more.

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Osama newspaper front page: St. Pete Times mastery of editing, design

  • CLEAR INDEXING, PUSHING THE STORY FORWARD. Top to bottom, St. Pete’s front pages show attention to detail. On the big story there’s always the “But wait! There’s more!” moment wrapping it all up, references (click above to enlarge) sending you “Inside And Online” for the best of the rest. Many papers do this, but St. Pete always smartly emphasizes “where’s this story going next?” (Why do so many papers, on big news days or routine, still write these things with an eye to the past, as though I’ve never heard or seen this news elsewhere?) Finally, they steer me to unrelated developments in the news inside, with carefully edited promos along the bottom of the page. This maximizes the message to readers, “have we got a boatload of news for you.” Even on less busy news days, St. Pete sells the heck out of what it’s got inside.

Patty Cox, Times Managing Editor/Presentation, sent me this account of how the conversation changed throughout the day and her team worked together to create the front page above:

It took some doing to arrive at today’s front page, but we’re all glad we got there. Here’s the gist of how it came together:

By late morning, we started Don Morris down the path of an illustrated graphic of the raid because no photos really captured a mood for us. The vector piece of the compound that we ended up displaying large was to be a small part of it, along with a map and a timeline.

At our 5 p.m. huddle, we discussed the story mix and Mike Wison, ME/Enterprise, asked what form the lead would take and what it should include. And that surfaced a few possibilities and even more discussion. At some point, I asked, “What’s our headline? Maybe that will focus us.” (A technique I picked up from you, circa 1990!) Ron Brackett, Senior Editor/Nights, threw out: “How they got him.” We liked it. And it held up through deadline. Ron suggested a deck approach then.

We huddled again about 6:30, and by that time the White House had posted photos on Flickr from the situation room and McClatchy had moved the graphic. We liked the photo because it captured a moment in history. Don agreed that the illustrated graphic approach would compete visually, so we abandoned it. Since color, text and style tweaks to the McClatchy graphic would take less time than completing the one we started, we opted to use it. Chris Kozlowski, graphics director, artist Darla Cameron and designer Tom Bassinger worked on those details.

There was a lot of discussion about teases and how to handle latest developments. At one point Tom presented an option – we’re all about options – with two separate blocks of text on the page for each. We decided that approach was overwhelming and that well-written teases would effectively convey the layers of the story. The decks worked exactly the way Ron intended – as vehicles for fresh details or late developments.

Mike and I can’t be prouder of this team. And we’re all thrilled when our sometimes-circuitous paths take us to a good place.

Ron Brackett reports that credit goes to Tom Bassinger as lead designer, with assists from Paul Alexander, Chris Kozlowski, Don Morris, Patty Cox, Mike Wilson, Boyzell Hosey and Darla Cameron. (St. Pete’s Day 1 front was, naturally, a simpler affair, you can view it and see what Roy Peter Clark thought about it here.)

Disclosure: I worked for 10 years at the St. Pete Times (and the next five years on faculty at Poynter). A few of those years were spent trying to prove my design and editing chops on the front page, so this topic is near and dear to me. I have shown pages like this, and dissected the managerial and organizational focus needed to produce them, in newsrooms around the world, and seen the results next day on improved front and inside pages from Kenya to Kenosha. So kudos to Patty Cox, her team, and all Times staff past and present who make such great work happen daily.

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A small and odd postscript for any college students reading this: Even in a tight job market, I advise you choose your mentors, and first jobs, carefully. Years back I served an internship at The Washington Post, mostly under national desk supervisor Alison Howard. At the end of my stint, she pulled me into her office, gave me a nice review, and offered me a job – The Washington Post! – upon graduation (a year away). She knew where else I had been looking, however, and in the very next breath she said: “However … if I were you, I’d go to St. Pete. I know you want to explore design as well as editing. This isn’t the place for someone out of school to do that.” (At least it wasn’t back then). “The St. Pete Times is the place for you.” How right she was. Thanks, Alison, wherever you are!

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  1. Great big-picture editing // The Transition

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