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Use art, artists to spruce up pages.

It's no secret that too many opinion and op-ed pages still look stodgy, ugly or just plain boring.

That, of course, turns off potential readers, who then miss out on plenty of good commentary. Visually exciting illustrations and layouts, on the other hand, can make such pages irresistible.

So, while Vice President Al Gore was off reinventing government, Elissa Papirno, deputy editorial page editor of The Hartford Courant, was busy putting together a professional workshop panel for the NCEW convention, intent on trying to help editorial and op-ed editors and page designers reinvent their pages by using art and artists more effectively.

The result was "Breaking the mold on design: Dealing with artists, art directors, and yourself." Joining Papirno in Philadelphia were Meg Downey, editorial page editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York; Ben Gerson, Currents editor for Newsday and president of the Association of Opinion Page Editors; and John Overmyer, a self-syndicated freelance illustrator who has worked with several newspaper opinion departments.

Here is a summary of their recommendations.

Dealing with the artist

* If you don't have a staff artist, consider using local arts students or local freelance artists.

* Make sure the artist has plenty of time to read the commentary he or she is being asked to illustrate

* Hold art planning conferences. Discuss the commentary and what you think it means. Discuss your own ideas as to how to illustrate it with the artist, but also encourage the artist to come up with his or her own ideas. If there is a specific mood or idea you want the art to convey, make sure that is clear.

* Be certain the artist understands how the art will be played: big, small, as is, as a reverse, or other form. Will the type wrap around the art? Be careful when blowing art up, shrinking it, or cropping it that you don't distort it.

* Ask for several sketches.

* Consider using photos creatively, by themselves or as part of the overall illustration.

* When designing an entire page, try to include a dominant art element, a subdominant element (which, of course, should be smaller), and a subordinate element such as a headshot.

* In general, give artists freedom, but don't be bashful about reining them in if they go too far. Artists tend to do better work if they are not forced to be timid or if they aren't always worried about trying to second-guess the editor.

* Encourage a give-and-take working relationship. Editors, too, should be willing to take artistic and creative risks and to "push the envelope."

How to handle page redesigns

While attractive illustrations and layouts can do wonders for any page, some newspapers need to completely redesign their pages. The panel's suggestions:

* Start by asking what it is you wish to achieve. Is it important for the redesign to preserve or change a certain image? Do you want to make it easier for readers to follow your pages? How important is production flexibility? How much do you want to establish a format for daily page consistency and ease of layout?

* Make sure you understand the limits of your newspaper's equipment and its ability to accommodate proposed changes.

* Research, research, research other papers.

* Experiment vigorously. Experiment with fonts, rules, logos, type sizes, spacing, placement of page labels, and other elements.

* Pay great attention to details, especially little ones.

* While opinion and op-ed pages should be distinct from news pages, they should still be consistent with the newspaper's overall design. Try several prototypes.

* Seek out several opinions, in-depth critiques, and views of reader focus groups.

* Make revisions, but don't hesitate to keep the features you really like. Ultimately, you should adopt your own unique style.

* Constantly look for ways to improve.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Fenech, David J.
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Dec 22, 1993
Previous Article:Diversity seeks more than one voice.
Next Article:Get with the '90s - they're almost over.

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