An interesting angle to hoops, smack in the middle of Big Dance season

Looks like Ian Lawson — lead sports designer of the Omaha World Herald — has been up to more cool stuff lately.

He tells us:

We were in the middle of our coverage of the Omaha rounds of the NCAA Tournament when sports editor Thad Livingston told us we had a really cool local story coming up for Sunday: It was about how the Sudanese population in Omaha have really taken to and learned a lot from the game.

The story follows the arrival of one young man at age nine, how he’s introduced to the game, how it helps get him into college and then he goes home to help other members of his community.

It also touches on what life is like for these refugees and what they go though knowing nothing of the way of life outside of war-torn Sudan and adjust to things like, cars, toilets and seeing yourself in the mirror for the first time.

I was feeling a little burned out on college ball, so I asked  if I could take it on.

Once I read through what turned out to be a great story — backed up by some cool photos and lots of interesting sidebars — I worked up a cover design and asked if we could play it up and treat it special.

So Thad, [deputy presentation editor] Tim Parks and I went back and forth on the main photo and then once we settled on the group shot we decided to make the page mostly the display.

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Click that or any other page here today for a much larger look.

Ian continues:

We were also fortunate to have plenty of pages in this edition so we were able to spread it out over 4 color pages inside.

Here are pages nine…

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…and ten.

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I wanted to play the images big so used them to top each page and tried to come up with a design that would hold all the elements but not feel too crowded. We love our white space in Omaha.

Here are pages 11…

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…and 12.

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It took some finessing to make it all fit, but I think it came together nicely.

Those wonderful photos were by Kent Sievers. Read the story here by Jon Nyatawa.

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Ian spent three years as an editor and designer for the Ledger Independent of Maysville, Ky., before moving to the Gannett design studio in Louisville, Ky. in December 2011. He moved to Omaha in 2013.

Find Ian’s portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.

Small Mississippi daily seeks an art director with ‘a restless creativity’

Peter Imes, general manager of the Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Miss., writes:

We are on the verge of making some big steps in terms of visual content in our paper and on our website… We’re a small paper and are aware of the down-scaling other papers are doing, but we firmly believe in the power good design and visuals have on our product and are ready to invest in improving our efforts there.

Any help you can offer in broadcasting this opening would be much appreciated.

Naturally, I’m happy to help play matchmaker. Here’s the official want ad:

The Commercial Dispatch, a family-owned, 14,000 circulation, six-day-a-week newspaper in northeast Mississippi, is seeking an art director to join our newsroom. This is a new position at The Dispatch.

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Our community is thriving. There are two universities, a growing retail corridor, substantial industrial development and a thriving arts scene. Our newspaper, too, is riding this wave of prosperity.

We are committed to providing well-written stories relevant to our readers and need someone, who can provide and direct the creation of compelling visual content to complement the work of our reporting staff. This includes graphics, photography and design of section fronts.

The ideal candidate will possess a restless creativity, a passion for daily excellence. He or she will be a team player, a master of Adobe Creative Suite and have well-developed photographic sensibilities. By that we mean a hunger and appreciation for the unconventional image.

Peter’s not kidding. This paper has done some pretty impressive design from time to time. For example, three years ago, the Virginian-Pilot hired away a designer from the Commercial Dispatch. Here were samples from that designer’s portfolio:

with yellow banner

Layout 1

Left page - even

Not bad at all. And keep in mind: This is a 14,000-circulation daily.

The ad continues:

This person will manage a three-person design team and staff photographers. Initial tasks include coordinating and implementing redesigns of the print and online product.

You need to understand our brand, our mission and help make our presentation fit. Your creativity should shine, not suffer, beneath deadlines. Copy editing and headline writing skills are a must.

The salary is in the low to mid 40s. We offer health insurance, paid vacations and assistance with moving expenses.

To apply, please email your resume, portfolio and professional references to:

work [at]cdispatch.com

No phone calls, please.

As the ad says, Columbus is in East Mississippi, near the Alabama state line. It’s about an hour west of Tuscaloosa and three hours southeast of Memphis.

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The Mississippi University for Women is located in Columbus itself, but in nearby Starkville — less than a half-hour to the west — you’ll find a major college: Mississippi State University. In fact, the Commercial Dispatch is still selling a magazine edition commemorating the success the Bulldogs’ baseball team had a couple of years ago.

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The Union army attacked Columbus during the Civil War, but Confederate troops managed to hold firm (which wasn’t the case in places like Atlanta, Ga., and Columbia, S.C.). As a result, the city is full of gorgeous and historic old antebellum homes.

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There’s an Air Force Base there — one of only four flight training centers for the USAF. There’s also a steel plant and a number of high-tech aircraft and high-tech military contractors in the area.

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Playwright Tennessee Williams was born in Columbus, as was boxer Henry Armstrong and Brooklyn Dodgers/N.Y. Yankees baseball broadcaster Red Barber.

Find the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau web site here.

Find the Commercial Dispatch web site here and its Twitter feed here.

Find Peter Imes’ columns here and his Twitter feed here.

Birthdays for Thursday, March 26

Here’s wishing the happiest of birthdays to four talented visual journalists…

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Rick Crotts is editor of the Sunday business and sports sections of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A 1981 graduate of the University of Florida, Rick has also teaches journalism and visual communication at the University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University and consults for college and professional newspapers around the country via his firm, DMK design. Rick turns 56 today.

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Peggy Earle is a journalist based in New Haven, Conn. A 1972 graduate of the City University of New York, Peggy earned a master’s degree in library science from Catholic University in 1984. She spent nearly 22 years as a news librarian, books columnist and features writer for the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va. She also is a collage-style artist. Peggy turns 66 today.

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John Hansen is a picture editor at the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. A 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, John spent three years as a shooter for the News Press and Gazette of St. Joseph, Mo., before moving in 1984 to the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville as picture editor. He moved to Raleigh in 1992. John turns 57 today.

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Jennifer Lee Preyss is features editor and religion columnist for the Advocate of Victoria, Texas. She also is editor-in-chief of GC magazine, published by the Advocate. A graduate of Georgia State University, Jennifer spent a year as a writer and copy editor for Cox.net in Atlanta and then a year-and-a-half as a government reporter for the Daily Advance of Elizabeth City, N.C. She moved to the Advocate in 2010. Find her story archive here and her Twitter feed here.

Jennifer, Rick, John and Peggy share a birthday with actors Leonard Simon Nimoy, Keira Christina Knightley, Amy Lysle Smart, Jennifer Elise Grey, Martin Hayter Short, James Caan, Alan Wolf Arkin, Strother Martin Jr. and Vicki Ann Axelrad (better known as Vicki Lawrence); musicians Diana Ernestine Earle Ross, Steven Victor Tallarico (better known as Steven Tyler), Kenneth Arnold “Kenny” Chesney, Theodore DeReese “Teddy” Pendergrass and James Yoshinobu Iha (of Smashing Pumpkins); sports greats Marcus LeMarr Allen, Nathaniel James “Nate” Kaeding, Von Miller (all three football) and John Houston Stockton (basketball); comedian Robert Brackett “Bob” Elliott; Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor; playwright Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams; poet Robert Lee Frost; novelist Erica Mann (better known as Erica Jong), politicians Thomas Stephen “Tom” Foley and Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi; Google co-founder Lawrence “Larry” Page and journalist Robert Upshur “Bob” Woodward.

In addition, today is Purple Day, Spinach Day, Legal Assistants Day and Make Up Your Own Holiday Day. Seriously.

Best wishes, folks! Have a terrific birthday today!

Why build maps repeatedly when you can make a tool to build them for you?

Many of us graphics types keep a number of templates that we constantly pick up and modify from day to day, from story to story, from graphics assignment to graphics assignment.

And then there are those geniuses who go a step beyond and create software to do those repetitive tasks for them.

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Enter Patrick Garvin of the Boston Globe. He’s created his own open-source online tool that will turn Excel data into those chloropleth maps that we use so often.

He calls the tool Mr. Map Generator and it’s very, very cool. Especially since he’s giving it to us for free.

Here’s how Patrick describes the tool:

The user copies the contents of a spreadsheet, pastes that into a field, clicks a few buttons and then has code for a responsive, color-coded map that can be used on any browser on any platform. It can also be modified to be used in a vector file.

The reaction via social media Tuesday was strong and swift:

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Patrick tells us:

I created Mr. Map Generator this past summer. I had just finished updating my gay marriage timeline

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…and felt this void now that the timeline didn’t require daily heavy lifting. I wanted an evergreen project that I could work on in my slow times at work.

In the year or so since I had originally launched my gay marriage map/timeline, I found myself using the SVG of the U.S. map a lot. I had repurposed it for a web map about state by state insurance numbers and then gotten the idea to save that file as a PDF so I could use it for the print version.

From the summer of 2013 through the summer of 2014, I found myself repurposing the U.S. SVG a few times so that I could make color-coded maps. It saved time to reuse an old file, but I wondered if I couldn’t find an even easier and more efficient way.

Around the time that I had wrapped up version 2.0 of the gay marriage timeline, Chiqui Esteban and Gabriel Florit were both making web graphic generators for our department to use. These were in-house tools that helped graphic artists and web producers make web graphics that played nicely with Methode, our CMS.

Méthode, for those of you not familiar with it, is the Globe‘s front-end system — also used by the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Times of London and the Washington Post.

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My friends at Media24 in South Africa use it, too — except they call it by the name of its corporate parent, Eidos.

Patrick continues:

As I was looking for projects and was already considering ways to streamline my process of making color-coded maps, I followed Chiqui’s and Gabriel’s leads and began on a tool myself.

I was very much influenced by Shan Carter‘s Mr. Data Converter website.

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It has such a simple-and-easy-to-use interface. I wanted something as simple that would be of ease for web producers and graphic artists that might not feel comfortable yet with JavaScript.

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As of now, Mr. Map Generator has more steps than Mr. Data Converter, but I tried to keep that same feel. It might seem daunting to novices, but I wanted the steps to have screen grabs that explained things. I’ve found that in the explainers I’ve sent to staff members on other projects, screen grabs make a huge difference.

Therefore, you’ll want to bookmark this post — the one in which Patrick walks you through how to use Mr. Map Generator.

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He shows you how and where to enter your data and then what to do with it.

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In the end, you can generate files to post to your web site or PDF vector files that you can then open in Adobe Illustrator…

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…for incorporation into your print graphics. Easy peasy.

Currently, Patrick has templates for U.S., Massachusetts and Boston area maps — with more to come, he says.

The Massachusetts maps really paid off. Color coding 351 shapes by hand in Illustrator is a nightmare and can introduce errors. That anxiety is significantly reduced when the process is automated.

Color coded maps are common for graphics departments, and I think that simplifying the process has saved us time to focus on more complex projects.

Here are the links to save:

A 2004 graduate of the University of Missouri, Patrick spent a year-and-a-half at the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News before joining the Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla., in 2006. He moved to Boston in 2010.

In addition, Patrick does stand-up comedy on the side.

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Find Patrick’s blog here, his portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.