Big football wins merit big A1 poster front treatment

Among the great college football action this holiday weekend were wins by the nation’s two major undefeated teams: The University of Iowa and Clemson University.


These victories were each celebrated in the school’s respective capital city newspapers with giant page-one poster treatments.

[Full disclosure here: I used to work for the Des Moines paper. Plus, I’m a lifelong fan of Clemson.]

Poster treatments should be used very sparingly. But when the story is big enough — and in Iowa and South Carolina, this story was; believe me — I think this type of play is the ultimate in one of my primary directives. You know it by heart, so please repeat along with me:

Run it big and get the hell out of its way.

Here’s a quick look at how these two front pages came together…

Des Moines, Iowa
Circulation: 101,915

The photo on the front page of Saturday’s Des Moines Register shows Iowa Hawkeye defensive end Parker Hesse celebrating after he returned an interception for a touchdown in Friday’s 28-20 win over Nebraska.


The photo is by staffer Bryon Houlgrave. Designer Nicole Bogdas advocated and won approval to give the picture poster treatment.

Bryon also shot the picture played large on the Register‘s Saturday sports front:


Not surprisingly, the paper must have sold out in central Iowa: The Register is already offering reprints of the page.


A graduate of the University of Missouri, Nicole was news projects designer for the Palm Beach Post and also spent a couple of years at the Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale. She worked at the St. Louis Post Dispatch before joining the Orlando Sentinel in 2008. She was news editor of the Herald-Zeitung in New Braunfels, Texas before moving to Des Moines in 2010. In 2012, she wrote a wonderful — and brave — first-person piece for the Register. And then, a few months later, she donated a kidney to her dad.

Find Nicole’s portfolio here.

Columbia, S.C.
Circulation: 70,980

The annual in-state rivalry matchup between Clemson and South Carolina was a noon game this year, says Elissa Macarin, who moved to the State from Gannett’s Nashville hub in August. The extra time meant that she…

…had time to comb through our staff photos as they were coming in.

I knew going into the day it would be a poster front of the winner and there were a few minutes there where I thought we might have to come up with a great upset headline. But in the end Clemson won, keeping their undefeated season.

When I saw this photo by Tim Dominick I had a feeling it would be the best to tell the story so I started working with it as soon as the game was over. When our Assistant Sports Editor, Presentation Meredith Sheffer — who also serves as photo editor for football Saturdays — came in, I showed it to her. She agreed we should go with it.


In talking over the headline a bunch of ideas were thrown around, one of the being incredibly straightforward with “Perfect season,” which I decided to go for more impact and just have “Perfect.”

Which, of course, turned out to be just perfect.

Elissa adds:

Next week could be a lot more hectic because we’ll be making on deadline decisions for a full page-poster if Clemson wins the ACC title.


A 2005 graduate of Kent State University, Elissa spent a year as a designer and copy editor for the Dothan (Ala.) Eagle and then four years with the Press-Register of Mobile, Ala. She moved to the Daily Herald of Wausau, Wis., in 2010 and slid over to the Gannett Nashville design studio in 2012. Her husband, Jared Macarin, is also a designer.

Find Elissa’s portfolio here.

The Register‘s sports front was shared via social media by the paper’s consumer experience director, my old pal Nathan Groepper. The two front page images are from the Newseum. Of course.

How they celebrated Turkey Day in Wisconsin

Sean McKeown-Young, the newly-named creative director of the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote us over the weekend.

He tells us:

Oshkosh, Appleton, Wausau and Green Bay all really went bold.

This was designed by me…over the course of a few weeks… This is not a sign of sanity, is it?

I totally re-rendered and reworked an illustration I did a few years ago and did a massive Thanksgiving graphic. It was a labor of love.

In case you’re wondering why Sean offset the nameplate like he did, Sean tells us:

That Oshkosh cover had a spadea over the left half of the page. I designed it to work with the spadea.

I did Wausau too. It includes two more pages of ‘Community quotes’ [inside] with the same treatment.

Appleton was designed by Dave Lafata.

Here are a couple of other variations on that same theme. Springfield, Mo., on the left, was designed by Michael Newgren.

Green Bay, on the right, was designed by Bill Wambeke. Note how Bill used some of the numbers from Sean’s big Oshkosh page down the right side.

And here was Des Moines, designed by Erin Baker Crabb.


Sean adds:

Erin says ‘We had a powerplus ad.’ She wanted to let you know why they did a shopping rail.

Average daily circulation for all these papers:

  • Oskhosh Northwestern: 14,113
  • Wausau Daily Herald: 15,506
  • Appleton Post-Crescent: 38,244
  • Springfield News-Leader: 35,531
  • Green Bay Press-Gazette: 41,767
  • Des Moines Register: 101,915

Going sideways on page one

The Newseum‘s Paul Sparrow asks today via Twitter:


Here’s the page to which he refers:


The story in today’s Herald-Tribune of Sarasota is about a long-awaited, 880,000-square-foot shopping mall going up in the area. Folks there are getting excited because it’s looking nearly done. But it won’t open for another four months.

The choice to go sideways with the presentation was a bold choice — and, I think, a good one — because that’s what the story was about: The visual of that mall, just sitting there, taunting eager shoppers. But not quite ready yet for business.


Notice how the headline plays off of the story beautifully. And the headline and story are turned sideways to match the picture because: How else would you play it?


Herald-Tribune graphics editor Jennifer Borresen tells us:

We have a great photo editor, Mike Lang, who shot the new mall that is going in here. It’s going to be a high-end mall/destination place.

He stitched the photos together. I think they realized early on yesterday that it would not have as much impact horizontal on the page.

Nicely done.

The downside of that package: There’s precious little above the fold to suggest to readers what that story is about. You could argue that space might be better used for a headline or picture that might help sell the paper out of a rack or convenience store.

But I’d argue this story is a talker. Playing it in an unusual way just enhances the viral nature of the story. I wouldn’t suggest doing this every day. But once in a while, when the content just begs for a horizontal treatment? Sure.

And, to answer Paul’s question — As a matter of fact, I have seen it before. But only because I’ve been collecting unusual pages like this for so long.

Folks turn features pages and infographics sideways all the time. Here’s a features front from the Virginian-Pilot in January 2013, for example.


I try not to do it too often, but if the content works better horizontally, I’ll turn my Focus pages in the Orange County Register sideways. My page for this coming Monday will be sideways, in fact.

And several papers have gone sideways with their sports fronts. There’s even a designer at Gannett’s Des Moines studio who’s done this so often — with spectacular results every time — that I started calling him “Mister Sideways.”

That would be Jeremy Gustafson. I’ve known him since he was a college student.

Those are just a few examples. Search my blog archive for “sideways” and you’ll pull up something like 40 or 50 posts.

But on page one? Going sideways on a front page is not something I’d recommend for the faint hearted.

  1. One of the primary duties of page one is to sell the paper. And when you go sideways, you don’t necessarily get an attractive (literally attracting potential customers) image above the fold. So you might be kissing off a few single-copy sales.
  2. The content has to be served perfectly by using the horizontal dimension. If not, then going sideways isn’t serving the content or the reader. It’s just a gimmick.
  3. Is the sideways content the only element on your front page? It’s a lot easier to go sideways on any page — especially the front page — if you’re not asking the reader to switch back-and-forth between sideways and vertical on the same page.

One of the first sideways front pages I had ever noticed was this one in the Reporter of Fond du Lac, Wis., in March 2010.


The story was a huge wall mural in a local school. The photographer stitched several shots together to make a very wide picture of the whole thing.

Four months later, Fond du Lac’s larger sister paper in Green Bay used a similar treatment for a story on businesses around the NFL stadium there.


In March 2011, Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer stripped a panoramic shot of tornado damage down the side of page one.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch went sideways with front-page wraps several times during the 2011 World Series.



Here’s one I didn’t like: The Idaho Press-Tribune ran this impressive picture sideways on page one in October 2011 of Boise State’s famous blue-turfed football stadium stuffed with fans.


But the whole thing was really a big reefer to an online presentation. In particular, the skyboxes down the side of the page seemed weird. It would have been better to put those atop the nameplate, I think.

A month later, the student paper at Iowa State University published a web-only edition after a huge overtime win over No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State. The first three pages were sideways poster pages.

The paper doesn’t normally publish on Saturday, so they went with a web-only edition.

In May of last year, the Palm Beach Daily News ran a huge sideways graphic on page one.


In September, Asbury Park went sideways when that city’s famous boardwalk went up in smoke.


And two papers produced sideways poster front pages for Christmas Day this past year. One was the Colorado Springs Gazette


…and the other was my paper, the Orange County Register.


So don’t be afraid to go sideways.

If you need to. But only if you need to.

Most of the pages in this post were from the Newseum. Of course.

RIP Randy Brubaker of the Des Moines Register

Last week, I learned my former boss at the Des Moines Register, Randy Brubaker, had suffered a heart attack and had a stent inserted into a vein.


Figuring he’d be monitoring his work email account, I fired off a note offering him my best wishes. He replied:

Thanks, man!

I’m home already. Guess I’m just going to have to watch movies for a couple of days. Damn.

Hope you, Sharon and Elizabeth are doing well!

I shrugged it off and continued our mini-vacation drive up the coast. A couple of days later, Bru wished me a happy birthday, as usual. Someone told me he’d be back at work today — Monday, May 5 — so I figured the crisis had passed.

Wrong. Randy suffered a heart attack Saturday and died at home. He was only 55.

What’s more, this comes only four months after his wife, Jan, died after struggling for years with diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.

When I joined the Register staff in March 1999 as graphics editor, I spent a lot of time working directly with our managing editor at the time, Mike Townsend. Mike was transforming the paper back into a lively, go-getter and he wanted snappy, in-your-face graphics in time for new printing presses that would go on line later that year.

But while we all worked to make Mike’s vision happen, I also reported to Brubaker. Bru had been in charge of the paper’s design and copy desk for years and was now back over sports. Sensing an opportunity, I pitched some of my more outrageous ideas for sports front centerpieces.

Bru loved them. The pages I did for him and his folks marked some of my earliest successes as a manager.

So many of the folks in Des Moines were supportive of the work we did there. But Bru was more than supportive. He was a cheerleader, a mentor and a nudger. He was one of those guys who could guide you in a certain direction without your realizing he had nudged you.

I liked that a lot. I tried to develop that same skill myself. I was never any good at it, but Bru’s example set the standard I aimed for.

Here’s a funny Randy Brubaker story: Once, when the new printing presses were about to go online, Bru piled a number of us into his family van to drive us out for a tour of the new press facility.

At some point, though, some jackass pulled out in front of us. Bru didn’t come all that close to hitting him — it was the sort of thing that happens to you every day and you never think about it. But when he jammed the brakes, Bru reached out with his right arm, as if to keep me from flying out of the front seat. You know, like you would a kid.

I looked at him with raised eyebrow. He got this goofy grin on his face, shrugged and said: “Sorry.”

The whole vanload of us laughed the whole way back to the paper.

After a while, they reorganized the newsroom. I no longer reported to Bru. What I discovered was that it made no difference to him: He was still just as supportive and encouraging as ever. Bru knew more than I did how job duties come and go and work relationships fold over on themselves into a giant web. Maybe I’d work for him again one day. Maybe he’d work for me. It made no difference. Bru was Bru, and he knew how to deal with people in his quiet, super-competent way.

I recall when I was diagnosed with diabetes in early 2002. I was quite ill for a while, so it was terrifying to find out what it was that was affecting my energy levels.

Bru’s wife had suffered for years with diabetes. He took a huge interest in my treatment, my medications and the changes I was making to improve my health. A year later, when my A1C numbers were down to near-normal levels and a local TV station included me in a report about diabetes classes, Bru was the first to congratulate me.

Years after I left, Bru continued to lend me a steadying hand, especially when times were bad. This weekend, I went back over my email archives, reading dozens of kind notes I received from him over the years. And, occasionally, we’d conduct a bit of business: He made sure to buy my presidential-election-year freelance graphics. In fact, Bru made suggestions like…

One more thought from this old man: Should you put a Copyright 2012 Charles Apple on that page?

In 2012, he insisted I publish a solicitation about my election graphic in the blog. That post netted me more than a thousand dollars of additional sales.

Occasionally, Brubaker ask me for PDFs of something I had posted. I used quotes from him in an article I once wrote for Poynter. He told me a number of times I ought to come to Iowa, rent a conference room and hold a visual journalism seminar.

But the coolest things are the little notes he’d drop. Like this one from just before Christmas:

Hope you’re well.

Just a note to say I was thinking of you and your family last week as I tooled across I-80 doing holiday Christmas travel – listening to the 2001 and 2002 [holiday music mix] CDs you made. And (even though I was driving), I’d peek at the liner notes to see if I could figure out who the artist was.

The one that brought tears, however, was this one he sent me after I told him I had landed a job, finally, at the Orange County Register. Not a management job. But a job.

Bru dropped everything and wrote back:

Congrats (if I can say that without jinxing anything in the final process)!

Sounds like a gig you are well-suited for … and I assumed your next job was NOT going to be with the News & Observer! (Those Strom Thurmond errors were incredible.)

They also point to the best piece of advice I can give you as you think about launching out there – find a great copy editor who will have your back! We’ve both seen what happens when copy editors aren’t involved … yikes!

I also agree – but might modify slightly – one other statement you made. YOU can find someone to mentor, even if it’s not official or on paper somewhere. Whether that’s finding a young Katie Kunert who is still in college, or someone in their newsroom, you have the power and smarts to do that yourself! … And as you know, usually those are the experiences that are more rewarding that actually being someone’s supervisor.

Yep. Absolutely.

My friend Daniel Finney wrote an eloquent eulogy of Bru for Monday’s paper. In it, he cites folks for whom Bru went above and beyond the call of duty to help out — especially those who had illness or death in the family.

An excerpt:

Last year, the husband of Register Reader’s Watchdog columnist Lee Rood died of brain cancer. Brubaker — Rood’s boss — took gift cards to her, delivered food and arranged for her to work from home for more than three months as her husband’s health deteriorated.

“I felt like his arm was around me throughout the whole thing,” Rood said.

Here’s another:

Page designer Sue Curry, whose husband died of a brain tumor, remembered how Brubaker doted on her young son, Aidan, in the years after his father died.

“He taught Aidan to shoot a rubber band,” Curry said. “When I’d bring (Aidan) into the newsroom, Randy would call him into his office and give him a dollar coin.

And this one was posted on Facebook yesterday by my good friend, desigenr Nicole Bogdas:

When I moved here four years ago, my mom, who was going to donate a kidney to my father, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was next in line to be a donor.

At the time, I did not yet qualify for short-term disability as I hadn’t been with the company a year (in fact it had been only two months). The managing editor pulled me aside to tell me not to worry—his wife had both breast cancer and kidney failure and he would make sure I could get the time off.

That generous man, Randy Brubaker, passed away last night, just several months after his wife. I will miss seeing him in the newsroom, where he was so much at home.

Farewell, Randy. And thanks for everything.

Inside Des Moines’ coverage of the destruction of a local landmark

Once upon a time, a giant department store operated in downtown Des Moines. The place was called Younkers. It opened a giant, seven-story headquarters in 1899.

The first two floors were retail. Upper floors held corporate offices, storage and a fifth-floor restaurant called the tea room that became a Des Moines tradition. I even ate there a time or two during my years working at the Des Moines Register.

In 2002, Younkers’ new corporate parent, Saks, moved its offices to Milwaukee. In 2005, they closed the downtown building, which was being converted into apartments — 120 of them, in fact — in a $37 million renovation.

All that came to a halt in the wee hours of Saturday when the place burned down in spectacular fashion.

The Register commemorated the sad event with poster treatment Sunday:


Photographer Chris Gannon wrote about how he got that picture:

I’m convinced there are little angels out there assigned to help out news photographers in the field.  I think I got a tiny boost from one of those angels Saturday morning while working to photograph the fire at the Younkers building in downtown Des Moines.

I was walking to my next photo position on Mulberry Street a block south of the Younkers building when a woman– a total stranger– walked up to me.  She politely directed me to a door on the south side of the Financial Center building, which stands 25 stories high diagonally across from the Younkers building.


She told me (apparently after seeing me laden with camera gear) to enter there and that I might find a good vantage from the lobby of the building.

In photographing breaking news situations, you often make or break your success by the access you can gain with your camera. So I said thanks, and went to the door.  Once inside the Financial Center, I came upon two security guards in the lobby.  I told them who I was and made some conversation.

After some discussion about the gravity of the loss of the historic building, I decided to ask the men if I might be able to photograph the firefight from the roof of the building.  I promised to be careful and quick.  “Sure, I’ll take you up,” one of the two men said.

So, 26 stories up, smoke and ash still blowing in the air, I carefully leaned my lens over the side of the building, made a series of photographs and gathered video footage. One of those photos adorns the cover of today’s paper.

I knew I had a unique vantage point and thanked the gentleman who escorted me up there.  Afterward he said he was glad to let the Des Moines Register gather historic photos from atop his building and he thanked me for coming by.

No, thank you, sir and madam, you two are anonymous photography angels, and you don’t even know it.

Sunday’s pages were designed by Liv Anderson and Karla Brown-Garcia.

Page 10, below left, features a cinder-laden picture by staffer Bryon Houlgrave.


Page 11, above right, hold a panoramic-style picture by Dan Monson.

Page 12, below left, is full of aftermath shots. The lead is by Andrea Melendez.


Page 13, above right, covers the historic angle, with a timeline and memories from local folks. The lead file art shows the state’s first escalator, which Younkers opened in 1939.

The back page, 22, features another photo by Bryon Houlgrave of the light of the fire just beyond a high-rise parking garage. Unless I’m mistaken, the building at lower left is the old Des Moines Register building, vacated just a few months ago.


That parking deck building, by the way, also holds offices and a basement food court, where I used to eat often. The Register reports the food court ended up with a foot of water.

Note the first-person story by cover shooter Chris Gannon on the right of that package.

A 1994 graduate of Iowa State University, Chris spent several years with the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., before joining the staff of the Register in 2005. Find his web site here, his photo blog here and his Twitter feed here.

Find all of the Register‘s coverage of the Younkers fire here.

Average daily circulation for the Des Moines Register is 101,915.

A look at the redesign of the Des Moines Register

Nathan Groepper, creative director of the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines, Iowa, writes:

I know I just sent you an e-mail about Sioux Falls [last week; read about that here], but the design studio also launched a redesign for the Des Moines Register last week. I figured you’d be curious to see what we came up with.

Not much changed on page one, so let’s get that out of the way first.

On the left is a Sunday front from 14 months ago. On the right is this past Sunday’s front page, designed by studio staffer Alicia Kramme.


The first thing that strikes me: No skybox.

I’m guessing that’s not permanent. I’m guessing the skybox disappeared Sunday because of the second thing that strikes me about that page: The ginormous page one promo about the changes in the paper.

Sure enough, some of the page prototypes the Register is using in its marketing materials about the changes shows continued use of skyboxes. Or promos that wrap into the nameplate, like this one does:


Or, better yet, consider the skybox+nameplate atop today’s front page.


I’m guessing on a normal day, that “What’s New” space on Sunday’s front will be taken by a third and possibly a fourth story out front.

Nathan tells us that the first big change we’ll notice inside…

…is to the section flags. We wanted something cleaner and more modern that would allow designers more flexibility.

On the left is the state-and-local front for Sunday, Feb. 2. On the right is the live state-and-local front for this past Sunday.


Ditto here for sports, designed by Dave Robbins.


Notice how the clutter up top of each page is reduced quite a bit. Notice how with the old format, your eye was drawn to the “Sports” flag. Now, “Sports” kind of sits there in the background like good little pieces of furniture and the reader’s eye is drawn instead to the content.

Nathan writes:

We stripped out the color coding, the bulky refers and the two small ads that were incorporated into the top of the page. You’ll also notice the “R” now at the top of many pages. It’s used as a branding device throughout the paper.

Here are a couple more section fronts from Sunday: Biz and features. Notice how it’s easier for the centerpiece art now to slide up into what used to be stacks of refers in the old flag.


That biz page was designed by Liv Anderson while Iowa Life was designed by Nicole Bogdas.

And here is the new Opinion front, designed by Sue Fritz.


Nathan goes on to point out a number of other new features of the redesign. Here’s a before-and-after look at the new page two.


Nathan writes:

Good Morning, Iowa: This mix of content should help get conversations started across the state.

Iowa In-Depth: This is a new section on Sunday that will be the home to great investigative reporting and storytelling.


That page was designed by Erin Baker Crabb.

Iowa Sketchbook: Inside that new Iowa In-Depth section is a weekly sketchbook from Mark Maturello.


I was a bit surprised by the description of my old friend Mark. I mean, he’s quite a bit older than 26.


Of course, what they meant was that he’s worked at the paper for 26 years. Read more about Mark here.

Nathan continues:

Around Iowa: As you know, the Register considers itself a statewide newspaper. This daily feature highlights news from all corners of the state.


(And, yes, that map takes some time.)

The redesign was spearheaded by team leader Karla Brown-Garcia, who also worked on the Sioux Falls redesign. As I mentioned before, she designed pages in San Diego and Palm Springs before joining the Design Studio in January 2011.

And, of course, all this is augmented with news sections produced by USA Today. These daily sections are being rolled out to all Gannett papers this year. Read more about that project here.

If you’d like to know more about the Des Moines Register‘s changes, you’re in luck: The paper ran a full page explaining all, helpfully entitled: More.

Click this for a readable version:


Or, read an online version here. Back on Feb. 2, publisher Rick Green wrote a column about the new changes. Find that here.

Average daily circulation for the Des Moines Register is 101,915.


Des Moines Register pays homage to its in-house ‘creative genius’

It’s not every day that a newspaper expends prime real estate to label one of its own staffers a “creative genius.”

But if there’s one visual journalist on this planet who can be given that kind of treatment without it being a wild exaggeration, it’s Mark Marturello of the Des Moines Register.


Mark is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. And it was my pleasure to be his boss from from 1999 to 2003.

Although, to be honest: Supervising Mark was about like what I’d think coaching Gayle Sayers or Joe Montana is like. You hand them the ball and you get the hell out of their way.

And as if all this fuss wasn’t enough for my pal Mark: He tells me he became a grandfather Thursday.


(Personal side note: At age 54, Mark is technically only three years older than I am. But that grandfather thing makes him a lot older than me. A lot.)

The Register celebrated a quarter-century of Marturello’s employment there with this gigantic collage on the front of its Sunday features section. Click this — or any page here — for a much larger view:


Notice the great pull-quote by Nathan Groepper, creative director of the Gannett Design Studio there in Des Moines.


The lede of the story by staffer Michael Morain:

It’s not the kind of thing a visitor would notice, but in the foot-traffic patterns that play out each day in the Register newsroom, a steady parade files past the desk of our illustrator, Mark Marturello. He is a compact guy with curly hair and dark-framed glasses, who usually lets the rest of us do the talking.

We bring him requests. We need some artwork about the big game. Or the election. Or a proposal for federal tax reform, but it needs to be sort of, um … festive?

Our pleas are often vague and usually urgent. But he listens and nods, and the gears start turning. He pulls out a piece of scratch paper even while we’re still rambling and sketches a rough concept that almost always turns into something better than we had ever imagined.

Marturello creates more artwork for more eyes than anyone else in the state. And as of this fall, he’s been doing it for 25 years.

Wonderful stuff. Read the whole thing here. And please check out the brief video while you’re there.

Inside Sunday’s features section was a double-page spread featuring a sampling of Mark’s work.


Here’s a closer look at the left-side page…


…and here’s the right-side page. Both were designed by Nicole Bogdas, who found the perfect balance between including a lot of samples but not overwhelming us with them.


Mark took a few moments out of his day Friday to answer a few questions for us…

Q: What is your actual anniversary date? Do you know, off the top of your head?

A: May 31, 1988. Showed up for work on Memorial Day. The artist that had to work the holiday shift said, “What are you doing here today?” and sent me home.

Q: When I worked with you, you worked almost exclusively electronically, and mostly between Photoshop and Painter. Is that still the case? Did you ever use a Wacom?

A: Pretty much the same. I still scan in my sketches. I do most of my cartoon-type illustrations with an old version of Freehand and pull it into Photoshop to add textures, apply brushes etc.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about using the Wacom tablet. I have a daughter that’s a sophomore at U of Iowa and she has a lot of interest in the tablet, so I’m sure that soon I will too.

My staff at the Des Moines Register, October 2003.
From left: Katie Van Dalsem (now Katie Kunert),
Matt Chatterley, moi, Jeff Bash, Mark Marturello
and Scott Kaven.

Q: How has your drawing technique changed over the years?

A: I think it’s always evolving. Your average person might not pick up on the subtle nuances that occur, but some of my buddy illustrators pick up on it. I think some of my more cartoon illustrations tends to look a bit more retro, now.

A couple of cartoonish samples from my Marturello page collection:


Q: Many illustrators sketch a lot. I sketch a lot, although I’m not an illustrator. But I don’t remember you sketching a lot — seemed to me you were so fast that you didn’t really need to sketch. Was this really the case, or am I just misremembering?

A: I ALWAYS do a sketch first. Some are super rough.

I think there are a lot of illustrators or designers out there who just start throwing images together without any real sense of direction or design concept. Sometimes that works, and with computers you can have something look decent without a lot of work or planning, but to me, it’s always better to have a sketch as a road map.

When I did collages while you were at the Register, I didn’t do as much sketching. But I still would have a loose sketch as a point of departure.

The collage has long been one of Mark’s strongest styles. And you wouldn’t believe how fast he can crank these out.


And he does them so incredibly well, too. I’m too lazy to go look it up right now, but my recollection is that he won an SND award for the bowl preview cover, below left.


Around that same time, though, he also did the Brad Banks special section cover, above right, which I thought was a bit stronger. The lead story occupied the lower right corner.

My tiny little contribution to the legend that has become Mark Marturello: I pushed him into getting more involved in designing some of the pages his illustrations run on. Almost immediately, that resulted in a number of SND awards for his page design work — as opposed to the awards he was already getting for his illustration work.

Watching him get recognition for a set of skills he didn’t fully understand that he even had still stands as one of the highlights of my career.

And speaking of Mark’s hidden skills, I’ve told the story before about the day in 2003 the space shuttle burned up returning to Earth. Mark volunteered to come in and help — although what we needed that day was infograpics, as opposed to illustrations. “Just don’t ask me to draw a cut-away diagram of the shuttle,” he joked.

That’s the kind of guy Mark was and still is: Ready to pitch in and help.

So I sat down and came up with a plan. With a small amount of chagrin, I handed Mark his assignment. It was, um, a cut-away diagram of the shuttle.

I think he was a little taken aback by that. Don’t worry, I told him. I don’t need to see every nut and every bolt. Keep this thing simple and illustrative. Do you remember those illustrations we used to see in our grade-school science books back in the early 1970s?

Mark nodded.

Well, that’s what I have in mind. Keep it simple. And illustrative.

So even on tight deadline and way, way out of his comfort zone, Mark came though for us in a big, big way:


Perfect. Just perfect.

The takeaway from that little episode: Mark would have made one hell of an infographics artist.

Quick, somebody! Break out the locator map assignments!

More questions and answers…

Q: You used to do a lot of freelance work. Is that still the case? Who are some of your outside clients these days?

A: I keep myself busy enough, but I’m not staying up till 1 or 2 am like I used to (which is good). Not as much as when you were here. I work mostly on quarterly magazines and corporate work.

The last couple years I’ve concentrated more on book illustration. I have a new book that is going to be published in November entitled Paisley Poof written by co-worker Jill Erzen.

I had never heard of Jill Erzen, so I had to Google her. Turns out, she’s the former Jill Cretsinger. Her, I remember. Unfortunately, the book isn’t listed at Amazon or Barnes & Noble just yet.

Q: Most top-end illustrators have just one style. That’s the one they use on their page in the Illustration annuals and that’s the style they deliver to art directors. But you had five or six primary styles when I worked with you and you had several more you could reach down and use whenever you felt like a change. How many styles do you suppose you have these days?

A: I guess I’ve always had an interest in multiple styles ever since I was going to school at Grand View University, and it seems to have worked out well for me here.

If you are exclusively a free-lance artist, doing one style seems to be best approach.

You can see Mark’s collage style in the page on the left. But you can also see what Mark was really doing there: Yes, this is an illustration, but it’s more than that: It’s a timeline in which the text and the visuals are interwoven.


On the right was a new style Mark pulled out of thin air one day: As I recall, his mom was having some repairs made to her attic. Mark saw these pieces of construction debris being thrown away and wondered if there might be magic in the shapes and textures there.

The takeaway: When you have Mark Marturello around, even your garbage might wind up on a section front.

And, yes — this, too, won an SND award, as I recall.

Q: Do you like having multiple styles, or would you suggest a young illustrator stick with just one?

A: Like in the above question, I like doing a variety of work. I think doing this for 25 years would have gotten a bit boring using the same technique. And with similar themes annually, it nice to take a different approach at the assignments.

That’s a tough call. My advice to young illustrators would be that it’s good to be a bit flexible with your art, even if you are sticking to one style.

Q: Of all your work for the Register over the past quarter-century, what was your favorite project?

A: I can whittle it down to three:

1) Doing illustrations for the front page and Opinion covers during the 2012 election cycle. Rick Green (editor at the time) spearheaded taking a more illustrative approach with the election. It was an absolute blast.



A few more samples of Mark’s political illustration work:

2) Working on Rekha Basu‘s Surviving series, after her husband, Rob Borsellino, lost his fight with ALS.

3) The NIE projects while you were at the Register.

Oh, wow. What a pleasure that project was.

I’ve talked this project in my visuals management classes, but what the hell: Cue another long-winded story…

Right after 9/11, Mark approached me with a great idea: Clearly the U.S. was going to to to war with Afghanistan. But who knows anything about Afghanistan? Mark wanted to do a huge, doubletruck map of that country, complete with detailed illustrations of native garb and customs. Basically, a National Geographic-like treatment.

It was a terrific idea. But it was clear that war could start at any moment (in fact, my managing editor didn’t want his graphics editor out of town when the bombs started to fall, so he canceled my trip to SND/Phoenix). I just didn’t think we could do the proper amount of research in the uncertain time frame we had.

But rather than just say “no” to Mark — and this is the important part — I told him it was a great idea but this just wasn’t the right time. I asked him to put the idea into the freezer and I promised him we’d pull it out real soon and use it later.

The larger lesson being: If you’re going to ask your staffers to be proactive in creative problem solving, you need to bend over backwards to say “yes” more often. If you say “no” too much then you might say you want proactivity. But you’re proving you don’t actually value proactivity.

This is one of the most common mistakes made by editors, both new and experienced. But back to our story…

Sure enough, Mark came back to me a few months later and said he had found the perfect topic on which to use our idea in the freezer: Iowa history.

Wait a minute. Iowa has history? I thought it was just pigs and corn.

It sure does. So not only did I greenlight Mark’s project, I freed him up for a lot of hours to try different approaches and go down a few dead ends. I also put our designated researcher, Katie Van Dalsem, at Mark’s disposal on the project. I also encouraged him to expand his skills by making him the art director of his own project. Let me know if you need me, but let’s see what you can come up with on your own.

The resulting map+timeline+illustration was gorgeous. As you can see.


It ran as a doubletruck in the paper to great acclaim from Iowa’s teachers. So we reprinted this as a slick poster. Our NIE people asked us to put together a 12-page tabloid that would expand on the timeline and the copy blocks.

The entire project earned a national Clarion award that year. We flew Katie down to Tulsa to pick up a gorgeous crystal trophy.

When I’m teaching, the lesson I bring with this tale is: Identify someone like Mark, give him the resources and time he needs and make sure he understand it’s not just his talent you appreciate — it’s also his ideas.

The lesson I, myself, took from this experience: The life of a visuals manager is an awful lot of fun when you have people like Mark Marturello and Katie Van Dalsem (now, Katie Kunert) on your staff.

That’s about all the Mark Marturello stories I have for you today. Many thanks to the fine folks at the Register for recognizing Mark’s “creative genius” in such a spectacular way Sunday.

Ten interesting takes on the end of the federal shutdown

A deal has been struck. The government shut down has been — well, shut down. A deal to raise the debt limit has been reached.

The Republicans went into this debacle having made unrealistic promises to the citizens who elected them and they came out of it looking petty and foolish. The Democrats came out of it looking marginally better — but only because they didn’t talk themselves out of losing their advantage of numbers.

But not from a lack of trying. Man, those Democrats sure run their mouths a lot.

Make no mistake, though: The Democrats didn’t win — Instead, the Republicans hurled themselves off a cliff. I’d argue that there were no winners at all here. Certainly not the American people.

And in just a few months, we’ll do it all again. Sigh.

In the meantime, here is a look at ten interesting takes on the most important government news since… well, since the Fiscal Cliff deal on New Year’s Eve.

Rochester, N.Y.
Circulation: 114,502

For the past two weeks, a lot of papers have turned stock art of the Capitol building into centerpiece art. The D&C does it well here, but that’s not why I like most about this page.


What I like most is the main headline. Especially the “finally” bit.


UPDATE – 8:45 a.m.

This was designed by Abby Wescott of Gannett’s Asbury Park studio, who proudly tells us:

The headline was also my idea.

McAllen, Texas
Circulation: 32,086

I’m not crazy about the layout of this page. It’s got a number of flaws:

  • Too many elements are crammed above the fold. A little white space might have helped.
  • I don’t like the way the photos seem to shift to the left when you get to the sidebar.
  • The lead-in deck seems a bit too wordy


What I like about this page — and why I bring it to your attention — unlike many of the front page treatments you’ll see around the country today, this one acknowledges the political battle over U.S. fiscal policy is not over. This was just one more round in what will be a long, long war.

That’s not fun, but that’s the truth. The less we sugar-coat that for readers, the better informed they’ll be.

Fargo, N.D.
Circulation: 45,298

The champion today at making this very point, however, has to be the Forum of Fargo, N.D.

Savvy observers complained that Wednesday’s deal didn’t solve anything; it just kicked the can down the road. The Forum actually illustrated this.


St. Louis, Mo.
Circulation: 187,992

Rather than use its front-page real estate on huge stock art of the Capitol building or of oversized mugs of Boehner and Obama, the St. Louis paper went with a retro-like series of decks to relay the day’s major talking points to readers.

This was placed under a headline that, yes, implied that this was just one round of a longer war.


Interestingly, the Cardinals’ failure to clinch a World Series berth was pushed to the bottom of today’s front page.

The young man wearing the baseball jersey could almost be reacting to the main news package above.

Greensboro, N.C.
Circulation: 57,274

The Greensboro paper picked up this thread I’m advocating here and took it a step further: It went out and asked local folks what they think about the partisan battles in D.C. this month. That became the focal point of the front-page presentation, rather than the deal itself.


Bitter squabbles are not likely to stop.” Right.

However, consider this: North Carolina is in the middle of its own Tea Party-like political battles at the state level. I’d be curious to see that same treatment, but talking to folks who say stuff like: “Hell, yeah! I elected my Congressman to go up to Warshington (sic) to repeal Obamacare, and I don’t care how he does it. I’m GLAD they shut the government down. I say KEEP it shut down.”

I’ve spent most of my life in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. I know these folks are out there. I see their comments attached to the bottom of online news stories.

But I’m not seeing them very often on page one.

This isn’t to criticize what the Greensboro paper did today — I like it quite a lot. This is just an observation.

Omaha, Neb.
Circulation: 135,223

The Omaha paper decided to focus on the vote itself.


The little box at right summing up the deal is quite nice.

Davenport, Iowa
Circulation: 46,824

This is the only non-front-page I’ll show you today. And I’m showing it to you because a) The editor/designer sent it to me overnight. And b) I think it’s very, very nice.


Nate Bloomquist of the Quad-City Times tells us:

I was inspired by NPR’s graphic from a week ago that was making the rounds on Facebook, so I made my own debt graphic.

I pulled pieces from AP stories and other sources for the explainer at the top. There were several sources to find the raw data, but the best is the Government Accountability Office. There is all kinds of useful stuff there.

It was great to get plenty of feedback from the Lee design hub in Munster, Ind., and a designer there, Claire Moreno, built my icons at the top of the page after I decided on the color scheme. Everything came together really well, and I’ve quite pleased with what I have here.

I’ve featured some of Nate’s stand-alone inside-page work before: For the presidential inauguration in January and for a golf tournament in July.

Des Moines, Iowa
Circulation: 191,915

A number of papers went with photoillustrations today. One of the better ones was this one by my old friend Mark Marturello of the Des Moines Register.


Mark’s work was used by the Gannett Design Studio on two other papers that I could find: The Press Citizen of Iowa City (circulation 12,130) and the Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La. (circulation 29,368).


Chicago, Ill.
Distribution: 250,000

Perhaps the most fun today was had by youth-oriented tabloid versions of major metros.

This wacky cover illustrated by the Chicago Tribune‘s RedEye reminds me very much of the kind of work you find at JibJab.


Unfortunately, the illustration is not credited.

Washington, D.C.
Distribution: 183,916

Perhaps the most amusing photoillustration of the day, however, is this one afront the Washington Post‘s Express tab.


Amusing… if you’re not a Republican, that is.

All these pages but the one from the Quad-City Times are from the Newseum. Of course.

A look at Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling front pages

I got up very early Thursday in order to build you a nice collection of Supreme Court decision front pages. But then I ran into another series of technical glitches: I couldn’t upload images to my blog.

I managed to upload the pages last night, but it literally took me hours to do what should have taken five minutes.

So, a day late, here’s a look at some of the day’s notable Same-sex marriage front pages…

Many of Thursday’s front pages did a great job of showing the emotion involved in earning the right to marry, shown on the faces of the nation’s gay and lesbian folks in D.C. and around the country.


Lafayette, Ind.

Circulation: 25,531

The Associated Press picture on the front of Lafayette shows plenty of emotion. And that’s good.


That headline, however, was fairly typical in that it suggested a win for gay marriage in both decisions announced Wednesday.

However, as you might know, that really wasn’t the case. Sure enough, the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. But California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in the state of California was less than a perfect victor for gay marriage supporters. That case was essentially dismissed on a technicality. So that wasn’t actually a victory for supporters of gay marriage. In fact, as a result, we’ll continue to see these legal battles go on at the state level. It’s only because California currently has supporters of gay marriage in office at the moment that Prop 8 will be pursued no further.

So in effect, Wednesday might have been a ” win-win” for supporters of gay marriage. But not in fact. The struggle is far from over for gay and lesbian folks throughout the country.


Norfolk, Va.

Circulation: 142,476

We see the same afront the Virginian-Pilot. The Pilot picked a photo that I didn’t seen anyone else use — one just dripping with emotion.


And while the main head refers to “two victories,” note how the deck on the Prop 8 story makes it clear that gay marriage is not coming to the notoriously red state of Virginia.

The photo is by Mark Wilson of Getty images.


Rochester, N.Y.

Circulation: 114,502

The Rochester paper went with a quote headline: “Equal in every way.”


But again, that’s only in the eyes of the federal government. Gays are not equal in every way from state to state. And that’s from where the court says decisions on marriage licenses must come.

The photo by Charles Dharapak of the Associated Press is of the same couple you saw on the front of the Virginian-Pilot.


White Plains, N.Y.

Circulation: 72,764

Possibly the most spectacular front page of the day was this rainbow banner-waving gentleman on the front of Gannett’s New York-based papers.


I’m a little baffled about where the picture came from, however. It’s credited to J. Scott Applewhite of the Associated Press in the White Plains paper, above, but to Getty images in the Binghamton, Elmira and Ithaca papers, below.

130627ScotusBinghamtonNY 130627ScotusElmiraNY 130627ScotusIthacaNY

From left to right:

  • Binghamton, N.Y., Press & Sun-Bulletin, circulation 34,311
  • Elmira, N.Y., Star-Gazette, circulation 15,172
  • Ithaca, N.Y., Journal, circulation 9,668


Des Moines, Iowa

Circulation: 101,915

In Iowa — which has seen its fair share of legal battles for gay marriage — The state’s capital city paper managed a nice pun in the main headline.


Banner day? And the man in front of the state capitol is holding a banner? Hey, I never got away with puns like that when I worked at the Register.

The banner picture is by staffer Bryon Houlgrave.


Iowa City, Iowa

Circulation: 12,130

The paper in Iowa City also built page one around a local person waving a banner, but minus the pun head.


In particular, I like the way the Press-Citizen broke up the issue into two decks. Notice the one on the right. The Press-Citizen got it right here, which delights me.

That great picture is by staffer David Scrivner.


Chicago, Ill.

But nowhere is the divided nature of Wednesday’s ruling more apparent than on the front pages of Chicago’s two tabloid newspaeprs.

RedEye takes note of the celebrations to come during the upcoming gay pride celebrations…

130627ScotusChicagoRedEyeIll  130627ScotusChicagoSTIll

while the Sun-Times focuses on the fact that neither ruling will help gays or lesbians in Chicago.

The couple on the front of RedEye was photographed in Chicago’s “boystown” district by Tribune staffer Anthony Souffle. The Sun-Times also used a picture from the northside, but from Charles Rex Arbogast of the Associated Press.

Average free daily distribution for RedEye is about 250,000. The Sun-Times circulates about 184,801 papers daily.


Davenport, Iowa

Circulation: 46,824

In Davenport, too, the Quad-City Times went with local celebration art. This picture is by staffer John Schultz.


But look at the headline: Sets the state for fights at the state level. Yep. Less of a grabber headline. But more accurate — especially for folks in the Midwest.


Camden, N.J.

Circulation: 46,547

However, I had to admire this front by yet another Northeastern Gannett paper. Sure, some of these states — in this case, New Jersey — might not gain gay marriage with Wednesday’s decision. But it’s just a matte of time.


The picture is from the Associated Press.

Now, let’s turn our focus to California, which did indeed gain — or, perhaps, I should say regain — gay marriage with Wednesday’s decision. The governor said Wednesday he’d honor the lower court’s earlier smackdown of Proposition 8 and have officials issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the legal paperwork goes through on a court-ordered temporary stay. It should take about a month, he said.


Los Angeles, Calif.

So with gay marriage in fact the new law of the land, California papers have a bit more leeway to refer to things like weddings and marches. The L.A. Daily News did well with this great headline and a celebration shot by staffer Hans Gutknecht.


That’s the L.A. Daily News, of course, circulation 94,016.

That same design played out across many of the group’s front pages Thursday. From left:

  • Long Beach Press-Telegram, circulation 82,556
  • Torrance Daily Breeze, circulation 15,000

130627ScotusLongBeachCalif 130627ScotusTorrenceCalif

130627ScotusPasadenaCalif 130627ScotusSanGabrielCalif 130627ScotusWhittierCalif

  • Pasadena Star-News, circulation 24,778
  • Covina San Gabriel Valley Tribune, circulation 59,989
  • Whittier Daily News, circulation 14,691

The group’s San Bernadino Sun opted for a different photo, by staffer Will Lester


…as did the Daily Facts of Redlands (circulation 6,607) and the Inland Daily Bulletin of Ontario (circulation 61,699).

130627ScotusRedlandsCalif 130627ScotusOntarioCalif


Walnut Creek, Calif.

Up in the Bay area, the couple in the left of this lead photo look happy, but not so much for the rest of the folks in the background.


The picture is by staffer Jane Tyska.

130627ScotusOaklandCalif 130627ScotusWalnutCreekCalif

On the left is the Oakland Tribune, circulation 52,459. On the right is the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek, circulation 67,464.


Santa Cruz, Calif.

Circulation: 25,000

The Santa Cruz paper led with a picture of a man waving a hybrid rainbow banner + U.S. flag.


The picture is by staffer Kevin Johnson.


San Diego, Calif.

Circulation: 230,742

The San Diego paper found a massive street parade going on in the wake of the announcement. Which, naturally, made for great A1 art.


The fabulous photo is by staffer K.C. Alfred.

The paper loses points, however, for its display type. When is the last time you’ve seen the word “bolster” used outside of a headline?


Los Angeles, Calif.

Circulation: 616,575

The Times, as you might expect, covered a lot of bases on page one. The headline was plain and simple. The lead art focused on which justice voted which way.


And a great celebration picture by staffer Al Seib played well downpage.

Particularly nice is the headline on the sidebar about the losing side:

A movement swept aside

Prop. 8 backers go from jubilant to marginalized in five years

Nicely done.


Santa Ana, Calif.

Circulation: 280,812

The best headline of the day, however, was by my colleagues one desk over at the Orange County Register.


You gotta love that. I’m told the Register‘s D.C. bureau chief, Cathy Taylor — who worked a very long day Wednesday — came up with that particular bit of genius.


San Francisco, Calif.

Circulation: 229,176

There was a bit of rumbling yesterday on social media: How come the San Francisco Chronicle didn’t have a word about Prop 8 or DOMA on the front of Thursday’s newspaper?


Whenever you see something like that, you can bet there is some sort of wrap involved.

Sure enough, assistant managing editor for presentation Frank Mina tells us there was a wrap: An entire 12-page special section wrapped around Thursday’s Chronicle.

And what a glorious section it is. Click on any of these pages for a much larger — hopefully, readable — view.

Page one includes the banner headline everyone expected to see from the paper at Ground Zero of the fight for gay marriage rights.


The picture by staffer Michael Macor is of two local men who were plaintiffs in a case that went to the California Supreme Court several years ago. And, like most of the pictures in the section, it was shot live Wednesday for Thursday’s paper.

Page two (below, left) holds the jump of the main story. The picture of a man celebrating on the steps of the Supreme Court building in D.C. is by Pete Marovich of MCT.

130627ScotusSFChronWrap02 130627ScotusSFChronWrap03

On page three is a sidebar about a local couple who hope to get married.

Across the top of those pages are quotes from the rulings themselves.

Across the tops of pages four and five are Q&A type factoids about the rulings.

130627ScotusSFChronWrap04 130627ScotusSFChronWrap05

Page four focuses on the opponents of gay marriage and what they can do about the ruling. The picture of a preacher praying in front of the supreme court building is by Joshua Roberts of Bloomberg.

Page five addresses what may or may not happen now across the nation. The picture of two local men is by staffer Ian C. Bates.

Across the bottom is a column about the impact of the decision on personal finances.

The center spread is a picture page experience showing folks waiting for and reacting to the ruling.

130627ScotusSFChronWrap06 130627ScotusSFChronWrap07

The biggest picture at upper right is by staffer Lacy Atkins.

Page eight (below, left) is a celebration story and illustrated with a picture by Carlos Avila Gonzalez. Like in Chicago, there was already a gay pride event scheduled for this weekend in San Francisco. I imagine that’ll be quite the party.

130627ScotusSFChronWrap08 130627ScotusSFChronWrap09

The picture at the top of page nine (upper right) is the one I really wanted to see. That’s former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. In 2004, he ordered city officials to fulfill requests for marriage licenses by gay and lesbian couples — pretty much in open defiance of state law at the time. That’s pretty much what started the ball rolling that resulted in Wednesday’s rulings.

Newsom, by the way, is now Lieutenant Governor.

The photo is by staffer Lea Suzuki.

Pages 10 and 11 are editorial pages. The paper supported gay marriage, not surprisingly. And note the editorial atop page 11: Despite Wednesday’s rulings, this is still a conservative court.

130627ScotusSFChronWrap10  130627ScotusSFChronWrap11

In particular, I like the editorial cartoon by Tom Meyer.


At the bottom left, note a story entitled “By any means necessary?” This addresses the decision made by the state government, several years ago, to not argue in favor of Proposition 8. This was a radical idea that eventually led directly to the technicality that caused that conservative court to not intervene. That was the real turning point of the case, as it turns out.

The back page, 12, holds a giant chronology of the entire Prop 8 case from the wedding licenses at the San Francisco City Hall to the Supreme Court rulings on Wednesday.


Across the bottom of the back page is a a great column about a federal judge who heard the Prop 8 case in 2010 and ruled against it. He wasn’t surprised by Wednesday’s ruling, he says.

Not long after his decision, the judge retired. It was then that he revealed that he, himself, is gay. That led to supporters of Proposition 8 filing for appeal on the grounds that the judge shouldn’t have heard the case in the first place.

So this was yet another major figure in the history of Prop 8.

The San Francisco Chronicle pages are courtesy of Frank Mina. The rest are all from the Newseum. Of course.

A look at today’s notable Oklahoma tornado front pages

In the future, whenever you think of the horrifying tragedy Monday in Oklahoma, you’ll remember this image:


That was shot in Moore, Okla., by Sue Ogrocki of the Associated Press.

Sue’s first-person story is downright chilling:

I expected chaos as I approached the piles of bricks and twisted metal where Plaza Towers Elementary once stood. Instead, it was calm and orderly as police and firefighters pulled children out one by one from beneath a large chunk of a collapsed wall.

Parents and neighborhood volunteers stood in a line and passed the rescued children from one set of arms to another, carrying them out of harm’s way. Adults carried the children through a field littered with shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation to a triage center in a parking lot.

They worked quickly and quietly so rescuers could try to hear voices of children trapped beneath the rubble.

Read the rest of it here.

The way to play that photo — no matter where your paper was located today — was to run it big and get the hell out of its way. You’ll notice the similarities between how my former paper and my current paper built the top of page one today.

130521TornadoNorfolkVa 130521TornadoSantaAnaCalif

On the left is the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., circulation 142,476. On the right is Scott Albert’s take in the Orange County Register of Santa Ana, Calif., circulation 280,812.

Several other papers also elected to give that same picture prominent play on page one today — and with a variation of that same headline. Click any of these — or any page here today — for a larger look.

130521TornadoLaDailyNews  130521TornadoChattanoogaTenn  130521TornadoHarrisburgPa  130521TornadoCincinnatiOhio

From left:

  • Los Angeles Daily News, circulation 94,016
  • Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, circulation 75,336
  • Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News, circulation 70,446
  • Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer, circulation 144,165

And several papers paired their “devastation” headlines with this equally moving picture by Paul Hellstern of the Oklahoman of Oklahoma City, of teachers walking students away from the rubble of their school.

130521TornadoFargoND  130521TornadoAugustaGa

Do yourself a favor, folks, and don’t look too closely at that photo. Especially at the bruised and bleeding faces of those heroic teachers. Especially if you’re married to a teacher.

On the left is the Forum of Fargo, N.D., circulation 45,298. On the right is the Chronicle of Augusta, Ga., circulation 55,444.

Just to show you didn’t have to use “devastation” in your headline today, here are four more pages using that same Oklahoman picture, but with different — and wonderful — headline treatments.

130521TornadoNewarkNJ 130521TornadoOmahaNeb 130521TornadoDesMoinesIowa 130521TornadoChicagoIll

From left:

  • Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger, circulation 278,940
  • Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, circulation 135,223
  • Des Moines (Iowa) Register, circulation 101,915
  • Chicago (Ill.) Tribune, circulation 414,590

Here are three that used the Sue Ogrocki photo, but with different headlines.

130521TornadoLosAngelesCalif  130521TornadoMinneapolisMinn  130521TornadoDetroitMich

From left:

  • Los Angeles (Calif.) Times, circulation 616,575
  • Minneapolis, Minn., Star Tribune, circulation 300,330
  • Detroit (Mich.) Free Press, circulation 232,696

In particular, I love how the Free Press headline puts an additional terrifying spin on an already alarming story. What I don’t like is how far down the page that story is shoved by the hockey skybox.

On the other hand, the hockey story a) is local, and b) will sell a lot of papers. Note how the picture is moved below the fold, but that dynamite headline will peek out of a news rack. Nicely played.

Even the New York City tabloids today created what I call “regional twins.”

130521TornadoNewYorkDailyNews 130521TornadoNewYorkPost

If I had to choose between the two, I’d argue the Daily News (left, circulation 595,636) shows the scope of the devastation behind the woman and child. The size and position of the headline on the Post (right, circulation 555,327) hides a important part of the photo.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the papers in Oklahoma…


Tulsa, Okla.

Circulation: 97,725

The suburb of Oklahoma City that was struck Monday — Moore — was hit hard 14 years ago in a storm people there remember very clearly. Which explains the headline used today by the Tulsa World.


You already know I love the photo and the “play it big” treatment. The above-the-headline bullet points are a nice touch here.


Perry, Okla.

Circulation: 3,050

I realize this is a tiny, tiny daily paper. But still, given the enormity of Monday’s events, this is perhaps the most unfortunate headline of the day.


From what I can tell, the story — and presumably the headline — was written before Monday’s storms struck.


Norman, Okla.

Circulation: 10,727

Nightmare” sums up Monday on the front of the Norman paper today.


Instead of leading with school photos, the Transcript went with a photo of a woman being pulled from the rubble of a medical center in Moore. That seems an odd choice, given the number of victims at the school. The photo in the bottom left corner is a Sue Ogrocki picture from the school, but credited only to the “Associated Press.”


Oklahoma City, Okla.

Circulation: 130,177

The headline atop today’s Oklahoman made me stop and scratch my head.


I’m told this is a reference to the big storm that ripped through Oklahoma City in 1999. Locals get it.

However, one correspondent told me this morning:

In fact it was not worse than the tornado on May 3, 1999.

If that turns out to be the case, then someone might regret this headline.


I’ll close with some of my own work from Monday.

I was working away on my next Focus page for the Orange County Register, here in Southern California, when our news editor wondered if we could pull together some  information on what is a tornado and how dangerous they can be for today’s paper. They have a few waterspouts in these parts, but actual tornadoes are quite rare. So a backgrounder seemed in order.

It was around 3 p.m. I dumped what I was working on and jumped on it.

Luckily, I’ve done tornado graphics many, many times in the past. (And some of you will remember this blog post from March in which I explained why I’m so well-read on this topic.) So I knew where to go for statistical data. In addition, one of my colleagues here had done a nice “how a tornado is formed” graphic that beat hell out of the most recent one I had done. So I used his as a starting point.

Here is the resulting graphic, which ran on page three of today’s paper. Click, of course, for a larger view.


I didn’t want to interfere with whatever my friends on the A-section desk were doing with live coverage, so I stayed away from pictures of Monday’s tornado — which was of a less photogenic type, anyway, from what I can see in the videos. As the little caption says, there, in the bottom right: That is a tornado that was photographed Sunday near Wichita, Kansas.

Down the right side is a series of graphics that show how a tornado forms and — most importantly, for folks here in California — how they can spot them on radar and give people in their path early warning.

On the left is a look at stats: The ten deadliest, a month-by-month look at numbers over the past three-and-a-half years. See the two bars that stick way out to the right? Those are the months that produced the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Huntsville and Joplin.

In particular, I liked the bit that shows “tornado alley” and “Dixie alley,” where these storms are more frequent.

This was the first time I’ve built one of these pages on short notice, off the day’s news.

Today’s front page images are all from the Newseum. Of course.

Move over, Batboy: Meet Van Meter’s winged ‘Visitor’

My old pal Nathan Groepper, creative director of the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines, Iowa, writes:

I thought this might appeal to your offbeat sensibilities.

The Des Moines Register [ran on Saturday] a story about a sighting of a giant winged monster in a small town in Iowa 110 years ago. The mysterious creature was discovered in a coal mine, had a horn that cast a beam of light and somehow managed to escape a posse.

There’s a new book about the weird event and the author is making the rounds on cable shows.

The story was written by another former colleague of mine, Mike Kilen. Find it here. It’s definitely worth your time.

The Saturday features cover that held this story, Nathan tells us, was designed by Nicole Bogdas, and…


…obviously inspired by the famous Bat Boy cover of the World Weekly News.

1305WeeklyWorldNewsBatboy 130504DesMoinesWingedMonster

A horn on his forehead that shines a beam of light. Wow. That’s nearly as cool as sharks with freakin’ laser beams on their heads.

Average daily circulation for the Des Moines Register is 101,915.

Who are you calling a ‘ho’?

I know that is supposed to say “hoops.” And you know that is supposed to say “hoops.”

But does the reader know?


I rather doubt it. Not at first glance, anyway.

That was a wrap around today’s sports section in my old paper, the Des Moines Register. Thanks to my tipster, Charlie Weaver, who’s up the road at Iowa State University.

A look at today’s most outstanding Pope Benedict XVI pages

Huge news broke Monday morning: The Pope is resigning. Pope Benedict XVI will be the first pope in 598 years to resign, as opposed to dying in office.

This move — along with the baggage the Catholic church is carrying around these days — made for huge play atop page one of today’s New York Times.


That picture by L’Osservatore Romano via the Associated Press was one of the few actual news photos I could find on today’s front pages, as collected this morning by the Newseum.

The Los Angeles Times used a picture from the same source and also shot fresh at the event Monday in which Pope Benedict made his surprise announcement.


The Times not only included sidebars on church politics but also on the ongoing sex abuse scandal. A large infographic shows the numbers and distribution of Catholic faithful throughout the world.

Average daily circulation for the L.A. Times is 616,575. The New York Times circulates 1,586,757 papers daily.

Most papers today did not use art shot during Monday’s event. I especially liked the tired expression in the file photo from Agence France-Presse, used today by the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.


That’s a great example of selecting a photo that fits perfectly with the quote superimposed over part of it.

Average daily circulation for the Star-Ledger is 278,940.

In a more humorous vein, I enjoyed the blue-collar sensibility reflected by the headlines afront today’s New York Post.


Average daily circulation for the Post is 555,327.

And while some papers speculated on page one that the next pope might be “from a developing nation,” none played up this angle as loudly as did the Philadelphia Daily News.


That is Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana in that AP file photo.

Average daily circulation for the Daily News is 110,000.

While several papers today created very nice page-one treatments of the Pope’s resignation, I feel like six were head-and-shoulders above the rest. Here’s a look at them…



Fond du Lac, Wis.

Circulation: 10,186

The photo here — an AP file shot from 2005 — is wonderfully chosen and cropped. I also love the three little decks above the main headline that cite major elements of the story.


Note how the decks color-coordinate with the cape the pope is wearing.

The downside: The main headline tells us nothing new. That news was out at mid-morning Monday. It might have been better to write a headline that tried to give a little more perspective on the story or spun it forward just a bit.

Other than that, this page sings.

That page was designed in Gannett’s  Des Moines Design Studio by Wisconsin team leader Sean McKeown-Young and Brooke Curry,

Brooke, by the way, is currently a student at Grand View University in Des Moines and has been interning in the studio for a solid year, creative director Nathan Groepper tells us. Find her portfolio here.



Chicago, Ill.

Circulation: 414,590

As terrific as that last page was, here’s another wonderful one that is seemingly shot from the opposite angle.


In fact, that’s a file photo by Franco Origlia of Getty Images. I don’t know the year.

The page was designed by Michelle Rowan and Ryan Smith, I’m told.

Honorable mention goes to Express — the commuter tab published in D.C. by the Washington Post — for getting great mileage out of that same picture today.


Average daily distribution for Express is 183,916.



Des Moines, Iowa

Circulation: 101,915

Designer Nicole Bogdas, working out of Gannett’s Des Moines center, tells us about the front page she built for today’s Register:

I think some folks here were skeptical at first when they saw just the photo, but after I put it together we agreed it was the way to go.


When I was pitching it, I likened it to the famous Babe Ruth photo, and when I went home last night and described the photo to my boyfriend he said, “So, like the famous Babe Ruth photo.”

That would be this picture of Ruth shot at his last public appearance in 1948 by Nat Fein of the New York Herald Tribune.


Fein won a Pulitzer Prize for that picture.

Find Nicole’s portfolio page here and her Twitter feed here.

That picture of the pope — file art by Gregorio Borgia of the Associated Press — was also used today to great effect by another Gannett Design Studio host paper, the Arizona Republic of Phoenix.


Phoenix studio director Tracy Collins tells us the page was designed by Amy King. He asked Amy to tell us how her page came together:

I started looking through photos on the wire. George Berke (Republic team leader) and I talked possible options. We ran the chosen photo past the photo editor, who was a bit worried the image was too white, but saw its potential. The photo says it all. Pope: out. Mystery person: in.

We sent the copy editors and started brainstorming headline ideas.

Then George, Page 1 Editor Michael Squires and I huddled around my computer to discuss secondary display text – reading through the pope’s speech to find a good excerpt. Then a bit more photo editing to find a good image to pair with the quote.

I’ve written about Amy’s work at least three times. Find her statehood centennial pages here, an immigration law front page here and go here to find an interesting page on sexual assault.

Average daily circulation for the Republic is 321,600.



Norfolk, Va.

Circulation: 142,476

One thing is consistent in this crazy newspaper world we live in: You can count on the Virginian-Pilot to do something interesting.

In this case, it was the Pilot‘s Bethany Bickley who put together this terrific front page.


The first thing I though of this morning when I pulled the newspaper out of the wrapper and looked at the front was how much it reminded me of this:

130212PopeNorfolkVa  110303LeBronCleveland.jpg

Just like that now-iconic Cleveland Plain Dealer front, the pope appears to be walking off the page. Note how Bethany turned the Pilot‘s nameplate white-on-white, with only a faint dropshadow to help it pop just a bit.

The picture itself is a 2010 file shot from the Associated Press. And at least two other papers also ran the picture huge on page one today:

130212PopeBuffaloNY 130212PopeWestChesterPa

On the left is the 147,085-circulation Buffalo (N.Y.) News. On the right is the Daily Local News of West Chester, Pa., circulation 24,946.

Find Bethany’s online portfolio here, her NewspageDesigner gallery here and her Twitter feed here.



Rochester, N.Y.

Circulation: 114,502

We’ve all seen pictures of the pope swinging burning incense. I never thought that an innovatively-cropped version of a picture of this might make for a nice front page presentation.

Joanne Sosangelis of Gannett’s Asbury Park studio did, however.


Joanne tells us:

Well, it all started back in …

No, seriously, fellow team leader, Omar Vega, actually pulled the photo. He used a similar image that was horizontal for some of the papers he works with and I ended up choosing the vertical version — knowing that we don’t typically run wall-to-wall centerpieces on my team’s papers.

Rochester originally started with a tall centerpiece (three columns over four), very much like what we ran in Cherry Hill, Vineland and Westchester/Rockland. As the day progressed though, we began toying with losing the skybox and pushing the story up higher. Then we tried having the story above the nameplate, and then even under it, but wall-to-wall — and incorporating the nameplate (in white) into the art.

After showing several different options, our partners in Rochester decided they wanted to go full-page (minus the ad and index space) — and there was no argument from me!

The photo is a 2010 file shot by the Associated Press.

As she mentions, Joanne’s centerpiece found its way today to several other papers designed in that same studio:

130212PopeAsburyParkNJ 130212PopeVinelandNJ 130212PopeCherryHillNJ 130212PopeWestChesterNY

From left, those are:

  • The Asbury Park Press, circulation 98,032
  • The Vineland, N.J., Daily Journal, circulation 12,139
  • The Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, circulation 46,547
  • The While Plains, N.Y., Journal News, circulation 72,764

Find Joanne’s design portfolio here and her Twitter feed here.

And special kudos to the Free Press of Burlington, Vermont, for showing us how this same photo can be put to great use even in a tabloid format.


Average daily circulation of the Burlington Free Press is 30,558.



Lafayette, Ind.

Circulation: 25,531

My favorite front page of the day, however, is this one by yet another Gannett design studio.

I’m not a Catholic, nor am I a particularly religious man to begin with. But this presentation, I feel, is a wonderful blend of spiritual imagery, terrific cropping and design and perfect headline writing.


That page was designed by Cait Palmiter of the Louisville Design Studio. Cait tells us:

The art that was chosen for the page was originally a photo from when Benedict first became pope, but Spencer (Holladay, Indiana team leader) said I should push for something else. I found a couple where he had his back turned because I loved the symbolism of it — him walking away, resigning. I showed them to my copy editor who said they still liked the other one.

I then sent an email explaining the idea to several people including the editor as well as three or four mock-ups that David Leonard created for the Louisville Courier Journal (not to be confused with Lafayette’s Journal and Courier!) and an explanation for why we should use a different photo, showing the Pope’s back.

130212PopeLouisvilleKy  130212PopeLafayetteInd

They came back and agreed! Persistence can pay off!

We used the basic idea of David’s mock-up and I worked with doing something a little more features-like with the headline.

It was a really satisfying page to design and I think the photo choice worked out very well. I credit Spencer with convincing me it was worth pushing, David for finding that photo, and the editors in Lafayette for being open to listening to what I had to say and changing their mind. One of the great things about the design hubs is the group of design-minded people to work with.

Great teamwork. You gotta love it.

Find Cait’s portfolio here and her Twitter feed here.

All of these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.

Looking back at space shuttle Columbia graphics, 10 years ago today

The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas ten years ago today.

The Des Moines Register — where I served as graphics editor — went all-out with a number of breaking news graphics. We did this because: a) We had a strong local angle: An Iowa woman was among the seven astronauts killed that morning. b) I have a strong background in space topics, therefore, I have the ability to plan and research something like this quickly. And c) A number of my staffers came in on a Saturday morning to lend a hand.

This was a bit remarkable because the Register, at the time, distributed its Sunday paper to all 99 counties in Iowa. Drop-dead deadline for the first edition was 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Then, as now, that seemed incredibly early to me.

Here’s a quick look at the double-page spread inside the paper the next day, containing five separate graphics built on deadline. Click for a larger view. But we’ll go into more detail momentarily.


We didn’t win SND awards for our work that day, but that was never the intent. The intent was to explain — in terms our wonderful Iowan readers can understand — what happened and how it all unfolded. After all, it’s a complicated subject: This is rocket science.

I posted a number of these graphics online — I would start my first blogging gig later that spring for the American Press Institute. Several of my friends sent me notes of admiration. Among them was Jay Anthony — at the time, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill — who asked me write up something that could explain to his students how we pulled it off that day.

So five days after the Columbia disaster, I sent Jay a diary-like essay that reconstructed the events of Feb. 1, 2003.

Here — annotated with a few updates, edited as little as possible and illustrated with the work itself — is that essay.



Here is the narrative about how we pulled off Sunday’s first-day coverage of the shuttle Columbia incident.

Feel free to use it any way you wish. I hope it helps your students.

SATURDAY, FEB. 1, 2003

Sharon woke me up around 8:30 a.m. central time, which is pretty early for me on a Saturday. I had promised Sharon and Elizabeth we would go out to buy stuff for Elizabeth’s 10th birthday party, which is next Sunday, and that we’d look for a new microwave.

When I came downstairs, Sharon had breakfast almost ready. I ran downstairs to my office in order to take my morning blood-sugar test. While I’m waiting for the machine to spit out its results, I usually scroll though my messages to see if I received anything important overnight.

Near the bottom of the list — because it had just come in — was a post on my Star Trek toy collecting mail list. The post read:

Re: [PT] OT: Shuttle Columbia destroyed during landing…

Terriblel news… the Shuttle Columiba broke up during reentry over Texas….


My first thought was: Oh, man; that’s not funny. What’s this jackass doing?

Two minutes later, he had posted again:

My first note was full of misspelling because I’m shaking so badly…

I sat there and stared at my screen for a moment. You don’t think, do you, that this guy is serious?

But then I remembered: The shuttle was, in fact, supposed to land this morning. I don’t keep up with shuttle missions like I used to, but I had been watching this one because of the first Israeli astronaut on board, along with an astronaut who had been born in Ames, Iowa.

That’s when the light bulb went on.

I tore up the stairs, brushed Elizabeth away from the TV set, and slammed the channel over to CNN — where, sure enough, they were running the video of the multiple contrails over Dallas.

Sharon leaned over the kitchen rail and said, “I guess that means there are shuttle parts falling all over Dallas.”

I shook my head and told her that at that point, the shuttle is moving at something like 15 times the speed of sound. Those pieces will come down in Louisiana or the Gulf of Mexico.

Since I was already dressed to leave the house, I damn near left then. But I decided to take five minutes to gobble down my breakfast first. I wasn’t sure when I’d eat my next decent meal. While I ate, I ordered Elizabeth to retrieve my briefcase and my empty Poynter book bag from my office. Just a few minutes later, one of my artists — Mark Marturello called. He had seen the news already. I told him to meet me at the office.


Mark was my illustration specialist. I didn’t really know just yet how I might use him. But Mark was the kind of guy who can do damned near anything.

A native of Des Moines and a graduate of Grand View College in Des Moines, Mark spent the early part of his career working for the U.S. government in Fort Knox, Ky. Even by the time I arrived there in 1999, he had worked for the Register for several years, winning tons of awards. He also free-lanced — and still does — for various magazines and art agencies. Find a fan page on Facebook containing samples of his work.

I took the book bag over to the shelf where I keep my space reference books and damn near raked the books into the bag with my forearm. Then I grabbed my coat and dashed out the door.

Sharon said that maybe ten minutes after I left, my boss called to ask me if I could go in to the paper. Sharon tells me she told him, “Shame on you, Gage! You, of all people, should know he’s already there!” Later, I told her that by phrasing it that way, she might have earned me a big raise.


My boss at the time was deputy managing editor Gage Church. A 1986 graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Gage spent four years as a copy editor and page designer for the St. Petersburg Times before moving to the New York Times in 1997. In 1998, he returned to Des Moines to become the Register‘s news editor.

Gage departed in 2006 — three years after I did — earned a master of divinity degree in 2009 from the United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities and served a year as the resident chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. In 2011, he was named pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Ogden, Utah. Gage’s longtime partner, Tim Sharp, was our online editor at the time. Find Gage’s blog here and his Twitter feed here.

I was surprised when I got to the Register — I was the first one in. The only folks in the newsroom were our fax clerk and our obit clerk. I didn’t even know they worked together Saturday mornings. I guess now I have something I can gossip about.

A few reporters had phoned in already and were driving in. I asked the obit clerk to call the two managing editors and our copy desk to make sure they were on their way. I realized most of our desk would be asleep and might not hear about the news for hours.


In my narrative, I refer to Aric West as a “fax clerk,” but that doesn’t really do him justice. Aric was the Radar O’Reilly of the newsroom. He knew everyone, he knew what they were doing and he knew how to help them — sometimes, before they knew it themselves.

Aric really should have been a columnist. Long after I left Des Moines, Aric started a blog in which he documents his life as a downtown resident of a medium-sized midwestern city who refuses to drive, preferring bus and train transportation. And who loves food. Lots and lots of food. Find his blog here and his Twitter feed here.

The fax clerk is a big internet guy, so I asked him to begin combing the NASA web sites. Within minutes, I figured, the rest of the world would descend upon the NASA sites, clogging them up completely. I suggested he download as many high-rez photos, cutlines, biographies and so on that he could get. Later, we calculated that Aric had about 30 minutes of good time before NASA’s main archive ground to a halt.

The next person to arrive was reporter Lynn Okamoto. She’s a real trooper. Later, they put her on one of the best stories we had all day: astronaut Laurel Clark‘s uncle and aunt still live in her birthplace of Ames. Those same folks lost a son on 9/11. Lynn’s story made page 1A and the wires. What a story.


Lynn Okamoto — now, Lynn Campbell — is currently the Des Moines bureau chief for, a subscriber-based service for political news. A 1994 graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lynn spent several years as a reporter for the Des Moines Register. Find her Twitter feed here.

I flipped on my TV — dammit, I had no cassettes for the VCR! — and I began sketching out ideas for graphics, based on nothing more than gut feelings. That’s where I was lucky that this story was on a subject I knew so well. It’s a lot easier to have gut feelings when you’re familiar with the material.

I knew I wanted to do a cut-away of the shuttle. I knew I wanted to diagram a normal re-entry, showing at what point Columbia disappeared. I knew I wanted to tell the history of Columbia, with a chronology of her previous 27 flights. And I knew I wanted to do a breakout of some sort explaining what are the thermal tiles and how they work. I sketched out what these graphics would look like and how I’d play them around stories and jump space.

I knew we had, even without taking the Sunday paper up in size, two open facing color pages (but not a doubletruck). I knew this because I had produced a large diagram showing landowners around the new regional mall under construction, plus a two-page photo montage to run across the top of the package.

Click my actual sketch from that day — with red labels added for the benefit of my editors — for a larger view.


My thought was to jump the 1A story to one page. I figured the tiles would come under scrutiny before the day was out, and that we’d probably have a sidebar. We’d package the tile graphic with that story. I’d string the re-entry piece across the bottom — leaving a gutter between the pages — just like my mall land photo was to go across the top. I’d strip the Columbia chronology down the side in a two-column rail.

While I sketched, I also called my staff and asked them to come in. Scott Kaven was scheduled for the night shift — he was to come in around 2 p.m., but he said he could be in within 45 minutes. Jeff Bash said he’d be there in a half-hour. Matt Chatterley had a pretty important family matter, but he said he could come in for a couple of hours before he had to leave. Katie VanDalsem was on the other side of the state and couldn’t make it in.

So let me introduce you to the rest of my team that day…


When I arrived at the Des Moines Register in the spring of 1999, Jeff Bash — then a student at Grand View College there in Des Moines — had already been hired to be my graphics intern. The problem was: I wanted to bring in only folks who had student journalism experience. Jeff, like so many wonderfully talented Grand View students, was a giften illustrator and designer. But he had never worked on a student paper or touched an infographic.

So what did he to that summer? He worked his ass off and knocked my socks off. That fall, we kept him on part-time, made him full-time that winter and he just stayed on with us through and past graduation the next year. The next time I had a position to fill, he brought me his school buddy Katie. I ended up hiring her as well.

When I left the Register in October 2003, I nominated Jeff to take my place as graphics edtior. By the time the Register laid him off in 2008, he actually served in that position longer than I had.

Jeff now manages a marketing team at Bankers Trust in Des Moines.


I just mentioned the very strong illustration program at Grand View College. Scott’s dad was the professor there.

When I got to the Register, Scott was already a self-taught expert in 3D graphics. The problem was: No one quite knew how to use that skill in the paper. We figured it out, though, and he went from being the rookie night-side locator map guy to one of my biggest weapons.

Scott eventually drifted away from the paper is now works as an animator with Applied Art & Technology, there in Des Moines. Find his Facebook mixed media portfolio page here and his YouTube video page here.

Here’s a picture taken of me with my staff at the Register, later that year.


On the far left is Katie VanDalsem. Like Mark, Jeff and Scott, she was a Grand View graduate. After I left the Register in 2003, Katie got married, changed her name (she’s now Katie Kunert) and became a mom. For a long time, she ran MomsLikeMe, a web site for Des Moines-area mothers.

Of my entire staff, she and Mark are the only two still there. Find Katie’s Twitter feed here.

And second from left is Matt Chatterley. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Matt had spent years himself as the Register‘s graphics editor. During our time together, we found new ways to work (what, in my opinion, were) his two greatest (but underused) specialties into the paper: His watercolor skills and his research and writing skills.

In 2000, he wrote a book — Wend Your Way: A Guide to Sites Along the Iowa Mormon Trail. I fondly remember the day he came to me and sheepishly asked for time off so he could be interviewed by a life radio talk show. Dude, are you kidding me? As a content-driven graphics editor, I was delighted to have a published author on my staff.

I’ve lost track of him now, but last I heard, he had moved back to Utah and was working as a trainer for the DTI company. That seems like a great fit. Matt is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. I’ll bet he’s a fabulous teacher.

OK, I think that’s it for introductions. Back to our narrative…

Missing Matt and Katie would be a big problem later when it came time to write text for the graphics — they are my two big researchers. Since they were both MIA, I was forced to research and write every word for every graphic. That’s in addition to art directing, editing, dealing with the copy desk, co-ordinating with the rest of the newsroom…

Then I started pulling out my books and marking pages with post-its. Because I’ve worked so many breaking news stories before, I already knew the old trick of making sure I write, on the edge of each post-it, what is on that page. If you don’t do this, you wind up with a book with 15 or 16 post-its sticking out of it and no idea which is which: “Which one of these stickynotes was the diagram of the landing gear…?”

About that time, my staff started arriving. As soon as I saw Mark, I gave him my largest shuttle references and I asked him to get started on a large cut-away diagram. Mark’s okay with hard news, but he really excels at illustration. I figured we’d do this as a illustrative piece, rather than as a technical drawing-type of piece. I told Mark to Illustrate, to use color — the shuttle is black-and-white; we’d need color to keep the page lively — and to think of it as less a diagram and more of an illustration for a children’s book. I sketched out a page and a size for him and turned him loose.

Next, Matt came in. Since I only had him for a short while, I asked him to draw maps of Racine, Wisconsin (Laurel Clark was from Ames, but she grew up in Racine) and of the east Texas area where debris, unbelievably enough, was still falling, a couple of hours later.

Scott showed up next. Scott’s a big 3-D artist, so I chose him to do the meatiest piece of the day: The step-by-step of re-entry. I toyed with the idea of having Scott work on the big drawing, but I know from experience that good, detailed 3-D art takes a long time to build and a long time to “render” in high-rez form. So I put Scott on the piece that would need several little shuttles. I wanted them at all sorts of odd angles. If Scott built them as 3-D models, we could tilt and turn ’em to our heart’s content. I sketched out what I was looking for, gave him some reference and turned him loose, too.


A quick note about reference: In addition to the two-dozen or so books I toted in, I also had my file folders of space and shuttle stuff. I have four enormous legal-width file cabinets at home with all sorts of crap in ’em. And I’ve kept this stuff over the years for occasions just like these. In my shuttle file, for example, I have an enormous clip file from Columbia‘s first mission in 1981. I also have Time magazine’s issue covering that mission. I also have the instructions to a Monogram-brand model kit of Columbia I built one summer during my college years in the early 1980s.


130201ShuttleModelKit03 130201ShuttleModelKit02

Those model instructions came in very handy. Scott used them as the basis for his 3-D rendering. Mark was using the Time magazine piece and some of my books.

When Jeff arrived, he and I both jumped on various NASA web sites to see what technical stuff we could pull off before the site ground to a halt.

The term now, of course, is “scrape.”

Here was the way the basic shuttle archive portal page looked in 2003:


Click on any particular mission — the last flight of Columbia was called STS-107 — and you get a gallery of shots in high resolution, along with cutline material.


In case you’re interested, here is that very page now.

It was important to copy the cutline material into a text file. For some reason, NASA didn’t embed that info into the “file info” field of its Photoshop documents. And they still don’t, last I checked.

Unfortunately, I had waited too late — the sites were at a crawl. I managed to snag one nice high-rez photo of Laurel Clark, working on an experiment on SpaceHab — in Columbia‘s cargo bay — back on Monday.


I grabbed the photo — remembering to also download the cutline — and passed it along to the copy desk. I was tickled to learn later the copy desk used it, four columns wide, in a color spot.

While that was very nice, this is the one I wish I had stumbled across before the NASA site crashed:


Unfortunately, I didn’t get my hands on that picture until a day or two later, when NASA revived its web site.

What I really wanted was access to all the technical drawings NASA distributes on its “Human Spaceflight” info and picture galleries. I wanted a good close-up of the tiles and I wanted historical photos of all the orbiter vehicles. And I really really wanted schematics that showed the four types of thermal tiles and coverings on the exterior of Columbia — which may be different from the exteriors of the other orbiters — and what temperatures each can withstand.

What I wanted was something like this, which I pulled much later from that same online archive:


But no luck. NASA’s Manned Spaceflight server was jammed.

So I went to plan B — I had Jeff scan a diagram, from one of my old space shuttle books, that showed actual temperatures experienced by a shuttle during a mission in the 1980s.


This particular book had cost me a whole dollar and 98 cents years ago in a book warehouse. It was a crappy book — the entire thing consisted of NASA handout photos and diagrams. Most of the text was typed in directly from technical manuals. This book dated from the early 90s. The info might be outdated somewhat, but it was all I had.

Not only was this book cheap, it still has the $1.98 price tag on it.


Matt dropped by to tell me he had to go. He gave me a finished Racine map — which we used in the first edition but not the final — and a map of East Texas showing the debris field that was being reported at that time. He also took the liberty of taking care most of our other, non-shuttle related graphic corrections for us, which the first copy desk staffers to arrive were sharp enough to bring back early.

Jeff kept busy by building page headers for the inside pages.


He used the same icon-photo of Columbia to build a similar header for the top of 1A.


Normally, I’d weigh in on the design of 1A — or actually help build it — but I was too far up to my neck in technical printouts and books.

Around this time, the managing editor stopped by to look over my sketches — he signed off of them as is — and to ask me to give a reporter a hand. Often, shuttles perform experiments on behalf of the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. What, he asked, is the best way, without cold-calling science professors at home and without trying to call the NASA media relations switchboard, to find out if there were any Iowa experiments on board Columbia?

The STS-107 PDF media guide on the NASA site was obviously unreachable. But were there any mirror sites? A quick Google search turned up, which would prove extremely valuable later. I printed a list of the experiment fact sheets and delivered them to the reporter, who was sort of stunned that it took us maybe five minutes to find something on which he had spent a solid hour.

So now it was time to begin writing. I decided to start with the meatiest piece, the re-entry graphic. It took me maybe 15 minutes to write the text about how a normal re-entry occurs. I used the general, boilerplate stats NASA hands out in its press kits. I put in a line that said something like “At this point, Columbia breaks up and debris rains on East Texas…” The text went on to show how the shuttle was supposed to land.

But then I decided to poke around the mission profile page at Perhaps they’d have more precise numbers about Columbia‘s planned trajectory.

That’s when I found what the site calls the “Mission Status Center.” What it was, essentially, was a “blog.”

Reading back over this, ten years later, I’m amused at how unfamiliar I was at the time with blogging. Here’s what SpaceFlightNow looked like at the time.


Even more hilariously, I go on to explain to Jay and his students what is a blog and how a blog works, even referring to an article Poynter posted at the time.

Surely by now, you’ve all read the piece on the Poynter website about the reporters at Florida Today who keep a “blog” of shuttle missions. Their “blog” has been cited as a good primary source by a number of journalists. What these guys do is hang out in the press room at NASA with their laptop. During a mission, NASA constantly gives verbal updates on what’s happening. These guys simply type that information into their “blog” and post it immediately.

Florida Today is owned by Gannett, the same company that owns the Des Moines Register. So I wish I could tell you that I found this particular “blog,” which [was] still available at, helpful.

But it wasn’t. I found the one at better. I damn near stood up and cheered when it popped onto my screen.

Here is a screencap of the blog, at a point minutes before Columbia broke apart.


Using this “blog,” I was able to construct a detailed, minute-by-minute account of what happened to Columbia that morning. As always, I left out the fluff and concentrated on the good stuff. I folded in pertinent background material, a few sentences from the latest AP report, and I shipped it off to Scott. Now, Scott could see what text he was illustrating. I sketched out the re-entry fire effect and the banked-turn effect I wanted and I left him to complete his rendering.

Here’s how that graphic turned out. These are horizontal, so they’ll look tiny here on your screen. Click either of them for a much larger view.

Here’s the left side of the spread…


…and here’s the one for the right side of the spread.


I might add that the purple background didn’t cut off abruptly like you see here. It faded out slowly, running behind the stories above it.

Next, I checked in to see how Mark was doing. Mark really caught me by surprise — I wanted an illustrative look to the cutaway, but Mark — as is his custom — had taken it to the next level. He drew in pencil on vellum, scanned that into Photoshop and was painting under his drawing. For some reason, I had pictured a yellowish or yellow-brown drawing on a background that would fade to white — Perhaps I had Leonardo DiVinci‘s drawings in mind. But Mark had put the shuttle on a deep blue/black background. And he had turned the shuttle in a different direction than I had expected.

Okay, no problem. I mentally changed my sketch to move the shuttle from the upper left of the spread to the upper left. And I told Mark to extend the background color another two inches up — I figured we could reverse the headline out of the color.

Again, here’s my sketch with the shuttle in the upper right…


…and here’s the finished spread with the shuttle in the upper left.


I coached Mark on a few technical items — he had the seats misplaced, just a bit — and I went back to my desk to write copy blocks for his piece.

The idea was to keep the cut-away simple as possible. I tried to compile data about all the rocket engines on Columbia, but gave up after I realized how long the text would run. It took me maybe an hour to write the text for Mark.

Here is Mark’s finished piece. Click for a larger view.


Around this same time, I started compiling text for the Columbia chronology. Columbia had flown 28 missions, including this one. While NASA’s main servers were choked, I discovered the Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center sites were still operating. I found at the KSC site a directory of all Columbia‘s missions. I spent maybe 90 minutes writing a detailed history of the orbiter… so when I gave it to Jeff, he discovered I had written waaaay too much.

Dammit. More wasted time. By now, it was coming up on 4 p.m. I needed to be done by 6:30 or so to make our 7:30 first edition deadline. I was running out of time.

The guys suggested we get a pizza to go from the Marriott, next door. I had forgotten to eat, which is probably one reason I was starting to feel drained. That’s one bad thing about diabetes — you can’t let yourself miss a meal. We got the pizzas and stuffed them down without really missing much drawing time.

Not long after, the managing editor pulled the copy desk and the department heads together for a quick budget meeting. I learned that our news editor, on vacation in Milwaukee, had driven down to Racine to write about Clark’s home. Not only that, we also had a reporter on vacation in Texas. He drove to Nacogdoches to write about the debris that fell there.

One of our columnists offered to write a “bonus” column. When the editor accepted, the columnist sheepishly admitted he had written it first and then offered it. The entire newsroom pulled together to cover the story and to work all the local angles. Astronaut Peggy Whitson, another Iowa native, was visiting her folks this weekend. Donald Pettit [who, at that very moment was on the International Space Station] is the son of a former Des Moines police chief. We had local angles coming out of our ears.

While Jeff struggled with my history text, I wrote the tiles text. That went pretty quickly. I never did find a good tile photo to run with that piece, so Jeff asked me if we could scan a photo from my $1.98 shuttle book. The photo was originally a NASA handout photo and therefore was in the public domain — why not just “steal” it? We put a NASA credit on it and let it rip.

Here is the finished tiles graphic.


Note the “stolen” NASA handout photo at the bottom left. It frustrated me greatly to not have access to the NASA photo archive. Even in 2003, I was addicted to easy internet access for my research.

Here is the source for the temperature info again, side-by-side with the finished graphic.

130201ShuttleTilesSource 130201ShuttleTiles

We trimmed my history enough to work in a large sidebar on the entire shuttle fleet. There have been five shuttles total; the loss of Challenger and Columbia make three left. Jeff found photos of all five in the Register‘s in-house photo archive.

Here’s the finished history of Columbia chronology, with a tint box pullout of the entire NASA shuttle fleet.


By now, we were getting close. Scott and I tweaked text and image placement on the re-entry piece. He ran out of time for first edition, so he had to go without the flaming re-entry effects I wanted, which made the first-edition version look rather bare. We got them in for final, though.

One thing Scott did that I loved was to add a background gradient behind the re-entry steps. When I first saw it, I thought: Whoah, waaay much purple! But when I put a color print by a print of Mark’s cutaway, I realized the colors tied together well. When Mark added just a touch of brick red to his piece and Scott added the red/orange flames, the pages really started to come together.


Tint boxes behind the tiles and shuttle fleet graphics were colored a neutral taupe, which seemed to balance the purples and brick reds. And the surface temperature graphic added a splash of color as well. Mark, Scott and Jeff worked together to work out a palette that worked well on the same facing pages. And they did it while I was busy writing.

After Mark printed his cutaway for the desk, an editor pointed out that Columbia didn’t carry its robot arm on this mission — that’s why the astronauts couldn’t examine the exterior of Columbia for missing tiles [checking became routine for all subsequent shuttle flights]. Mark blotted out the arm in his Photoshop file and removed my text box. Later, Mark mentioned that he really, really thought the arm helped fill some of the space above the drawing and under the headline, so I had him put back his original version for second edition and I rewrote the text box to say the arm didn’t fly this time.

While I was busy editing the big pieces, one of the guys gave our Texas map to the copy desk. We never did get around to updating the debris field on the map. That’s something we really screwed up — the actual field was south of what we showed. It didn’t occur to me the map needed fixing until the next day.

When we got back the first edition page proofs, I saw where AP had moved a brief chronology from NASA showing when the data had dropped off their computers, the temperature in the left wheel well rising, and so on. The sidebar ended with President George W. Bush‘s quote, “Columbia is lost,” which I thought was an odd way to end a chronology. Also, our copy desk had chosen to leave the times in the Eastern time that AP had used, while all our graphics were in Central time.

I asked the night news editor if he’d agree to kill that sidebar for second and allow me to build a new graphic that took the substantive “left-side data” info and put it with a drawing of Columbia‘s left side. We could do this for second edition, I said. The editor agreed, so I quickly rewrote the AP text, which Jeff paired with a stock shuttle drawing from Gannett News Service.

Here’s our quickie graphic redoux for second edition of an AP text sidebar that ran in first.


I sent my staff home around 10 p.m., after nearly 12 hours of work. I stayed around another three hours, sending our graphics to the Gannett News Service and making corrections between second and final editions. For example, we corrected the spelling in the headline for Scott’s piece: “Fiery,” not “Firey.” Hell, how often do I use that word? *Sigh*

And I had plenty of time to fix that damn map but never thought about it.

I didn’t get to bed until 3 a.m. Sunday.

When I saw the final edition the next morning, I sure was happy with everything. My guys had really kicked ass. Page one — with which I had virtually nothing to do — looked great.

Here was the Register‘s page one the next day, designed — as I recall — by design director Lyle Boone.


I thought 1A was terrific — the design and photos were great, but I really loved the heds: “16 minutes from home, spacecraft erupts in ruin.” Wow, what an evocative headline.

I didn’t go in at all Sunday. There was a press conference late Sunday that revealed even more details about the possibility of ice or insulation from the shuttle’s external tank damaging tiles on the orbiter during launch. I sketched out a graphic and thought of whipping something up, but with driving time and all, I would miss first and second editions and not really have time to do anything good for final.

We held the idea and used it, with even more fresh stuff Monday, for Tuesday’s paper. Even with “old” news, I almost sold the graphic for Tuesday’s 1A. We ran it on 2A where I got more room anyway, since four columns on a six-grid is larger than four on a Gannett-style seven-grid.

This was the story to which I referred to here. These are frame grabs from a NASA surveillance video of the launch of Columbia. Focus on the brown-colored tank, just below Columbia’s belly.


Here, there’s a light-colored puff in that spot that wasn’t there before. This, NASA said, was probably part of the insulation on that tank, peeling off and impacting on the leading edge of Columbia‘s left wing.


Here, that bit falls away to the left, away from Columbia‘s wing. Presumably, after bouncing off of it.


But what are you looking at, exactly? The picture is zoomed in a bit too much for someone who’s not used to staring at a model kit of the shuttle to understand, perhaps. So I asked Matt Chatterley to complete the scene around the picture with watercolors. We built that into the left side of our graphic for Tuesday’s paper.


So we have the rendering with which to orient yourself, the three frame grabs and then a repeat of some of the tick-tock info we had used earlier to explain how an impact on a wing might have resulted in a structural failure when it was time for Columbia to come home.

Along the right side is a tiny bit that explains just what that big, orange-brown thing is in the first place: An external fuel tank for Columbia‘s main engines. Just a few minutes after launch, the tank falls off into the Atlantic Ocean.

The next Friday, Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine reported that the Air Force had taken a long, long, long-range photo of Columbia moments before it broke up. The picture seems to show the orbiter with a misshapen left wing. Meaning the hole caused by the falling foam insulation might have been quite large.

Here’s the graphic I worked up with Katie VanDalsem, who finally got to work on something for this story. She had been out of town the previous weekend.


Yes, that’s the left wing in the little picture.  The shuttle is moving from lower left to upper right.  You’re looking at it from below.

Note the rail along the left side of the graphic. I finally got to explain the five types of thermal protection that normally kept Columbia from burning up during reentry.

My final visual contribution to this story came later still, when we ran a profile of LeRoy Cain, who had been flight director in Houston when Columbia broke up. Turned out that he, too, was from Iowa. I found this picture of him in the NASA archives


…but even more interestingly, I found this picture posted, a few days later, in the archive for that last flight of Columbia.


That’s Mission Control in Houston, obviously. But look at the map on the right. Note the change in color right over the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Look at the body language on the little guy standing there at his console.

That was taken just as controllers realized something was amiss.

We were careful not to make too many assumptions in the cutline, but we also ran that in the Register. The same day it was in print, the New York Times ran the same photo. Great minds and all.

The lesson: Don’t wait for the wires to move the photos you need (or, in this case, the photos you don’t yet know that you need). Find the original source of government handout photos (NASA or the Dept. of Defense online archives, the official White House Flickr feed and so on) and monitor those. It just might give you a head-start over everyone else.

Now, back to my letter to Jay…

And that’s how we provided all that graphic coverage of the Columbia disaster.

Afterwards, I sent a batch of our stuff off to Poynter, thinking they’d post a page of shuttle graphics. They used some from Atlanta and from Tampa and Minneapolis, but that was about it. I thought our stuff stacked up pretty well against the rest, but what do I know? For some reason, Poynter didn’t post it. So I tried to upload samples to, but even that resulted in broken image links.

In frustration, I built a little mini-web page with my own website space. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed with responses from folks. A sampling:

From Charlotte Carl-Mitchell:

Wow! I’m very impressed with what you and your staff did in such a short time. Even though people think of the Internet and TV as being the most visual news sources, you’ve shown that you can have the best of both – the in-depth analysis that newspapers are known for as well as eye-catching graphics. Congratulations. It’s in times of tragedy, we see how much we need such sources of information.

From Bart Jarmusch:

I read through the info you posted on your website, and I have to say that you and the staff of your paper did a terrific job in explaining the disaster and the relevant workings of the shuttle.  I checked out the links to the articles, and those were very well done too.  I wish our local paper had this kind of talent.  Great work, especially considering the traumatic circumstances.

From Chris Prescott:

…great coverage of the shuttle story by your paper.  You and your whole department deserve a big thumbs up.  It was very informative but didn’t go over your head with scientific jargon.

From Robert Porter, a former NASA employee:

Nice stuff on the website.  Thanks for sharing.  It’s very much appreciated.

From Naru Williams:

…I have read your graphic and article explaining it.  I wish to tell you that I enjoyed them very well. I graduated from UNC-CH this past May, with a major in journalism, my concentration being graphic design. From a designer’s standpoint, the graphics are informative, sensative to the story, and pull the reader to read the article itself, much like all good graphics are supposed to do. …Keep doing that good job Mr. Apple, and tell Matt Chatterley, Jeff Bash, Scott Kaven, Mark Marturello, John Carlson, Lynn Okamoto, Angela Bragg and Lyle Boone they did a job well done.

From former Register artist Lisa Frasier, now a senior editorial artist at the Orlando Sentinel [now, in fact, Lisa is a freelance designer in Orlando]:

Thanx for allowing me to look at your pages at another site. You all did an excellant job!

From Michael Dabrowa, graphics editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution [and now a communications manager for an Atlanta law firm]:

great stuff Charles, i especially liked the shuttle-temps graphic.

From Chris Kirkman, assistant art director of the Washington Post [and now a card and board game publisher in Chapel Hill, N.C., and an adjunct instructor at UNC]:

Great looking graphics for Sunday’s paper! I’m a big fan of the “sketched” shuttle (I’m a big pencil art kinda guy), and the “Fiery Descent” graphic is excellent.  …just wanted to send some compliments your way. Best of luck with the continuing disaster investigation.

From Daryl Moen, professor at the University of Missouri and writer of textbooks on newspaper design:

Charles: terrific work. What I like about the front page is that it pairs the shuttle picture with people react pictures. Too many pages left out the human aspect, and there is no emotional impact without it.

From Eva Finley, my mother:

George and I were in Houston yesterday when the rocket exploded. It was chaos there. ABC set up their base station in the hotel where we were staying… we were only about one mile from the Space Center. I looked for you today when they had the debriefing at 3:30. I just knew you’d represent the Register because you know so much about those rockets. Ha!

I hope this little exercise will be somewhat illuminating for those of you hoping to go into infographics as a career. It’s hectic at times, but the feeling of accomplishment you get after a day like this… wow. I feel like we did our readers some good.

Thanks for reading.

Charles Apple

Graphics editor, the Des Moines Register

Feb. 6, 2003

Man, that seems like a million years ago now.

In some of the presentations I give, I’ll tell my students about the work we did that day in Des Moines and I’ll sum up with a list of lessons learned. Perhaps the biggest one was this…

Be proactive.

If I had pulled in my staff and waited for an editor to come along and “order up some graphics,” we’d have lost hours and hours. Instead, I recognized the significance of the breaking news, I recognized it as a topic I know pretty well, and I knew my editors trusted me to jump into action. My incredibly talented staff trusted me enough to jump along with me.

So when the managing editor and the AMEs came rolling in a few hours later, they found I had assumed the shopping mall story would hold, I had drawn up a new plan to use that space and we were already hip-deep in research and production. In my mind, the key moment of the day was when the managing editor looked at my sketch, damned near said “wow,” and then nodded and told me to go for it.



That’s how you manage a proactive manager. That’s how you encourage proactive thinking.

I’m not sure we do enough of that these days. Especially at the level of the regional, mid-sized paper.

This has been a big week for space disaster historians.

  • And that picture of Columbia falling back to Earth on the front of the next day’s Register? That ran in 1,400 newspapers the next day. Read more about it here.

Today’s genius sports front is brought to you by…

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this sports front from today’s Des Moines Register.

Other than: 1) It was designed by Jeremy Gustafson, sports team leader at the Gannett design studio in Des Moines. And 2) It’s pure genius.


Creative director Nathan Groepper tells me that Jeremy…

…was responsible for coming up with that great headline, too.

Both the headline and the design are perfect.

Find more of Jeremy’s portfolio here. Find his Twitter feed here.

While you’re admiring that, take a moment to slide over to my former Register colleague Kyle Munson‘s column about Lance Armstrong. Like a lot of bicycle-crazy folks in Iowa, Kyle really admired Armstrong. The dateline on Kyle’s column today:


Find the column here.

Average daily circulation of the Des Moines Register is 101,915.

UPDATE: 1:45 p.m. ET

Someone in another forum pointed out the similarity between Jeremy’s work here and pages out on the west coast. That turned out to be the front of today’s Los Angeles Daily News, designed by my friend Brian Harr.


Very nice indeed.

Average daily circulation for the Daily News is 94,016.

That front page is from the Newseum. Of course.

Today’s best Fiscal Cliff front pages

I got a bit of mileage late last night with this attempt at humor:


Because of the lateness of the vote, perhaps, only a few papers — even some on the East Coast — managed to put together pleasing and interesting front-page treatments today that focused on the Fiscal Cliff vote.

Here’s a look at the most notable…


New York, N.Y.

The New York Post today was fairly complimentary: The deal passed when a number of Republicans broke ranks and took a “leap of faith” that this was the right thing to do last night.

130101CliffNewYorkPost 130101CliffNewYorkDailyNews

The Daily News, on the other hand, acknowledged the passing of the “stopgap deal,” but is holding a grudge for the House not voting on aid for Sandy victims.

It should be noted the Daily News lost its headquarters building to Sandy. So perhaps they can be forgiven for calling Congress “D.C. dolts.”

Average daily circulation for the Post is 555,327. The Daily News circulates 579,636 papers daily.


Bakersfield, Calif.

Circulation: 42,374

Speaking of tabloids, one just has to admire the choice of this photo for the front of today’s Bakersfield newspaper.


Wow. What a smirk. You can just see Republican blood pressure going up, can’t you?

The photo — taken last night, minutes after the vote — is by Charles Dharapak of the Associated Press.


Charlotte, N.C.

Circulation: 146,511

I like the photo here by T.J. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. And I like the idea of breakout boxes citing features of the compromise.


What I don’t quite get: Circles? Why are these text snippets placed into circles?

At first glance, I wondered if this was some sort of bubble chart. I think it’s just an attempt to bring some life to the page.

Not necessary. Distracting, even.


Norfolk, Va.

Circulation: 142,476

The best headline treatment of the day was this one, by my old colleagues at the Virginian-Pilot.


“Done deal” makes a dandy headline. Having the official vote tally over to the side is a nice touch.

The Pilot gets bonus points, however, for including a sidebar that cited some of the criticism of the compromise: That there were some “pork barrel”-type items included.

It’s a great sidebar. But what’s even better is the headline on it.

Everyone loves the Pilot‘s design. But the folks there don’t get enough credit for their clever headline writing.


Wilmington, Del.

Circulation: 83,210

Normally, I ask folks to stay away from needlessly reversing stories out of black. By definition, reversed text is more difficult to read than regular text.

But, as you can see here, going with a reversed centerpiece is a great way to add a lot of visual punch to a package that might otherwise seem a bit static.


What really makes that page sing, however, is the treatment of the three photos. Those very inventive crops made for a terrific page today.


Des Moines, Iowa

Circulation: 101,915

My favorite front-page treatment of last night’s Fiscal Cliff vote, however, is this one by another of my former papers, the Des Moines Register.


Do we really need to see another picture of Eric Cantor and John Boehner? Do we really need to see another picture of Barack Obama? Probably not. This great illustration by my old friend Mark Marturello told the story well and it puts a smile on your face.


Fun stuff.

UPDATE – 4 p.m.

Nathan Groepper — creative director of Gannett’s design studio in Des Moines — spotted this blog post this morning and writes:

Thanks for the mention on your blog this morning. I know Mark was pretty proud of his illustration.

I thought you might find it interesting that we ran two different versions of Mark’s illustration last night. The first page was for State Edition, which is sent to the plant here in Des Moines around 8:40 [This would be 8:40 Central Time, or 9:40 p.m. Eastern].

Here’s that earlier version:


At that point, the editors knew a deal might be close, but the House hadn’t passed anything yet. (You may notice the Uncle Sam has a different expression and his strings have been cut.)

130101CliffDesMoinesFace01  130101CliffDesMoinesFace02

The second page (happier face, strings intact) for Metro Edition is the one you featured.

120102CliffDesMoinesEarly  130101CliffDesMoinesIowa

Before the holidays, Mark prepared both versions of the illustrations to cover both potential outcomes. Credit for the planning goes to Iowa Team Leader Kelli Brown and the Register editors. Designer Liv Anderson was responsible for today’s cover.

These front pages are all from the Newseum. Of course.

Today’s five best Election Day front pages

Let’s start today’s roundup with one I do not like: This one from the New York Post that I’d call less of a newspaper front page and more of an editorial.

I don’t have a problem with page-one editorials per se — in fact, I’ve been known to praise them from time to time. But an editorial should be labeled as such.

On the other hand: This is the New York Post. So ’nuff said, perhaps…


Chicago, Ill.

Free distribution: 250,000

RedEye‘s Trent J. Koland built these wonderfully graphic dual portraits of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for today’s front page.

Trent tells us:

We have a very stylized way of doing things over at the RedEye, so I didn’t want their portraits to be super lifelike. I wanted something that would jump out of the box at readers, and also something that would be good for sharing on social media. I wanted it to look like the candidates were making one last appeal for votes, and looking directly at the readers is a great way to show that.

The versus headline came late, but I think it works great. Says what it needs to and lets the art be as catchy as it can be. I think it feels very RedEye.

That was kind of the flipside to the cover Trent illustrated for Monday’s edition.

Find more of Trent’s work in his NewsPageDesigner portfolio.


Chicago, Ill.

Circulation: 414,590

RedEye‘s bigger sister — the Tribune — also put huge, wonderful portraits out front today.

Assistant managing editor Joe Knowles tells us:

The illustration is a by a freelancer, Chris Gall. We also did illustrations back in 2008, and thought we’d try it again with a slightly different style, more suitable to our new look.


The 2008 illustrations…

…were done by a member of the RedEye staff, Jessica Randklev, which they used on separate covers. We adapted them slightly for our front.

We thought it was a better alternative than file art, or shots from the day’s campaign events… we wanted something grander, more epic.

Find more of Chris Gall’s work here.


Las Vegas, Nev.

Distribution: 220,619

Speaking of dual portraits, check out the gorgeous wrap-around cover of today’s Las Vegas Sun.

Senior designer Liz Brown tells us:

I started thinking about this approach a few months ago. I’d seen other papers present similar layouts for other topics, but the Sun hasn’t in recent years, which made it fresh enough to execute in our region.

It took a bit to convince the editors. There was a lot if discussion on how exactly to handle the election this year because we are a digital-first organization. Our print is also in unique situation in that we are inserted into our competitor. So not only do we have to stand out, but we have a deadline disadvantage because we are printed first.

My approach was go big, go beautiful to get their attention, give them a bit of information to add value to our print, and then direct them to the web where we know our numbers will be fresh.

Page three was handled as a standard front page, flag and all, with jumps on the remaining internal pages. Readers get the daily community news they expect from us each day and the political wrap that can be removed either of election annoyance or to take to the polls.

I painted the candidates in watercolor throughout the last week referencing a stack of photos from each of these guys. Then, our political team compiled statistics and quick hit type things. We picked items from those offerings and put this together.

The hope is people will appreciate it, even if they are sick of politics. Even better, that it will be a bouncing off point to our live web coverage.

Find the Sun‘s web site here.


Nashville, Tenn.

Circulation: 118,589

And then we have this wonderfull-inspired full-page illustration by Merry Eccles of the Gannett Design Studio in Nashville for today’s Tennessean.

I asked Merry about the page. She replied:

I took my inspiration from this awesome inside page we ran.

No, no. Seriously…

It mostly came down to Scott Stroud, the politics and government editor. We threw out some ideas on riffing off the original thirteen colonies but thought that might be too complicated.  Scott had a few good ideas about using the states in some way. We thought about a couple different options: One was reconfiguring the thirteen states to attempt the general outline of the existing US map, or two, the question mark shape.

After pitching it to the creative director Javier [Torres], editors and managers, we determined that the question mark illustration would more graphic, we could run it bigger, giving it more impact, and it would incorporate the other elements on the page better.

Find more of Merry’s work here.


Cleveland, Ohio

Circulation: 246,571

The biggest talker of the day, perhaps, is this unusual front page by the folks at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Make sure you click this for a much larger view.

Assistant managing editor David Kordalski explains:

We typically don’t like to do the two big headshot pages that are common on presidential or gubernatorial election day fronts, so early on we started planning to do something different with the Tuesday front page. The idea was to do something that might motivate all voters — regardless of affiliation — to get off their duffs and participate in the most important way a citizen can.

Initially, [designer] Emmet [Smith] was thinking we could solicit comment and capture tweets as to why people vote, then we’d build around them. He even did several drafts, and we started capturing content with the hashtag #whyIvote.

But shortly after we decided to jump on the notion — and after we sold editor Debra Adams Simmons and managing editor Thom Fladung on the approach — Emmet improved on the concept, as he is wont to do.

Art director and illustrator Chris Morris captured what they’re calling “the moment of inspiration” with this picture of Emmet, demonstrating his idea.

David continues:

We asked photo tech and sometime photographer Allison Carey to go over to Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland, along with “subject wranglers” Felesia M. Jackson and Greg Burnett. The trio was armed with a ream of paper, a couple clipboards and big markers… and their marching orders were to get a diverse group of people to share why they vote, not for whom they are voting.



As you can see by the result, Allison, Felesia and Greg were pretty persuasive. In shortly over three hours, they had 56 usable pictures.

Emmet’s early drafts built around the tweets were our backup plan if the pictures didn’t pan out. Of course, they did.



Sadly, this is Emmet’s last concept piece, as he begins his new role as rock critic this week. We borrowed him for a last hurrah. Maybe, if enough designers hold their lighted cell phones aloft, we might bring him back for an encore!



Here’s another one you’ll want to click in order to get a closer look.

That’s a timeline in today’s Des Moines Register recapping the entire Election 2012 cycle, from the perspective of Iowans. Who, as you know, see even more politics than many of the rest of us.

This is from my former associates, master illustrator Mark Marturello and researcher/visual journalist Katie Kunert.

Average daily circulation of the Register is 101,915.



I loved the treatment today on the front of the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.

You’re looking at a standard U.S. Election Day eve electoral map, with a bit of artistic flourish added — but not enough to distract from the info. The bar chart across the top shows the expected vote tallies for the two candidates. Toss-up votes are shown in yellow.

The really cool part here, though, is the quick roundup of the latest polls downpage.

Were there other, more visual ways to present this material? Certainly. But this ain’t bad at all.

Average daily circulation for the Clarion-Ledger is 57,710.

In addition, I was shown a really cool guide-to-tonight’s results-type graphic that ran in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. If anyone there could send me a PDF — and design credits, of course — I’d be glad to post it here. What I saw of it looked terrific.

Pages from the Chicago Tribune, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Las Vegas Sun are from those respective papers. The rest are from the Newseum. Of course.

Singers, coaches, referees and thieves: Ten notable Thursday front pages

Here are ten front pages worthy of your attention today…


Des Moines, Iowa

Circulation: 101,915

Singer Andy Williams died Thursday. Did you know he was a native of Iowa? I did, but only because I lived in Iowa for five years.

The Register honored Williams with a large illustration on the front today.

The page was designed by Erin Baker Crabb. The illustration is by my old friend Mark Marturello, who often switches back-and-forth between Photoshop and Painter on a piece like this.

Mark tells us:

This illustration was done with just Photoshop — didn’t have time to work with Painter. I have an Iowa Poll illustration this Sunday where I use both Photoshop and Painter.

I do like to work from time to time with just Photoshop — [it has] plenty of texture brushes that are really great to work with.

Here’s a closer look.

Also, let me point out the skybox across the top of the page:

The huge pork shortage coming this winter you read so much about this week? It’s a “bunch of hogwash,” reports the Register‘s Dan Piller. There will be a shortage in Europe next year due to changing regulations. The supply here won’t be affected. And prices in the U.S. fluctuate as much as 10 percent anyway.

So relax: Your chocolate-covered bacon is safe. And so is your bacon-covered chocolate.


Springfield, Mo.

Circulation: 35,531

Nathan Groepper — creative director of the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines — suggested:

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out the Andy Williams cover Springfield put together. He was big in Branson.

Unfortunately, the News-Leader didn’t contribute its front to the Newseum today. But Nathan was kind enough to send a PDF my way.

The picture is file art from 2010. The page was designed by Season Schafer of the Des Moines studio.


Omaha, Neb.

Circulation: 135,223

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a legendary football coach announced he would step down at the end of this season.

The front-page picture here is by staffer Rebecca S. Gratz.

The page was designed by Brady Jones.


Lincoln, Neb.

Circulation: 55,398

The University of Nebraska is located in Lincoln. Here’s how the hometown paper played the story.

I love the picture by the Journal Star‘s Francis Gardler. Here’s a closer look.


Hazleton, Pa.

Circulation: 20,008

In Hazleton, Pa., the centerpiece story today was about a local piece about teen suicide — a notoriously difficult topic to illustrate. The Standard-Speaker went with a four-year-old file illustration from McClatchy-Tribune Graphics.

The illustration is by Val Mina, former features art director for the Sacramento Bee. Find more of Val’s work for MCT here.


Lafayette, Ind.

Circulation: 25,531

I suspect this giant A1 illustration — for a story on the ongoing housing crisis — is also stock or wire.

However, I can find no credit to confirm this.

Nicely-designed page, though. If anyone could tell me who put it together, I’d appreciate it.


Green Bay, Wis.

Circulation: 41,769

And, not surprisingly, the end of the NFL officials lockout is the big story today in Green Bay.

The picture there is either file or stock — I’d guess the latter. NFL uniforms have been completely redesigned in recent years. Compare that art with a little pic at the bottom of today’s USA Today:


The page was designed by Don Renfroe of the Gannett studio in Des Moines.


Las Vegas, Nev.

Distribution: 220,619

I’m not sure the folks at the Las Vegas Sun even know the meaning of the words “stock art agency.” If you have former Sun art director Chris Morris — now a master illustrator for the Cleveland Plain Dealer — on retainer as a regular freelancer, you don’t need stock art.

Brilliant stuff as usual from Chris.


McLean, Va.

Circulation: 1,817,446

USA Today went with another very tall tab chart on page one today.

I love how the paper is introducing these odd shapes on the front. Unusual shapes can make for unusual pages.

I just wish the paper could find a way to represent data like this visually. As opposed to just running a huge stack of numbers.

Here’s a closer look:


Victoria, Texas

Circulation: 26,531

And in Victoria, Texas, today, we’re treated to the sight of a halo around the sun.

Artist Julie Zavala tells us:

After a woman called in about the “rainbow around the sun”, the photographer and I ran outside to see it. Angeli Wright took some cool photos of the halo while I tried to take photos with my iPhone. I nearly blinded myself trying to line my phone up with the sun to get my own pics and had tears running down my face (I looked kind of like Alice Cooper by the time I was through).  We used Angeli’s photos in print and online.

Robert [the Advocate‘s multimedia editor and also Julie’s husband] gave me the assignment to research the phonomenon and to write and create the graphic.  I had never seen a rainbow around the sun so I was just as impressed as you are–it’s really cool, right?

The graphic is a very simplistic explanation of how it happens.

Here’s how it all came together on page one today, designed by Kimiko Fieg.

Everything here except the Springfield front is from the Newseum. Of course.

Election graphics and illustrations on Sunday’s front pages

You can tell we’re in the thick of an election year. A number of papers led their front pages today with election-themed graphics or illustrations.


Akron, Ohio

Circulation: 88,040

Papers across Ohio teamed up for a new poll that was released today. The poll shows President Barack Obama is leading the state with 51 percent of the vote, if the election were to be held today. Mitt Romney has support of 46 percent of likely voters.

The graphic that several papers across Ohio used on A1 today was created by Mike Nyerges and Mark Wert of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Which, ironically, didn’t run their own graphic on page one.

Akron, as you can see, split apart the Enquirer graphic to run the doughnut chart at the top of the page. The big batch of bar charts and the map ran downpage.


Toledo, Ohio

Circulation: 94,215

Toledo left its graphic intact. Here’s a readable version of it.

The material in the doughnut chart is restated on the right with the large numbers and the mug shots of the candidates.

Granted, the beefs up the visual presence of the graphic. But still, it seems redundant.


Canton, Ohio

Circulation: 56,789

Canton replaced the top part of Cincinnati’s chart with a big bar chart that included cutout portraits of each candidate and a large outside of the state.

In addition, Canton used the best headline we’ve seen yet for this story. Nice and direct.


Columbus, Ohio

Circulation: 136,023

Columbus didn’t use the Enquirer chart out front today, but it did build this combination big numbers/bubble chart for the top of A1 today.

With the large numbers apparently telling enough of the story, the Dispatch then used a headline that tied directly into issues.


Cleveland, Ohio

Circulation: 246,571

And the Plain Dealer today also used a big-numbers approach, paired with fresh caricatures of the two candidates.

Great work today — as usual — by illustrator Chris Morris.


Miami, Fla.

Circulation: 160,988

Down in Florida, the Miami Herald ran news today of a similar poll that suggested the numbers there are even closer.

Rather than bars or big numbers, the Herald stuck with pie charts.

Here’s what the entire front looked like today.


Kansas City, Mo.

Circulation: 200,365

In Kansas City today, the polls themselves were the story. The lead art was an illustration by Neil Makahodo.

Here was the entire front today.


In Iowa today, the story was the avalanche of television advertisements — more than $29 million worth — that is being stuffed into that state’s airwaves.

The Des Moines Register built a centerpiece today from screencaps of some of these ads…

…and the Quad-City Times of Davenport came up with the same idea.

As you can see, the coincidence made for a striking effect today.


Average daily circulation for the Register is 101,915. The Times circulates 46,824.


Newark, N.J.

Circulation: 278,940

The story in Jersey today was campaign donations. The Star-Ledger built a photoillustration using a mixture of ballot box imagery, money, political party icons, bar charts, big-numbers presentations and even theatre-like curtains.

The illustration wasn’t credited.


Las Vegas, Nev.

Distribution: 220,619

The Las Vegas Sun today led its front page with a story about the hopes Republicans there have of winning the state this year.

The very loose watercolor illustration is by staffer Elizabeth Brown.


Denver, Colo.

Circulation: 401,120

The Denver Post ran a very interesting piece today on a topic that’s affected so many of us: How some folks have posted so many political items to the point where it’s put a strain on their Facebook friends.

The front page was built around this photoillustration by staffer Matt Swaney.

Find the story here by staffer Claire Martin.


And across Wisconsin today, the Gannett papers didn’t look at poll numbers as much as they addressed the shifting demographics of that state over the past three decades or so.

A series of pie charts across the top of the package — looking a lot like Pepsi logos here — show the outcome of the presidential race in Wisconsin.

Numbers down each side compare various demographic statistics from 1980 and 2010.

This package — uncredited but presumably built by the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines

UPDATE – Monday, 11:30 a.m.

I’m told this package was indeed designed by Sean McKeown of the Des Moines studio.

…ran in several papers today, including — from left to right:

  • Post Crescent, Appleton, Wis., circulation 38,244
  • Daily Herald, Wausau, Wis., circulation 15,879
  • Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wis., circulation 14,246



  • Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wis., circulation 14,113
  • Herald Times Reporter, Manitowoc, Wis., circulation 10,253
  • The Reporter, Fond Du Lac, Wis., circulation 10,186

It worked pretty well in five of the six uses. The exception was in Oshkosh, where the nice above-the-nameplate photo competed with the “then/now” illustration.

All of these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.

Fun with the nameplate today in Des Moines

William Castronuovo — former art director of the Washington Times and the New York Daily News, former design director of the Miami Herald and currently editor and publisher of the Washington Reader — noted the funky skybox treatment atop today’s Des Moines Register

… and tells Jim Romenesko:

The Register is the last newspaper I though would do something like this . Then again, it is a Gannett Company paper and we know they seem to love playing with flags of late.

A reference, of course, to the USA Today blue balls.

My good friend Nicole Bogdas of the Gannett Design Studio took immediate offense to Castronuovo’s comment. As you might imagine.

So, not only did I like the skyline today, but this guy clearly doesn’t read our paper on a regular basis as this not the first time we’ve “played with the flag.”

Additionally, what is wrong with that? This guy needs a new hobby.

Today’s skybox — which, as you can see, interacts with the nameplate –was designed by Erin Baker-Crabb, Nicole tells us. However, she also sent us a number of other examples of playful skyboxes that interact somewhat with the Register‘s flag. Nicole points out:

And these are just from the first six months of 2012.

Jan. 2: Designed by Scott Lester.

Feb. 6: Designed by Scott Lester.

Feb. 13: Designed by Nicole Bogdas.

Feb. 24: Designed by Erin Baker-Crabb.

April 9: Designed by Nicole Bogdas.

April 17: Designed by Nicole Bogdas.

April 18: Designed by Nicole Bogdas.

May 4: Designed by Scott Lester.

June 21: Designed by Scott Lester.

UPDATE – 7 p.m.

Erin adds:

[Here] is my favorite skyline I have designed for the studio.

I asked Nicole to explain her philosophy on “playing with the flag.” She replies:

Why do it? Why not?

All the arguments for not doing it go against common sense. No one is going to mistake our product for the other daily paper in Des Moines. There isn’t one.

When done right, it can catch eyes, which helps sell papers, and isn’t that what we want to do?

To appease some folks, no, I don’t have hard numbers. But I don’t think anyone is not buying the paper because of the skyline.

I, of course, agree wholeheartedly. Readers of this blog — of which Castronuovo is obviously not, but then again, as Nicole points out: He also doesn’t regularly check out the Register via the Newseum — know that I often write about interesting skybox treatments and I encourage playing around with the flag — or nameplate, as I prefer to call it.

In my consulting work, I often run into editors who feel like the nameplate is sacred. That’s an outdated idea from, say, the 1970s or early 1980s. It’s perfectly OK to have some fun with your skyboxes. It’s perfectly OK to mess around a little with your nameplate. It’s perfectly OK to do whatever it takes to surprise and delight your readers from time to time. When the day’s news merits it, of course.

The nameplate is not sacred. What is sacred? 1) Content. And 2) The money a potential reader pulls out of his or her pocket and uses to buy your paper.

Now, that’s sacred.

I don’t call “bullshit” on Mr. Castronuovo, because he’s entitled to his opinion. But I do call “bandwagon” on him. And I also call “attempted cheap shot foiled by actual facts.”