February 19, 2008

A Full Color Press

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At one point or another in high school English class, a project comes along where the teacher asks you to make a fake newspaper; you know…where the headlines read something along like “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Found Dead” or “Hobbit Finds Gold, Magic Ring.” If you’re any sort of ambitious student, you probably tried to make the project actually look like a newspaper with columns, headlines, bylines, tiny type…that distinct, tight, unmistakable look of newsprint, that always made current events that much more intimidating to read.
There’s no denying that the design of a newspaper is distinct. Its tried and tested style was developed over centuries, largely out of utility: headlines of different sizes and styles establish a hierarchy of stories. Columns save space and avoid long blank stripes at the ends of paragraphs. Bylines give writers their credit. Pictures break up the otherwise daunting blocks of text on the page.
No sane person will ever argue that making a paper look good is anywhere near as important as filling the pages with actual content. The famous articles on the Pentagon Papers would have won a Pulitzer even if they had been printed in Comic Sans on a piece of yellowy letter-sized paper with a low resolution piece of pentagon-shaped clipart (remember how we were talking about high school English projects?).
And yet, page design unequivocally lends quality and sophistication to even the most stripped down publications. Without a decent layout, pages become confusing and ugly. Extending this argument further, a good design can showcase the work of writers and photographers, and provide visual information like charts and graphs. For those of us with a mild case of ADD, good designs also focus our attention on relevant stories. A paper’s consistent design says a lot about its content: USA Today has big chunks of spot color and embarrassingly large photos on its front page, while The New York Times still uses headline fonts from 50 years ago. The former considers the state of Britney Spears’ uterus a prime concern of the American people, while the latter does not.
This blog is an attempt to bring the day-to-day issues of the Sun’s design department to the attention of its readers — to highlight a subtle and rapidly changing aspect of Cornell’s preeminent student publication. Along the way you’ll meet our editorial staff: including Deborah Tan ’10, my fellow incoming Assistant Design Editor, John Schroeder ’74, the Sun’s production manager, and Carol Zou ’09, the incoming Design Editor. These posts will include anything from the triumphs and failures of our nightly front page experiments, to discussion of past and future changes to the look of the paper. We desperately crave feedback — how many letters to the editor have you seen concerning page design?
For those fellow news junkies out there, this will be a chance to join in the discussion happening down on West State Street in “sunny” Ithaca every Sunday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to God-knows-when in the morning. For anyone out there who still calls the big text at the top of an article a “title,” this is a great chance to learn all sorts of technical aspects of composing a daily paper.
Finally, it’d be a wise idea to explain the naming of this column, since many of our fellow editors didn’t even recognize the acronym. CMYK stands for the four colors newspaper and magazine printing presses use to blend any color content: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Black is used, since blending the other colors to get to it soaks the page and leads to a longer drying time. Why “K” is used is a bit of an oddity, but according to both about.com and Wikipedia, the “K” stands for “key” since the black layer is the reference layer. The ironic bit, as one of our web editors pointed out, is that all graphics you’ll see on this web page will be in RGB (red, green and blue).
Munier Salem ’10 is a designer at The Sun. He can be contacted at msalem@cornellsun.com. CMYK will appear periodically on CornellSun.com.