August 29, 2008

Designing Breaking News

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Assistant Design Editor Munier Salem ’10 writes about what it was like to design at The Sun the night Schedulizer went down.:
Breaking news on State Street! It’s just after 8:00 p.m. down here at The Sun and we’re rearranging the front page to make way for the PeopleSoft debacle.
In a nutshell, the new software Cornell uses to enroll students is slow, buggy and frustrating to work with., a website that aggregates Cornell course roster information and uses it to create optimized schedules for students, has had enough with the new PeopleSoft, and it has shut down the website indefinitely for its Cornell clients.
Managing editor, Sarah Singer ’09, is on the phone with her long time friend, Simeon Moss ’73, director of the Cornell Press Relations Office, who was dealing with the conflict. Editor in Chief Noah Grynberg ’09 is also on the phone, with the CEO of PeopleSoft. Meanwhile News Editor Ben Eisen ’10 frantically types the story for tomorrow’s paper.
Over in design-land, several computers away, I’m thanking my lucky stars that sports is tiny and easy tonight— three cookie-cutter Associated Press articles, and a “magazine-ey” back page with large photos and cutouts, because the news section is going to be a bitch tonight.
A bit later in the evening, as the news begins to congeal, I’ve begun designing a front page for our breaking story. Two issues are topping my mind: does the story warrant a special headline style, and what on earth will be the graphic to run with this story which seems to allude all picture ideas?
The first decision is actually not mine to make. Singer ultimately decides this news is worthy of the large, special banner headline style for big breaking news: 60 pt Helvetica Neue (Carol’s favorite font). The large, aggressively bold, eagerly italicized sans-serif attention grabber is allowed to break a special rule we have at The Sun: the top front-page story’s headline cannot stretch across the whole page. We make the exception for big stories like this.
To give an idea of gravitas, the last time we ran such a headline was for the death of former Sun Associate Editor, Kurt Vonnegut ’44. Prior to that, 9/11 was the last time it was used. The design is punchy and can be reminiscent of the screaming headlines of a trashy tabloid — the gossip rags tend to be papers that do not use such styles with discretion.
The second problem — lack of a good graphic to break up all the text — was mine to solve, and I found a rather interesting solution. Schedulizer’s site now features an emphatic letter to students regarding the controversy, and Eisen has just read aloud an angry quote from a University official. After some experimentation, I concocted the idea to run the letter at a skewed angel in a slightly brown box with a drop shadow: sort of as if the letter had been placed on the page for real and just photographed. Below the letter is the official’s quote.
I made the letters’ boxes brown to add some subtle color. The text of the Schedulizer article is a dark blue — the site’s prominent color, and that of the Cornell official’s is a dark red reminiscent of the school’s color, Carnellian. The graphics anchor the story against a photo further down the page and add some needed punch. Below is the result.

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