Special commemorative issue

While moving into my new place in Charlottesville, I came across this newspaper front I designed for the News & Messenger in Northern Virginia. It’s a special commemorative issue for the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run, which took place July 21, 1861. My front ran July 25, 2011 and captured the re-enactment activities.

This was a fun design because of the extensive use of rules (in gutters, in-between headlines and decks), all-caps headlines, serifed fonts and italic cutlines. It gave the newspaper that old-time feel.

Things I learned as a copy editor/page designer

Thursday was my last day as a copy editor and page designer at a consolidated editing center where I worked on 20 newspapers with about 30 other people. At the consolidated editing center, I laid out anywhere between six to 16 pages per day, depending on the publication(s).

I am so thankful for my time as a paginator and copy editor, because it has helped me hone skills that will only add to my career as a writer and editor. I came into my job not knowing anything about balancing word content with visual elements (sidebars, pictures, graphs, pull quotes, etc.). I didn’t know anything about presenting a story in an aesthetically pleasing manner while giving it a headline, deck and cutlines. As an editor at my previous job, I never gave a thought to word content and visual elements and how they could work together, but now I know for the future how to work with graphic designers and art directors on how to present content in an aesthetic and balanced manner.

I have come away from my previous job with so much happiness and fulfillment because I had an awesome and knowledgeable boss, helpful and mentoring supervisors and supportive copy editors who encouraged me along the way.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • NEWSWORTHINESS: Newsworthiness is something we all learned in journalism school, but this job has taught me the value of it more than my previous jobs and freelancing gigs. Working in daily news for various publications shows you audience, news value and timeliness day after day after day. As someone who was strictly a magazine writer, this is a valuable quality to take away.
  • DESIGN: As I mentioned earlier, I had no experience in page design (well, I took a class in college where we learned basic paginating and copy editing), but I now know how to be the kind of editor and writer who can visualize a story with art and graphics as I am writing a story. As a magazine writer, most stories (unless they are features) should be photo driven, and it’s important to think along the lines of color, pictures, sidebars, graphics — things that stimulate and engage the reader.
  • PEOPLE: Working in a consolidated editing center, you deal with a variety of personalities whether they be editors, other copy editors, ad sales executives, classifieds, press room workers, etc. You have to understand how to communicate effectively with all groups. As a copy editor you are the final step before the paper prints. You are the person in charge of producing the entire paper and have to make it happen by communicating with the appropriate department if there is a problem. You have to make it work and be on top of all aspects of the paper.
  • LEADERSHIP: When it comes down to it, as I mentioned earlier, you are in charge of putting the paper out. You are the last step before the paper goes to print, so you have to comfortable and confident enough to make a decision whether you have the OK or not. If the editor isn’t around to voice his opinion, then you have to have the gumption to make the decision since he/she isn’t there to do it.

Thank you so much to everyone at the consolidated editing center for their support and input. Working at the C.E.C. has been an absolute pleasure because of the supportive, creative people who head it up.

My mom and design


When people ask me about my mom, I always brag to them about what a talented artist she is. Her oil paintings are stunning and she can easily pick up other media. I remember when I was a kid she took a few water color classes and came home with masterpieces in the first week or two. I have a few of her smaller paintings in my house, as well as the funky silver jewelry she made in college. She is truly talented and I love being surrounded by her artwork because it’s a way of keeping her with me since I don’t see her nearly as much as I wish. My mom studied art in college, and after graduating used her artistic talents to become a graphic designer while also keeping up her painting on the side.

In the ’70s and ’80s my mom worked as a designer for an advertising agency in Naples, Fla. where she did work for Gulfshore Life Magazine. She tells me stories about how complicated and mechanical magazine and ad design was back in the day, and then I shoot back with stories about the wonders of InDesign and my favorite tools (definitely the eyedropper!). I never considered how tedious graphic design used to be until becoming fluent in Quark and InDesign and then hearing about what it was like to keyline and paste up before computers existed.

“We had these long belts; they were like a yard long. They each had different type styles and sizes,” my mom says. “It was so difficult compared to what you guys do today.”

My mom would take these long belts with different fonts and sizes and would put them into a machine that was 3 feet wide and she would sit at its mini desk and type out stories.

“I would have to put this big font belt on the type setting machine for the [text] body if I wanted 10-point type and I’d type the article up on it. And then if I wanted the headline to be 16-point type, I’d have to put another big belt on the machine and type out a four or five word headline,” she said. “For each size you’d need a different belt.”

After typesetting the body of the article she would melt wax and roll it on the backside of the type and paste it on each page of the magazine and send it off to the printer.

“You would literally have to cut and paste it,” she says. “Each page that went to the printer would have a separate page that I would have to paste the type on to.”

It was a long and involved process, and if a client wanted changes she then had to redo it all over again. If there were changes to text, she would reset the machine and retype it, cut the old lines from the article with a small blade and then repaste the new line into the text with the wax roller.

She would blue line in an area for images and then would paste her type around it on the page. She also did ad layout for the magazine and would typeset and paste ads onto the page. For borders around ads, she used a roll of border tape that came in different widths to outline each ad by hand.

“It was just a long, tedious process,” she says. “Wish I lived in the days of computers back then.”

It’s amazing to think of the patience and time spent keylining. I asked my mom how long it took to lay out one page and she just sighed and said, “A long time.”

When I think about designing now, I realize that I design anywhere between six to 14 pages in a workday depending on the newspaper(s) I am working on. I think about how easy it is to flow in ads, and when they don’t flow in how easy it is to throw a pdf on the page and send it to print. I am so thankful for “control + z” (undo function), and the ability to use it an infinite amount of times. With keylining there was no “control + z.” Everything had to be redone by hand.

I find it cool and funny that my mom and I had similar jobs but in different time periods. She is an artist and I am a writer, but somehow we both ended up doing page design for publications. I like that we have that in common.

When I think about my mom and the role she has had in my life, she has always been the mom to let me figure things out on my own. Never has she forced me in any direction (although she does give guidance), but I find it funny that I naturally gravitated towards designing as she did too. I am a natural born writer and editor, but I have to say that I have enjoyed my stint as a page designer. It has allowed me to understand journalism on an entirely new level — and I love that. And, I love that I have page design in common with my mom.

Pride: Design under deadline

As a page designer, I design and edit newspaper pages for daily and weekly publications in Virginia and North Carolina. This means I write headlines/decks/cutlines, edit local and wire copy and design lifestyles, sports and news sections. My job as a page designer has allowed me to work well under pressure with multiple deadlines per day.

That is the resume version of my job. What my resume doesn’t tell you is the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes along with my job.

I started my job as a page designer on June 1, 2010 with no design experience at all. Before accepting the job, I was an editor at a weekly publication and only had experience with writing and editing. The visual aspect of journalism was foreign –something I briefly learned in copy editing/page designing class my senior year of college. Nonetheless, it was something I needed to learn — how to package stories and present content in a truthful way that also was aesthetically pleasing.

The concept of presenting content in an aesthetic manner while under deadline can be very difficult, especially when there is late breaking news. I deal with editors dropping late stories to me all the time, but late breaking world news is a whole different can of worms.

On Sunday, May 1, I learned what it meant to completely scrap an entire newspaper front last minute to make room for late breaking news. At 10:45 p.m., 15 minutes before my deadline, President Barack Obama confirmed that Osama bin Laden was dead.

I had to start from scratch and completely redesign my front, deleting my long, hard hours of design to make room for important world news. This probably sounds frustrating, but it was one of the most exciting and rewarding evenings I’ve had working at the editing center.

As my coworkers and I were gathering around the television, quietly celebrating this act of justice, a surge of adrenaline and pride was flowing in me, knowing that I had a role in spreading this news — knowing that the next day, when this community of people woke up and looked at the front page of the paper, it was because I did my job. My front page certainly wasn’t the most visually appealing or creative front page out there, but it served it’s purpose by presenting the news in a straight-forward manner. I drove home in the wee hours of the morning knowing that I had done my job — and done a good job.

In the most high-pressure, time-crunching situations at work, I find that I surprise and impress myself;  it’s a great feeling to have when you leave work every night. Situations such as bin Laden’s death make me realize how exciting it is working in the news industry. It makes me proud to say that I’m a writer, editor and page designer. It makes me proud to be a journalist.

This is the first of many posts. Thank you for reading and stay tuned.