GREAT RACE: How design centers across the nation handled election night
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
By Autumn Phillips
This year marked the first time many newspapers produced print coverage of a president election with remote teams of copy editors and page designers.
Gannett, tronc, McClatchy, GateHouse Media and Lee Enterprises have moved design and editing functions at most of their newspapers to combined service centers.
The tight deadlines and last-minute, large-scale changes took immense amounts of planning and close communication between the centers and newsrooms before Election Day on Nov. 8 and throughout the night in order to pull it off.
GateHouse Media designs 235 publications (63 dailies, the rest weeklies) in its Center for News & Design in Austin, Texas. The Center opened in 2014. On election night, it was staffed with more than 130 night-side designers, wire editors, graphic artists and proofers, said Tom Clifford, vice president at the center. “It was an all-hands night.”
Design centers on election night faced a challenge as staff managed multiple deadlines for newspapers across four time zones.
The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Republican nominee Donald Trump, winning him the presidency, at 2:33 a.m. EST.
Most East Coast papers were already printed. It was early enough that some, but not
all, newspapers in the Central time zone were able to redesign front pages to announce a Trump victory on newsstands the next day. Papers on the West Coast had a distinct deadline advantage.
“Our floor managers and team leaders coordinated the crews to clear early sections, close the East Coast papers that were unable to hold for late results, and then align personnel and teams to focus on producing multiple versions of fronts as deadlines approached,” Clifford said.
“Communication with the field was by phone, email and Google Chat.”
In the end, most of GateHouse’s East Coast and central newspapers went without a final result - with the exceptions of Daytona Beach, Florida, and Rockford, Illinois, Clifford said.
“There were no true ‘stop the presses’ moments, but there were many, many nail-biting decisions to hold beyond deadlines in hopes of getting the results finalized,” Clifford said.
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, a GateHouse newspaper, printed an old-fashioned “Extra” edition, which the circulation team gave to hawkers to sell on the streets of downtown Columbus, said Dispatch Editor Alan Miller. They also made the edition available online.
Like many newspapers, the Dispatch had three front pages ready to go, Miller said. “She wins, he wins and too close to call.” The first edition and makeover edition had the “too close to call headline.” They held the makeover a half-hour past their stated deadline (which was an hour past the normal deadline), but it was still too late.
For the design centers of Lee Enterprises, a few more publications – 20 in all – got the called race on their front page. Many of the company’s newspapers are in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
Lee operates two regional design centers. Copy editing is still done at the individual newspapers, but all page design has moved to the centers in Munster, Indiana, and Madison, Wis-consin.
Lee had 82 designers working on election night, putting out 49 different editions/publications for Wednesday morning.
Ben Cunningham, senior manager for news presentation at Lee Enterprises, said they started gearing up for election night – and large scale news events like it – more than a year ago. A Special Presentation Team was formed with nine designers between Madison and Munster.
The design centers developed three front page options, including a commemorative poster page, for editors to choose.
“We were designing to set the tone for the next day’s conversation,” Cunningham said.
Members of the Special Presentation Team chose iconic images and made headline suggestions through the night, sent by email and Cisco Jabber. New pages were designed and sent out as results were updated in a visual write-thru process to meet staggered deadlines.
“The recommendations gave editors a chance to focus on local material,” Cunningham said.
After election night, editors sent Cunningham a lot of feedback about the process, mostly positive. The lesson he learned from his first presidential election in this role was the benefit of managing national content at the design center level, he said. “My biggest takeaway is how important the visuals (maps and graphics) are to telling the story. We can do a lot of that here.”
Autumn Phillips is the executive editor of the Quad-City Times and qctimes.com.