If you fail to plan at your paper, you will plan to fail

July 2, 2012

I first heard it years ago, and I’ve remembered ever since: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Some say it originated with Benjamin Franklin. Others aren’t so sure. Regardless, the quote is memorable—and it’s a sure reminder to editors that they need to work on their planning—for every issue.
During a recent conversation with some editors, I pointed out that the jump on a Page One lead story was (to put it nicely) “text heavy.” I offered some ideas for improving the design:
• More photos.
• Breaking the one long story into multiple shorter pieces.
• Use of pull quotes.
The problem with those suggestions is that they just couldn’t be worked out at 9:30 p.m., a half-hour before deadline. The layout person was swimming upstream and doing his best just to get the pages done in time:
• No one knew how long the story would be.
• There were lots of good photos, but no space.
• No one had permission to move ads to create more room for the package.
• It was just too late to think of all that.
That last point was all too true: It was just too late to think of all that.
An editor, knowing that this was going to be an important story (remember: it was the Page One lead), should have been working on a design plan much earlier in the day:
• How can we segment this story into shorter pieces?
• How long do these pieces have to be?
• How about quotes for pullouts? With such an emotional story, surely there will be some compelling quotes.
• Who’s going to edit the story?
• Who’s shooting the photos? How many? What subjects? What angles?
• How do we create extra space for the jump?
• Can we move ads from that page?
• Whom do we ask to get the ads moved?
• What do we do to help Bob get this all designed on deadline?
Apparently no one in the newsroom had given such planning a thought. It never happened.
So, the one long story was written, with only a one-column photo running with the 30-inch jump. No pullouts, no display photos—nothing to encourage those readers who followed the story.
Another quote applies: “If you keep doin’ what you’ve always done—then you’ll keep gettin’ what you’ve always got.”
How disappointing is that?
Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at edh@henningerconsulting.com or at 803-327-3322.
If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books: “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at www.henningerconsulting.com. © Ed Henninger 2012

Ed Henninger is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: edh@henningerconsulting.com. On the Web henningerconsulting.com. Phone 803-327-3322.

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