dream on

It looks like someone at the Desert Sun forgot to left justif... on Twitpic

A friend's criticism of the appearance of The Desert Sun's print product got me thinking about one of the things that I've yet to see from many news organizations on the Web. Since my latest response seemed to include too many words and links for Facebook's liking, I've decided to move the conversation here.

11:59 » In the time it took me to get everything formatted over on this end, the response did start appearing on Facebook. Le sigh.

In case you haven't been following along on Facebook, here's what you missed:

Jayel at 20:06: It looks like someone at the Desert Sun forgot to left justify their columns. This looks pretty horrific. http://twitpic.com/3fh5jr

Brian at 20:25: Actually, columns run ragged right throughout the paper. (Look at Political Insider and Answer Man tomorrow; both usually run on B1 and will be ragged right, distinguishing them from the justified news copy.)

Jayel at 20:39: I meant "typographic column" not "opinion column." And it looks like that some of the straightforward news articles were also ragged-right.

Brian at 23:07: I know you were talking about the columns of text... but still, the typographic columns that make up an opinion column (which is what's pictured) aren't supposed to be justified. We've made mistakes at TDS, but running Rick's column ragged right isn't one of them.

I haven't seen Sunday's paper because I was off Saturday night, but what news stories ran ragged right?

Jayel at 07:16: I ended up doing some research into this practice and frankly, I am horrified. Typographic decisions like whether or not something is to be justified or ragged-right ought to be design decision. That is, do it because it makes sense aesthetically, not because something is an editorial.

If running Rick's column ragged-right was not a mistake, but an intentional act, then that is worse. It looks horrible.

Jayel at 08:41: I am looking at a copy of the NYT right now and they do the same thing... Except they still hyphenate so it is not as jarring.

Jayel at 08:56: On the other hand, NYT times does not have a consistent baseline either.

(He had earlier noticed and pointed out that lines of text in one TDS story don't line up with those in another story on the same page, as they do in the LA Times.)

In any case, here's the response I typed into Facebook that doesn't seem to show up now that I've refreshed the page:

To make design decisions based solely on aesthetics deprives design of its power to inform.

A page designer thinking only about aesthetics would probably make the headline "Students prepare for finals" larger and more prominent than "18 killed in bus crash" because the "fi" pair looks so pretty.

But any newspaper designer -- and, at least subconsciously, any newspaper reader -- knows that a more important story gets a larger headline. Things like headline size and style, play on a page and placement in the paper convey the comparative importance of a story without using words.

So too does text alignment. Seeing an entire story run ragged right sends a signal to the reader that there's something that distinguishes the Answer Man column that appears on B1 from the lead Valley story at the top of the page. The content of a news story and a column are stylistically different, and so too are their respective presentations.

This is an area where the print product still holds a significant advantage over Web sites because few news organizations do much to visually distinguish between news and editorial content online:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/health/policy/14health.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/13/opinion/13mon1.html

And I think it's even more important to harness the informative power of design online since people don't have to flip past news pages to arrive at a column or editorial on the Web. Opinion pieces can be reached just as easily as news stories through a Google search or links sent around through e-mail, Twitter or Facebook.

Sometimes we try to convey what is unwritten in print through tweaks to Web headlines:
http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201012040366
http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2010101202014

But few news organizations lean on their Web designers to have them produce something that just *looks* different based on the type of content. The State Press at ASU is headed in this direction with the way their WordPress setup labels columns:
http://www.statepress.com/2010/12/06/bcs-national-championship-game-rewards-innovation/
http://www.statepress.com/2010/12/08/arrest-made-in-kyleigh-sousa-murder-case/

And with WordPress, at least, it doesn't take much work to make even more dramatic stylistic changes based on how an item is categorized:
http://brian.indrelunas.com/?p=8824
http://brian.indrelunas.com/?p=8879

For years, I've been dreaming that newspapers would start harnessing both the power of their CMSes and the power of design to once and for all make it clear to Web readers exactly what kind of article they've landed on from their friend's link or that Google search. But if design can only be used for aesthetics' sake and not to inform, I guess I'd better keep dreaming.

the triple threat

triple threat

Yesterday morning, when my editor got into the newsroom and I informed her that there was nothing all that exciting going on in the valley or in the world, she suggested that I maybe take it relatively easy.

After all, I had written a pair of B1 stories this week, along with two A1 stories, the latter of which was our big story on the lifting of California's same-sex marriage ban... next week... maybe.

So my editor said something along the lines of, "We won't give you any major A1 projects to do today."

But my morning project of resurrecting some of the legal analysis that was cut from Friday's Proposition 8 story for the Web eventually turned into an A1-candidate follow-up story.

Then, in the afternoon we got word that one of photographers was able to get some sweet shots of the Perseid meteor shower Thursday night that could definitely go on the front page of Saturday's paper, and I was asked to rehash my earlier meteor story so we had something to go along with the photo.

I also volunteered to put together a weather story for Saturday's paper, which I expected would go somewhere inside the Valley section — i.e., the B section — or maybe on B1 since we seemed to be light on both staff and stories yesterday.

During the editors' afternoon news meeting, though, I overheard the editor who usually picks out stories for the front page (or at least recaps the collectively-decided choices) rattle off a list of my three stories. I knew the first two were A1 candidates, but I figured the weather story would maybe just be teased from the front page to its actual home in Valley. Or, you know, maybe the editor had been asked, "What the hell was Indy doing today?" instead of "What's going on A1?"

After the meeting, I didn't bother to ask anyone about my suspicion that perhaps all of my stories would end up on the front page. I was more concerned with getting all three of the stories done and filed since I had things to do in the post-work afternoon/evening that I was running late for.

Anyway, fast-forward to this morning, when I checked Today's Front Pages on newseum.org and found that, yes, I did write all three of the front-page stories in today's Desert Sun. Awesome.

*

still partyin'

Now, I know this is a stereotype, but I've found that it's a mostly true one: Gay people know how to party.

Gay bars are generally the best places to shake one's groove thang, and those pride parades (like the '08 one in Cape Town, seen at right) are like a whole bunch of disco dance parties on wheels.

Here in the desert, supporters of gay marriage have often held rallies in Palm Springs to celebrate whenever things have gone their way in the courts. But today's news that same-sex marriage would again be allowed in California... next week... if a higher court doesn't intervene in the meantime... didn't seem to prompt much hootin' and hollerin' around California.

I was on Prop. 8 watch today at work, and I was monitoring our Sacramento TV station's live feed from San Francisco, thinking that I'd hear plenty of cheers, jeers or other such commotion whenever word of decision spread through the crowd outside City Hall.

But I swear, that crowd got more riled up about passing cars that were probably honking or waving at them than they seemed to be once word of the decision started to get around.

Speaking of, the news was broken to us at TDS in a most peculiar way this afternoon. Although I was watching the wires like a hawk and we had the TVs strategically set to the cable networks we thought most likely to put the news on the air first, I first caught word of the ruling in an e-mail from a source I had been talking with. And this was not a high-level gay rights advocate or organizer or anything, just a regular guy who was keeping an eye out for the ruling and heard about it from a local television station in Sacramento. (Sadly, 'twas not the Gannett station there that I sort of had my eye on.)

In any case, even as word rolled in about the (eventual, possible) lifting of the stay on the judge's ruling overturning Proposition 8, there was never much commotion on the SF livestream. By the time cable networks were cutting to that live shot, the crowd looked considerably thinner than it did just before noon as the anticipation was still in the midst of its final upswing.

Not too long after I noticed this and got the sense that no one in our area, from either side of the issue, was getting all that hot and/or bothered about a decision with another waiting period attached, I wrote this lede for my eventual print story:

A federal judge handed supporters of gay marriage another victory — and another asterisk — on Thursday.

And I only ended up tweaking it a little bit before filing the story hours later. To me, that summed up the day. Gay marriage supporters got another piece of good news, but it wasn't quite what they were hoping for. Those pushing for Prop. 8 to stay in effect got some discouraging news, but they've got another shot at reversing the decision. I figure that for people on both sides, the judge's ruling must've seemed like an order to just wait and see.

end of an era

armed and dangerous

One of my friends and co-workers, Colin, has a pretty notoriously messy desk, which just so happens to be right next to mine. See, Colin used to be my nighttime counterpart in breaking news / cops reporting. But he was one of the many people involved in the newsroom game of musical chairs that went on while I was on vacation. And now that everyone's pretty well situated in her or her new beat, the newsroom game of musical desks has begun.

Now that Colin's a city reporter, he answers to a new editor who works in another part of the newsroom. And his successor in the night reporting gig, my friend and co-worker Kate, has all sorts of needs (like being able to see the newsroom TVs) that could be filled if only she sat in a different place.

A move was inevitable, and rumor had it that it might go down this past Monday. But I walked in on Tuesday and saw Colin's stuff still spread across the desk.

Well, I actually saw the same thing this morning, too. Only this time, his computer was missing.

Even though Colin had joked about resisting the move and lamented his departure from the features desk's sphere of influence as the end of an era, the time had come. I heard from Kate that Colin was getting moved last night... and that was partially true. The rest of the moving happened when Colin came into work this morning and the end of an era came to... an end.

Here are the before and after pictures from this morning:

Colin's... uh... moving?whoa.

The irony of it all (for yours truly, at least) is that even though I won't sit right next to Colin at work anymore, I'm actually going to see a lot more of him in general since we a) no longer have shifts that only overlap by about an hour and b) we now both have Mondays off.

Plus, if today was any indication, Colin will be back to visit. At least he had better come back to visit... and to move his refrigerator because Kate's already threatening to sell it in order to get some do$$ars for the purchasing of a Breaking News Pet.

Yes, this is what Fridays at TDS are like. (And yes, shareholders, I did manage to write a few stories amid all this excitement.)

Statistically speaking, yesterday was awesome.

As you probably already know, I was up way past my bedtime on Monday night.

As I probably should've known, that made for a tired and grumpy Brian throughout the day Tuesday.

But even though my facial expressions and grumbling almost certainly didn't show it, I thought yesterday at work was pretty freakin' awesome.

Yes, it really is a day heat

Things were generally quiet enough on the breaking news front that I was able to focus most of the day on doing an analysis of some relative humidity data for a story that was on A1 this morning and working the data into the story.

Even so, I was still able to report (albeit from the newsroom) on the major breaking local story of the day and didn't have to push off everything that would normally fall under my beat to someone else in the office.

(That said, my editor is usually at work behind the scenes when I'm concentrating on a noteworthy non-breaking story, deflecting story ideas, tasks and wild goose chases that would otherwise come my way.)

And at this point, those two are the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular stories on mydesert.com. That's pretty sweet too.