October 18, 2018

The process behind the paper

I have finally emerged from my hermitry, both digital (not posting on this blog) and physical (not leaving the Bradford classroom).

You may ask, dear reader, “What hermitry?”. Very good question. By hermitry I mean that I essentially did not enter the real world as I finished the layout for the January issue of the paper.

For those of you who do not know what layout is, this is generally the process:

I hole up in the Bradford room and do not leave. Ever. I eat obscene amounts of junk food, which other people bring to me. I toil and agonize over line spacing and photo alignment, and I scare myself with my ability to easily recognize the difference between size 11 and size 12 font after so many hours of adjusting text. Then, I eat some baby carrots and a few apple slices because I am healthy and also because I want to offset all the Doritos and potato chips and tootsie rolls I ate. I toil and agonize over details like making sure neighboring lines of text align, but the other editors and I also make important changes like adding periods and designing the centerfold.  

I decided to write about how we do layout because I recently realized that people — in and out of Bradford — are genuinely interested in figuring out how we take a loose assortment of Google documents and transform them into neat columns with pictures and tidy pull quotes.

There are three chapters of layout. The first entails section editors pasting stories into the template we have in Adobe InDesign. They are the ones who decide where a story fits, which photos go in, if an article gets a pull quote. Now that I am no longer a section editor, I sometimes miss this process, for there is something slightly empowering about this ability to choose what goes in print.

The second step of layout is “merging”. We (the print Editor-in-Chief and I) collect each section’s layout and put them all together into one paper outline. This part generally takes us the longest because this is when layout really becomes a puzzle. We have sections of text that are intact and don’t need too much work, so they stay locked in place. Then we have other pieces we tweak, and, like a puzzle, we need to find where they fit. Here, we spend our time pulling and adjusting, but we also have room for creativity, to think outside of the (text) box, to include pictures and graphics, try new fonts or features.

The third and final chapter is the perfectionist chapter. This is when, with a relieved sigh, we print out the full draft of the paper and finally go home. From home, I scour the entire issue for typos, funny looking lines, or incomplete captions. The next morning we work in all the copy edits, and then we are ready to send it to the printer.

Just the idea of layout makes me laugh a little. I can’t be the only one who finds it strange that for months we focus all our efforts into becoming better writers, asking clearer questions, and growing into hungrier reporters, and then suddenly once it’s time to put together an issue, we completely switch gears and we become graphic designers. Layout requires an entirely different skill set than writing. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, though. I love that the section editors get to be creative with the process, and I think there is a rare value in having someone who knows the material so intimately, someone who has followed these stories from their conceptions, do the layout. It’s easier to stay true to the material and to make sure the photo, pull quotes, and overall appearance of the text reflect what the story voices.

There is something so soothing about adjusting column heights and methodically going through checking fonts and adjusting wording. It is a state of calm hyperfocus. There is an interesting paradox with the stress of actually going to print, the rush of needing photos now, articles now, up against the calm of actually laying out stories. There is nothing you can do but be slow, careful, and methodical when putting stories in. It’s thoughtful and intentional placement, and there is an art to that.

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