Similar skills, but not schedules, differentiates newspaper design from agency work

Jan 03, 2008 at 01:37 pm by staff

Each year, December offers me the opportunity to do something a little different. Because the convention and training world slows so much between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, December allows me to take on projects I normally wouldn’t be able to fit in. It just so happened that I received requests from three different groups in New York state during the fall, seeking on-site consulting and training. I decided, “What the heck?” I’d become a New Yorker for a few weeks and stretch myself a little. The first request came from the regional office for a major newspaper group. They asked if I could come for three days to help determine - and correct - problems leading to several printing delays each day. In addition, they were having trouble getting support from their workflow system vendor, and I told them I’d do what I could to repair the relationship while I was there. I’m always apprehensive when I take on a project like this. What if I get there and have no idea how to fix their problems? Fortunately, all their printing problems were caused by PDF issues, something I know a little about. By the second day, we had determined methods for discovering - and correcting - the problems before they found their way to the page, and most of my work was done. Day three was spent negotiating, cajoling and calling in favors from representatives of their workflow system vendor. I hear that life - or at least printing - is much improved, so I suppose I earned my keep while in the upstate area. The following week, I found myself as far as I could get from Upstate New York without leaving the state. The good folks on Long Island were preparing for two major transitions: upgrading from Adobe’s CS line of applications to the CS3 versions of the same programs and installing a new workflow system. After a “middle of the night” six-hour drive from Philadelphia, the result of a major snow storm canceling my flight to Islip Airport, I spent the first day training the design and layout staffs in InDesign and Photoshop. The second day was spent with the editorial staff, studying InCopy, InDesign and the bits of wisdom I’ve recently learned concerning Adobe Flash. What I didn’t expect before arriving was that I would spend time negotiating with the same workflow system vendor I had negotiated, cajoled and called in favors from the preceding week. Oh, and I was invited to a great company Christmas party the night before I left. New Yorkers know how to throw a party. Week three found me in the heart of Manhattan, training the art & design staff of one of New York’s largest companies. I wondered many times before arriving in Manhattan whether my years of training newspapers, magazines and ad agencies had prepared me for the highly skilled designers, photographers and artists with whom I would spend the next few days. It stretched me, I’ll admit. These highly motivated, experienced artists were eager to learn. They had several years’ experience using InDesign, Photoshop and other applications I would be called on to teach. Most had been with the company at least 15 years; some, over 30 years. Let me share what I learned during that week. While it was more taxing to deal with this incredibly fast paced and talented group, I came to understand that much of what they wanted to learn wasn’t that different from what newspaper designers deal with every day. The biggest difference, it seemed to me, was that these artists had the luxury of working with less stringent deadlines, allowing them to spend more time to perfect their work. As a trainer, this meant they would expect more detailed instruction. While these skilled professionals might spend days working on a project, newspaper designers are called on to create quality artwork, in the form of ads and pages, on a constant basis. While artists at a large ad agency might spend hours editing a photo to get just the right look, newspaper photographers and editors often have only minutes or seconds to perfect a photo. I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear the words, “Kevin, you were worth every penny we paid you,” just before I said my goodbyes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Fifteen years of training - and learning from - skilled professionals in the publishing world had prepared me to teach these folks what they wanted, and needed, to know. My three week stretch was successfully completed. All three trips stretched me. I’m glad I spent much of December in New York. Now I’m ready to relax for a few days before starting a new swing through Tennessee, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and even California before heading once again to - you guessed it - New York in March. Newspaper designers and artists are a special breed. After all these years, I remain thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and work with so many of you.
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