The world needs ditch-diggers, too

Judge Smails pretty much sums up how low things seem right now.

I’ve been informed in the past two weeks what I’ve pretty much heard and knew all along: the 2011 Chippewa Herald Football Preview will not exist and it’s dead until further notice AND the Herald will no longer be designed by yours truly, at least in part, starting at a date to be determined.

One of the basketball tab covers I put together for The Advertiser. Click for my VizEds.com portfolio

First, a look at the preview section. That’s been a labor of love of mine for 10 years, going back to my days at the Tuscola County Advertiser. We did all sorts of crazy things with that section, with not just previews but field directions and conference predictions, stuff from the infamous Super Fan, historical lookbacks and so much information that I tried my hardest to make sure no one could put the sucker down. I tried to do the same when it came to the basketball previews, too, but to a much lesser extent once I made the move to Wisconsin.

Keep in mind two years ago, I brought home one of several awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for special section (second) and own a Michigan Press Association award for the same category,but a weekly (first).

So, I can put together a special section with the best of them.

Last year was the 25th consecutive year the Herald produced a football preview section. We recognized that fact with a quick glance back at the past 25 years of high school football for both Chippewa and Dunn counties that I believed was not just a quick glance back to the past, but a shoutout to my past of putting previous game stories into the preview sections of The Advertiser, not as a filler, but as a history lesson for the kids playing today and a reminder to the old-timers their past glories aren’t forgotten.

Previous football previews I put together, both at The Advertiser and for the Herald.

Now, I have the difficult task of telling people in a few months the football preview is no more. That the journey we’re going to take in the regular edition is a good one, a fun one, one that we can all anticipate, just one that won’t have a regular football preview section inserted into our newspaper.

It’ll likely be the first time I’ll write something in the form of an opinion or column that I truly won’t believe in with my heart. It’s damning for me and our business. Why write something I truly do not believe in? Because I have to toe the company line, otherwise I can seek gainful employment elsewhere.

Now for the page design fiasco. Looking back at my already 10-year career, I’ve found page design as the most rewarding. I’ve always hated readers reading between the lines when it comes to something I’ve written. They’ll read what’s there, or not there, and spin their conclusions. A lot of times, those conclusions are that I’m a terrible writer or we shouldn’t have done this or that or whatever.

When it comes to photos, it’s partially, “Why did you run THAT picture?” Sure, on the news side, things get grotesque. It’s news. You have to have something twisted, metal, bones, blood, to reach the front page or any page these days. It’s called impact and getting the reader to respond one way or another.

This is one of the pages submitted and won first from WNA for Page Design - Sports. Looks like I won't be bringing this award home again.

To me, page design is the ultimate, though. Page designers kick back, put this package together in a way that conveys the story of the day. As a page designer, I can push that headline up a few points, capitalize it and we’ve got one major story you need to read. Oh, and that photo? Wow, that photo has impact because it’s not just cropped right, it’s placed in the right spot, too. People don’t read the newspaper for the design – that is unless you’re a designer, like I was.

I’ve spent the better part of 10 years collecting section after section after section, stowing them away in boxes in my crawl space, using them as references for ideas I can riff when it came to a big story or a little story or doing something completely different.

And maybe that’s why this stings so much. I’ve helped to redesign our newspaper, granted with some of the font structures that the corporate overlords wanted, but it was done in a way to not alienate our readers from what they expected from the previous redesign, continue to be readable and have something different than our competition. We achieved all of those goals while looking at one of our corporate sisters and snickering, saying, “That just doesn’t look right.”

Not anymore. We’ll likely be a clone of that big sister to our south, although we purposefully set out to be our own product. Hell, this very well could be my own personal pride, but our redesign was perhaps far greater than any of our corporate sisters and that includes the big fellas in Madison, St. Louis or northwest Indiana.

I promised that I would go out with a bang on my personal Facebook account, and I will.

All of the crazy, zany design ideas I wanted to do are going to come out. I’ve got weeks until things are shuttled to and consolidated down much like other companies in the business – Gannett, MediaNews, etc. Once the reader’s take note and write up a complaint to me, I’ll be more than happy to pass them on to the corporate overlords making this decision.

After I blow out every design idea I have ever thought of trying, let them handle that. It will be my last gasp of what I really enjoyed with my job. All of this while I try to figure out what’s next for my career.

Do I move my family again or do I stay in Chippewa Falls and ride out the cutting of meat from my workplace?

Do I adapt to online means – figuring out ways to create designs by other means such as for blogs or smartphone apps or with Flash?

Or do I try to become content with what I can do now – photography and writing?

I’m writing this blog mainly because I knew the end of my design days were coming. I recognized then I had better become the best damn writer and photographer I could be, otherwise I’d be at risk of losing my job completely. I still very well could lose it.

I know one thing, the world needs ditch-diggers, too.

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