Tara Bender

Writing. Design. Multimedia.

The SNDSTL Recap

We embarked on our SNDSTL (Society for News Design Conference, which took place in St. Louis this year) around 5 a.m. on Thursday. Needless to say I brought a pillow with me and caught a few winks before we rolled into St. Louis for the first day of student-oriented activities.

                                       (Our professor, Steve, leading a great “action shot.”)

If you’re not familiar with SND, it’s an international organization that supports and celebrates news design as an art — an integral part of the delivery of news, be it in print, digital, or mobile format. My first taste of SND was back in April when I attended a Quick Course at the Poynter Institute and learned that this organization is so supportive of fellow journalists and encourages a culture of continuous learning.

         (In front of the Convention Center where we attended all of the SNDSTL sessions)

Thursday’s session was all about what 21st Century Visual Journalists needs to survive post-graduation. Miranda Mulligan from the Boston Globe, Yuri Victor from the Washington Post, and Tyson Evans from the New York Times were some of the panelists who gave great insight into the necessity of web design in a 21st Century Journalist’s toolbox. I definitely have miles to go until I’m comfortable with coding, but I am excited to keep learning and growing as a web designer.

I had time to have my portfolio critiqued by two professionals before leaving for a meeting for the Travel Grant recipients (yay!). I met with Tim Frank from Gannett’s Asbury Park NJ Design Studio first, who gave me some constructive criticism about taking my personal style to the limit. I told him that I prefer a handmade aesthetic, and he gave me some tips about creating pieces by hand, then manipulating them in design programs so that the images are more authentic. I don’t know why I never thought of combining my love for crafting and love for publication design in that way before, but I am excited to take his advice!

I also met with Andrea Levy, a wonderful illustrator and photographer from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. She was so complimentary of my “style” and said she appreciated the fact that I didn’t just show her a stack of news pages. In fact, I had none to show (beside the magazines projects I’ve worked on independently). It was so encouraging to have such a talented artist compliment my work! I am truly humbled.

That night we enjoyed a reception at St. Louis’ City Museum. Have you ever been to this place? It’s like magic come to life. I can’t even describe it, but let me tell you a few things I decided to partake in: an adult-sized ball pit, a 12-story tall curly slide, and a 4-foot-tall hole-in-the-wall labyrinth. If you ever go to St. Louis, you have to make this place a priority!

                                        (Looking down from the top of the City Museum)

                                                (Enjoying the City Museum with Jayne.)

Friday morning came quickly, and I was pumped to really get things started at SNDSTL. I wrote about Friday for the IU School of Journalism site that you can read if you want. I’ll give a few brief highlights here, though:

—> The man, the myth the legend Tim Harrower's “Design 101” session — I mean, I just submitted an article for publication that sites the textbook he wrote. Whoa! Sort of like a design celebrity? He's funny, smart, and inspiring, and I feel so lucky that I got to see his presentation!

—> Times of Oman designer/artist Adonis Durado's “Visual Conceit” session — this guy's designs made me want to weep with joy. His philosophy of extended metaphors coming to life through page design is truly something unique. Also, I think Oman prints on magic paper with magic ink. He passed around his prints, and they were so crystal clear and perfect that I thought I could reach into the pages and pull out the images!

—> A panel titled “Bootstrapping Your Passion: Entrepreneurship for Creative Media” was the joy of my day. I got to meet the woman behind All Thrifty States, a creative project documenting thrift stores around the country, Jenna Isaacson. I told her I was her new fan club, which might have creeped her out, but I had to geek out over our shared passions for journalism, crafting, and thrifting. Also, Bill Keaggy, the guy behind 50 Sad Chairs and Grocerylists.org (a hilarious collection of found grocery lists) was pretty entertaining.

I volunteered for the SND Foundation’s Trivia Night on Friday, which was a lot of fun, mostly because I knew close to zero right answers. After serving my time I was allowed to form a team with some of my classmates and contributed right answers to the following questions: “Name the actors who starred in the TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “What is the name of the fictitious band in the movie Almost Famous?” I’ll let you ruminate on those for a while. 

On Saturday I went to more panels including one called “Where the Jobs Are,” which featured finalists from SND’s “The Intern” competition and took a look at where they are now. Everyone starts somewhere, and I’m at the beginning of my visual journalism journey. It will be cool to look back in five years and see how far I’ve come.

"Finding the Web Designer Within" was a refreshing take on web design as an offshoot of print. Tito Bottita and Mike Swartz gave this presentation, which is now yours to enjoy! My brain doesn’t think in code yet, but I know there’s a web designer in there somewhere, and when she emerges, she will be unstoppable. Right?

My second geek-out moment of the weekend came when I went to a presentation by Alissa Walker of GOOD Magazine titled “City-Making: Journalism and Civic Engagement.” She recently launched GOOD LA, a project that covers local issues (GOOD is based in Los Angeles). It was exciting to hear her talk about how she has been able to incorporate her interests into her career and live out the mission of her publication. Sometimes I think that I want to work for a non-profit organization, and sometimes I think I’d rather work for an alternative arts magazine or features publication. I talked with Alissa (after admitting unashamedly how excited I was to meet her), and she challenged me to think of those things as one entity — I don’t necessarily have to choose, but instead can seek out publications that have a stake in the community and work for the good of the cause. Thanks, Alissa. I think I will.

Saturday night at the Awards Reception, we all got a taste of the true Tim Harrower as he hosted the event. He kicked off with “News Designer Blues,” a pretty great blues ditty about the world of news design that can be challenging due to the changing face of journalism. He was up on stage with sunglasses on and just his electric guitar. Perfect. Throughout the evening there was “story time with Uncle Tim” where he read some of his own versions of Grimm’s Fairytales (Timm’s Fairytales), including my personal favorite, Henny Penny: a poor little chicken who couldn’t get any of her animal farm co-workers to help her with a reporting project and ended up winning a Pulitzer prize anyway, later founding the Hennington Post.

                                   (Our group at the Awards Banquet on Saturday night.)

Sitting and watching the awards was a lot of fun. There were categories for web design, print design, and even a couple Lifetime Achievement Award recipients. Apparently there were over 15,000 submissions, so these awards were kind of a big deal. I was in a giant ballroom of journalism royalty for the evening — I hope their magic powers have rubbed off on me a little bit!

On Sunday, before we left town, we made a stop at the Gateway Arch. Thankfully, we had an absolutely beautiful day to enjoy the view from the top. Have you ever been to the top of the Arch? You have to travel in these tiny space pods all the way up the side. Five people sit in there, but there’s really only room for two. It’s like a teeny tiny enclosed ferris wheel/ski lift-style mode of transportation that carried us to the top. You should do it next time you’re in St. Louis if you never have before! Unfortunately, I got a bit of a tummy ache after that, but I’ll try not to attribute it to the Arch trams.

                                                (Outside in front of the Gateway Arch.)

                                                       (Inside the tiny tram with Michela.)

                                        (On top of the world! Or at least at the top of the Arch.)

Coming back to real life was about as disappointing as I thought it would be. I really enjoyed being in St. Louis and feeling energized and excited about the future of journalism, especially visual journalism. Being surrounded by so many people who love their jobs was encouraging and exciting. I hope to stay involved with SND even after I graduate because I think the organization is fantastic, and I would love to be able to go to more events like SNDSTL. More! More! More!