Detroit News presentation editor says his job is a daily competition
By Kelsey Newman
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A newspaper’s success depends, in part, on its design and its ability to tie everything together visually.
Today, when readers can choose from many sources for news and information, good newspaper design is more important than ever.
“My job is like a competition,” said Rick Epps, presentation editor of The Detroit News, in a phone interview. “People from every section of the paper count on me to sell it better than every other publication.”
Epps graduated from Michigan State University in 1993 and did not start writing until his senior year.
Describing himself as a late bloomer to the industry, Epps is responsible for the entire presentation of the newspaper. He supervises page designers and graphic designers. It’s an important role because the visual layout can determine if a reader will even pick up the paper and read it.
Reporters can spend days on stories but if the front page is “blown” then all of their hard work would be a waste.
Page 1, he said, should include the freshest news possible, which is difficult in a 24/7 news environment.
“If a story breaks at 9 a.m. it is less likely to be on the front page than a story that breaks at 6 p.m.,” Epps said. “Chances are they have already heard about it by the evening.”
If it is a big story and most people are aware of the details, it is best to do a follow-up story about how the event has affected people.
Visual images also are a key part of a page. Choosing the right image for the front page takes planning from the very start, Epps said.
“When a photographer collaborates with a reporter from the start the story, it is more likely to succeed. Success requires emotion and readers to be able to think beyond what the headline reads.”
For aspiring photographers and page designers, he offers some advice:
“Go out of your comfort zone and don’t think so literally about the photograph,” Epps said. “Think about a story regarding construction on a main road, it would be simple to take a photo of the lines of cars in traffic caused by the construction; it’s the safe choice. Or you could find a close up photo of an aggravated driver with sweat dripping from their head, the more effective choice.”
He said choosing the right photo for Page 1 may not be the right photo for the same story on the Web page. It is more difficult to choose a photo to put up online because usually designers are restricted to specific templates.
“Web photos are usually chosen by convenience whereas a photo on the front page is chosen after a lot of deliberation,” Epps said.
The most difficult part of his job is editing a designer’s work because design is subjective.
“How do you tell someone that you don’t like their work nicely?” Epps said. “It’s like an insult to the designers because they have so much emotional capital invested into it.”
He said the best way to work around that is to make sure that he gives positive feedback and lets them know their strengths. He enjoys watching people evolve.
“My favorite part about my job is seeing designers succeed knowing that I was able to help. There is no better feeling than seeing people rave over a front page that I took part in,” Epps said.
He also enjoys when he knows that he has “blown” his competition, the Detroit Free Press, out of the water.
“The Detroit Free Press may not think that we are better, but I know we are and I’m right.”