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Detroit News graphics editor sees career evolve with technology

By Mikala Kolander
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Tim Summers is a graphics editor at The Detroit News. In his spare time, he loves to sail the Great Lakes.

Tim Summers is a pioneer of graphic design.

After graduating from Kendall College of Art and Design, a private school in Grand Rapids, Mich., he was hired to create a graphics department at the Times of Northwest Indiana and change the look of the newspaper.

At the time, an emphasis on graphics was unusual for newspapers.

Now more than 20 years later, Summers is the graphics editor at The Detroit News, where he’s leading the way as newspaper graphics adapt to new technologies.

The Internet allows graphic artists and editors to inform people in a different and fresh way. Readers can now   view interactive graphics online for quick and easy-to-understand stories.

Although he works with digital graphics, Summers still creates charts, graphics and maps for the print version of The Detroit News. (See a sampling of his work below).

One reason Summers pursued a career in graphic design was to help people understand the news better, and the best way for him to do that was through visual aids and graphics.  “I realized I had this talent and I wanted to use it to help educate people,” said Summers.

Summers discovered his talent when he was in the sixth grade.  At first he mainly drew birds, but he drew as much as he could.  Summers’ inherited his art skills come from his father, he said.

Fun Fact: Tim Summers was inspired by Norman Rockwell. Check him out here.

Although the Internet has offered new outlets for educating readers, it brings challenges too.

It has created more work at a time that newspaper staffs are shrinking, meaning fewer people must do more work. Other challenges include:   creativity on demand and a fight for space in the paper itself.  Doing graphics on news deadlines can hinder the creative flow. And tight space in print means graphics editors  have to defend their work and persuade people that their visuals are valid.

Still, his career has been interesting.

Summers described a memorable power outage in 2001.  Summers and his team had to pack their stuff and move to a location with power since the Great Lakes was mostly in the dark.  They packed up their computers and software and went to a hotel bar hundreds of miles away.  They finally finished producing the paper at 2 a.m.  Newspaper careers require dedication and the ability to deal with the unexpected.

For students interested in similar careers,  Summers offered this advice:

  • Hone your abilities for both print and the Internet.
  • If you lack journalism knowledge, you lack balance.  Be able to talk and write about your piece.
  • Internships are very important.  Getting out of school with experience is more than 70% of the competition.
  • Don’t be afraid to create your own style.

Tip: Visit Society for Newspaper Design for more tips and inspiration.

Summers also has some advice for students seeking careers in advertising.  First, stay away from journalism-based companies.  They tend to be very competitive.  Don’t be afraid to use advertising as a stepping stone.  You don’t have to be tied to one job forever.

To look at more of Summers’ artwork, check him out here.

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