Ed Henninger: If you fail to plan…

I first heard it years ago…and I’ve remembered ever since: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Some say it originated with Benjamin Franklin. Others aren’t so sure. Regardless, the quote is memorable—and it’s a sure reminder to editors that they need to work on their planning. For every issue.

During a recent conversation with some editors, I pointed out that the jump on a page 1 lead story was (to put it nicely) “text heavy.” I offered some ideas for improving the design:

    • More photos.
    • Breaking the one long story into multiple shorter pieces.
    • Use of pull quotes.

The problem with those suggestions is that they just couldn’t be worked out at 9:30 p.m., a half-hour before deadline. The layout person was swimming upstream and doing his best just to get the pages done in time:

    • No one knew how long the story would be.
    • There were lots of good photos, but no space.
    • No one had permission to move ads to create more room for the package.
    • It was just too late to think of all that.

That last point was all too true: It was just too late to think of all that. 

An editor, knowing that this was going to be an important story (remember: it was the page 1 lead), should have been working on a design plan much earlier in the day:

    • How can we segment this story into shorter pieces?
    • How long do these pieces have to be?
    • How about quotes for pullouts? With such an emotional story, surely
      there will be some compelling quotes.
    • Who’s going to edit the story?
    • Who’s shooting the photos? How many? What subjects? What angles?
    • How do we create extra space for the jump?
    • Can we move ads from that page?
    • Whom do we ask to get the ads moved?
    • What do we do to help Bob get this all designed on deadline?

Apparently no one in the newsroom had given such planning a thought. It never happened.

So, the one long story was written, with only a one column photo running with the 30-inch jump. No pullouts, no display photos…nothing to encourage  those readers who followed the story.

Another quote applies: “If you keep doin’ what you’ve always done…then you’ll keep gettin’ what you’ve always got.”

How disappointing is that?

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