A FEW YEARS ago a young woman was hired to design news and feature pages for the Times Leader. The usual hiring and vetting procedure was ignored. The new editor/publisher at the time announced, “here she is.”
Well, change is never easy and we were thoroughly put off. She was from Texas and to us seemed as familiar as a cactus in a valley cabbage patch. We suffered through her cheerful Texas demeanor and she suffered our Rust Belt suspicions.
Guess who won?
Lindsey Jones had an indomitable spirit, enthusiasm and a bright eye reflected in her work. Her pages brought light to The Times Leader. She won awards for her work. Her designs won praise from readers and advertisers. She won over the staff.
Sweet but forceful, collaborative but opinionated, Lindsey proved herself a team player. Her colorful colloquialisms were a welcome counterpoint to the dark humor of our newsroom. Tasked with a project, she’d dismiss the challenge. “We’ve ridden that rodeo before.”
Lindsey was dependable, creative and optimistic. She was a keeper.
Wouldn’t you know it, after nearly four years a life change made Texas more appealing than Pennsylvania and Miss Lindsey left us. She may have left but she kept on working here. We kept Lindsey on staff and she continued to design pages in Pennsylvania through an Internet connection from her home in Texas.
We dedicated a computer in the newsroom to her and she patched in and designed pages here, from there. She worked from our budgets, communicated by email, text and phone. She designed complete features sections every day, as well as special sections, the Guide, the Profile section and in a pinch she even designed the entire Times Leader news section - on deadline - when the scheduled page designer called in sick. She’d do all 8 or so pages, working with reporters and editors and photographers here, turning out a professional section on deadline. The designed conformed to our style and the expectations of our readers.
Several times when I felt at a loss to get things done, Lindsey came through.
I cite Lindsey’s work to people these days when I explain that The Times Leader and it’s associated community papers have moved to page pagination – the layout and assembly of pages – through a pagination hub in Miamisburg, Ohio. It is the plan of our new company — Civitas Media — to have papers throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee assembled in this fashion.
It’s not a new concept – the Gannett chain has design hubs. Two of our former award-winning page designers — employees who worked with Lindsey here — took their careers to a new level by taking jobs at Gannett hubs. One went to a hub in Arizona, another to New Jersey. They create pages for many different papers. They post their work online and it is good.
So it can be done.
The transition here has not been without some pain. Since we started in June most of the pages of The Times Leader, The Sunday Dispatch, The Dallas Post, The Abington Journal and The Weekender have been paginated at the hub. And at the same time, we’ve switched letter fonts and layout styles. Those familiar fonts we have used for more than 12 years — Cheltenham, Sun Display and Helvetica — have been replaced with Benton Sans and Miller Banner. They are as unfamiliar to us as they are to our readers. We are adjusting to writing headlines with these new styles.
Page layout is different than what readers previously saw in The Times Leader and associated papers. Our page designers had developed a style honed over years and at the training of numerous professionals. Our page designers were mostly journalism school grads and all were seasoned journalists – copy editors and wordsmiths. They did great work.
They are also local folks. When the design work moved to the hub they were all invited to keep their jobs with the same benefits if they moved to Ohio.
Just as Lindsey did, they felt the tug of home. Rich, Joe, Irene and Rick said “no” to jobs in Ohio in order to stay here in Pennsylvania without a job, but with friends and family.
That’s a loss to our newsroom and our readers and a tale familiar throughout the news business and many other businesses that are navigating change. That change is rarely easy and it is forever inevitable.
In the meantime, pardon our dust. Editors here who do the assigning and assembling have an idea of what needs to be gathered for the presentation of a story in print and online. Getting our vision onto that final page has been elusive.
But we continue to try. We’ve all been in a few rodeos before.
Joe Butkiewicz is executive editor of The Times Leader. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org