When I first got to The Post-Star in the 1980s, pages were designed using “dummy sheets.”
These were sheets of paper showing a grid. You drew lines and boxes to indicate where all the content was supposed to go. The stories printed out of machines in strips of paper and a worker pasted them onto the page according to what he or she saw on the dummy sheet.
Seems like a long time ago.
Sometime around the 1990s computers took over the job and you “paginated” the page electronically. The computers got better and faster over time, the process continued to change, and now the pagination is completed at a design center in Madison, Wisconsin. The dummy sheets are only there to show you where ads are.
I thought about that on Saturday evening as we were waiting to find out how Fort Ann and Queensbury would make out in their state championship games. There is no TV coverage of spring high school events, so we did what some of you did — we “watched” the games on Twitter.
Every couple of minutes or so our sportswriters at the game would post a sentence or two to describe the action. Your imagination has to fill in the gaps. It has a very old-school feel to it.
Back in the 1920s, fans followed distant baseball games by watching giant boards outside of newspaper offices based on information sent via telegraph. Local radio announcers also used telegraph reports to recreate what was happening.
Watching a game through Twitter is kind of the same thing. And the suspense between bits of information is very real.
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It certainly was to me as I awaited the results on Saturday night. The layout of the sports front hung on what happened in those games. It could have been two local state titles, one or none.
The ending of the Fort Ann softball game was quite a cliffhanger. The Cardinals were trailing for most of the game, so in my head I had the Queensbury story dominating the page. When Fort Ann scored four times in the sixth, I started mulling over two-title options. Then Deposit scored twice in the top of the seventh.
I had covered the Cardinals twice in the playoffs and knew some of the players from soccer season. I stared at my computer screen imagining what this must be like for them, being so close to either ultimate victory or heartbreaking defeat. I wondered if Kayla Bailey’s arm was hanging out of the socket as she worked through her 17th inning of the day.
Finally the words popped up on Pete Tobey’s Twitter timeline: “Pop up to Bailey — Fort Ann is your Class D state (champ) — 4-3 over Deposit!”
Now it was back to the two-title front-page layout, which is, frankly, the worst possible scenario from a design standpoint. The thinking these days is to build your page around one, dominant story. Giving big-splash treatment to two teams at once is problematic.
Two horizontal celebration pictures would never work. I had a good horizontal for Queensbury and a good vertical for Fort Ann, but the pieces didn’t seem to fit together. I finally settled on one big headline to cover both stories, with Queensbury on top of Fort Ann (since the Cardinals’ semifinal game would dominate an inside page). The Belmont went on the bottom in what they call a “pancake” design, stacking three stories on top of each other.
But how would I communicate this to the designer in Madison? There were no layout diagrams that matched what I wanted. When I tried to type out the instructions with words, it didn’t make any sense.
So I got out a dummy sheet, drew it up like we did in the 1980s, took a cell phone picture of the page and sent it to the designer. Sometimes there’s no better way than the old way.