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Columbia Missourian

FROM THE NEWSROOM: How does the print newspaper get created?

By Chanelle Koehn
January 23, 2014 | 4:34 p.m. CST

Welcome to From the Newsroom, the section dedicated to answering your questions about the Missourian. Our goal is to be transparent about our practices and processes and to invite our readers behind the scenes of what we do. Suggest topics you’d like to see explained by contacting Joy Mayer at or 882-8182.

The daily design and layout of a newspaper is a strategic process, especially for print news. Erica Mendez Babcock, a design editor at the Columbia Missourian, supervises the Missourian’s print edition, special sections and special projects.


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Missourian stories all go online first, and Babcock is in charge of deciding which of those stories are most appropriate to run in print.

An average day of design

Many of the print pages are created by students taking a News Design class. Here's a look at a typical shift for a front-page designer:

3 p.m. On weekdays, designers attend the newspaper’s afternoon news meeting, where editors discuss stories in the works. At the end of the meeting, production editors and designers discuss which stories will run on the front page.

3:30-6 p.m. The front-page designer spends the rest of the afternoon putting together a front-page design.

6 p.m. The production staff has another meeting called the “Six at Six,” where the front-page design is presented and story updates are discussed. This meeting is attended by the night news editor, the design editor, the assistant city editor, photo editors, sports editors, designers and an infographics editor. (Also see "From the Newsroom" stories about headlines, photos and information graphics.)

6:06 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Designers continue to work on the front page until midnight, which is the deadline for news pages to be sent to the printing press. The deadline for sports pages is 12:30 a.m.

On weekends, the deadline for news pages is 11:30 p.m., and the deadline for sports pages is midnight.

Thinking differently for print

One of the major ways in which print design differs from Web design is the strategy involved in engaging readers. Digital news audiences have the ability to choose the specific stories they want to read at any given time. Print news allows designers more opportunity to control what the audience is reading and how they navigate it.

“In print design, we try to take advantage of the presentation,” Babcock said. “We can move the reader forward throughout the page, creating a more memorable impression and giving a sense of what’s important.”

Although the hierarchy of significance in print news is central to the design process, Babcock encourages her staff to keep in mind that by the time the print product is distributed, the majority of the Missourian’s print audience may have already read the day’s news online. Therefore, designers must find a fresh, creative way to present the stories on the front page.

Another challenge for a designer is to be flexible when breaking news occurs. A centerpiece, the main story on the front page, is often scheduled weeks in advance. But when breaking news occurs, designers must work very quickly to produce a new centerpiece layout.

A good example of flexibility in the design process was Nov. 12, when Ryan Ferguson was released from prison (see attached photo). When the production team started its shift that day, it knew that Ferguson would be released, but it didn't have many of the pieces in place. The designer on staff that night started putting together a design option to be presented at "Six at Six," but Ferguson's news conference hadn't happened yet, so much was still up in the air.

"In that time, the designer talked with photo, graphics and myself to come up with a conceptual design to explain a complicated situation," Babcock said. "There were multiple stories from that day, photos and graphics she had to organize in a double truck inside." (A double truck is a two-page spread in the center of a section.)

After the news conference, the designer had to wait for photos and the final version of the story. By around 9:30 p.m., all the elements of the story had come together, and the designer was able to finish the front-page design.

After the stories on the page were copy edited, the designer printed the pages for the production editors and teaching assistants to look over. After some final changes, the pages were sent to the printing press. The Missourian is printed by the Jefferson City News Tribune and is trucked back to Columbia for distribution.

Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.