How to Get Picked Up on the Streets

Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the June 18 edition of the AAN Convention Daily newsletter.

Keeping with the 2005 AAN convention’s theme of change, design guru Robert Newman talked to art directors and editors about what an alternative weekly should look like and how it should visually engage readers. What exactly is the visual alternative media?

Incisive cartoons, alluring photographs, shocking graphics and bold headlines have always had a place in alternative papers. And freedom from the constraints of newsstand sales allows for covers and interior layouts that go beyond what’s considered good and proper. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Newman gave a few suggestions to put a little color back in the pages, so to speak.

According to Newman, alt-weeklies need to simplify layouts while maintaining a strong visual presence. They should make the text more readable and the papers easier to navigate.

And art directors shouldn’t be afraid to find inspiration outside of the alternative press. Web sites, dailies, tabloids and magazines all have something to offer. Papers can have spicy tabloid-style covers or text-heavy layouts for hard-hitting features or top 10 lists like those in magazines.

The most important thing is to create a distinctive personality, Newman said. Know your audience and create a visual appearance that your readers can instantly identify with. There’s no reason that all alt-weeklies should look the same.

Mosi Secret is a 2004 fellow of the Academy for Alternative Journalism. He lives in Houston, Texas.