On November 5 and 6, I was in Germany to judge the European Newspaper Design Awards 2010. Irish papers fared very well, but, unfortunately, online and iPad entries were minimal
It was weird being asked to be a judge in the European Newspaper Awards, the most prestigious newspaper design competition on the continent. I’ve been designing newspapers and magazines for years, but I’ve never felt qualified to judge the work of others I consider more talented than me.
But they asked me, so I turned up. It all happened at a small, rather soulless hotel on the outskirts of Dusseldorf during two days of rather pleasant work.
After an awkward few minutes, I fell in with the the western-fringes-of-Europe contingent: Walter Jensen from Bergens Tidende in Norway, Martin Huisman from De Morgen in Antwerp in Belgium and Anna Sundqvist from Östersunds Posten in Sweden.
The rest of the judges, lovely as they were, hailed from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Holland and shared a common language. We, from the edge of the of continent, seemed drawn together naturally. Luckily for me our shared language was English.
I’ve admired all of them from afar for years. These people are three of the best newspaper designers the world has ever produced – Walter is the first person to win four main awards, and Martin has won two. My only disappointment was that Javier Errea, Spain’s newspaper-design genius and an idol of mine, was not there.
It may be odd to see the judging of newspaper design being described as gruelling, but it was. A total of 219 newspapers from 27 countries entered thousands of pages in 20 categories. Standing all day looking at average page after average page was made worthwhile by the occasional gem, where designer, art director, editor and writer produced something beautiful or shocking or funny or engaging.
It was strange for me to think that the people in the other room may be looking at my pages. When I saw them on the judging tables next to brilliant stuff some of didn’t seem quite as good as when I had entered them. Some still shone though and made it through to win Awards of Excellence.
I found the strength of the Irish representation interesting. In the Best Designed Local Newspaper category, The Mayo News, The Cork News (a brilliant little freesheet I’ve never seen before), The Galway City Tribune and Gaelscéal were entered. There were only 31 entries for this award, 13% of the total were Irish and confident that their tiny papers could mix it with the bigger boys (most of the rest were dailies and the category includes all papers with a circulation of 50,000 or less per day).
I think that Gaelscéal may have been the smallest paper in the competition. Their 6,000 sales per week pales beside Bild Zeitung, Germany’s biggest at over 3 million PER DAY. It was odd to see them side by side in some of the category judging. Gaelscéal didn’t win the main award for Local Newspapers but we considered it such a fantastic effort from such a small group of people that we gave it a special award.
I can only imagine (and envy) how they feel – it was the highlight of my career so far when I won the Local Newspaper main award in 2007.
Trying hard not to brag (but not being able to resist), The Mayo News, a paper that I’ve art directed for five years, won five Awards of Excellence – more than any other paper in Ireland, the fourth year in a row it has been the best (forgetting about Gaelscéal momentarily) and the fifth year in a row that it has won awards.
The biggest disappointment of my day-and-a-half in Germany was the lack of new media entries. There were only ten entries in the online category and only one functioning iPad app. Maybe the organiser, Norbert Küpper, was right – he thinks that the art directors of most newspapers are not interested in online communication or are not involved with their newspapers’ online editions, something confirmed in discussions with other judges. Most of them were graphic designers at heart, in love with paper and ink and not in the least interested in new technology.
I can’t for the life of me understand this. News is news and communicating this to people in new and more engaging ways is what I love best. It’s not all about beautiful graphic design but about telling stories in the most effective, enlightening and entertaining way possible. Surely new technologies should be embraced and pushed to their limits in finding new ways to tell great stories?
Sadly, these Awards coincide with my leaving The Mayo News.
A full list of winners can be found here