An attempt to provide the “NYU community with a comprehensive guide to all the issues that affect our generation.”
As Amy Zhang, the student paper’s web managing editor, told me “Our goal was to move past the horse race media coverage of the election that is such an unproductive component of the political theatre during an election year. For this issue, the WSN wanted to provide our NYU community with a comprehensive guide to all the issues that affect our generation.”
In an introductory editorial featured in the issue, Zhang reminds readers, “Election Day . . . will decide the next four years of our lives. In this issue, we have featured the topics that matter most to you, like health care, the economy, and financial aid. We have outlined the platforms, ideals, and opinions of each candidate, and we haven’t forgotten other power players: the third parties, vice presidents, and first ladies. We . . . [also] haven’t forgotten the goodies, like best celebrity tweets or election movies, that are a staple of the political theater. We lay this information out before you as a tool to build your own truth.”
My favorite portion: “Political Portraits,” a quartet of pieces focused on students active in various political causes– a reminder that issues raised by Romney and Obama extend far beyond the election cycle and campaign trail.
In the Q&A below, Zhang and the paper’s creative designer, Francis Poon, discuss the motivations and challenges related to the issue’s creation:
Q: From your perspective, what is wrong with the political horse race coverage you wanted the special issue to move beyond?
Zhang: It’s not hard to see why our generation is bored with political news. You turn on the TV or open up The New York Times and you see articles or newscasts that begin “Mitt Romney leads polls by three percentage points…” I’m sorry, but I just clicked the funny meme on the corner of the page. There’s such a bombardment of this type of coverage every day in the news that I think what students really want and really need is a comprehensive guide to the issues that matter most to them. They need to understand how important their role is in the political system, and how much change they can actually create. They need their information, but they also need it quickly and efficiently– an Election 2012 SparkNotes. That’s what we strove to create with this issue.
Q: What were the challenges of maintaining political objectivity with the issue?
Zhang: Challenges abounded when I discussed editorial objectivity with the team. Design included, because even the cover was revised a few times when we found the tinted coloring could be biased when placed in a different light (literally). I guess the simple solution, especially for [a feature framing the top seven issues pertinent to students today such as the economy, women's rights, gay rights, and health care], was charts, tables, and bullet points. We percolated everything through filters until you only had the facts. As Francis kept reminding me, we wanted to avoid “he-said, she-said” coverage. I say in the letter [at the start of the issue], we are laying out the tools for readers to find their own truths. And I really meant it. No opinions, no editorializing. Just facts.
Q: What voices, stories or content in the issue go beyond simply Obama and Romney or the Dems and the GOP?
Zhang: Check out our last page, “Timeline of the 2012 Election in Tweets.” But the pages that provided a break from the textbook feeling of the rest of the issue were the Political Portraits. It was our way of connecting it all back to the NYU community, to feature some amazing students, and show everyone that politics isn’t always about voting or campaigning. Looking at the truly remarkable achievements of these students, I feel that politics is more about fighting for something you truly want to change. Not to belabor the “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” point, but these students prove that changes can happen in America, and they prove why our country’s political system, given its flaws, is so great.
Q: What was the vision for the issue’s overall design and the cover specifically?
Poon: By the time Amy, our managing editor Jaewon Kang, and I met for the first time in early September, we had already noticed the nasty “he said, she said” happening in the national discourse. As busy NYU students, we knew there would be many in our positions who simply can’t find time to sift through all the debates and the rhetoric from millions of sources. So our goal was that the issue had to be immediately informative– not just something to add to the pile. We did this by collaborating editorial and design together so that the issue would feel cohesive and deliver that same message quickly and directly.
Editorially, we did this by keeping our content short. In most of our Top 7 issues coverage, we listed 100-word [blurbs] at the very top about why students need to care. We broke down where the candidates stood with small charts and graphs. We incorporated lots of fun sidebars to break up the information. Meanwhile, design-wise I wanted to show each candidate’s strong– and sometimes radical– stance. The strong contrasting colors reflected that tension. I also used the motif of a triangle throughout the issue to represent the often-polarized debate– each candidate stands on one side and somewhere in between lies our compromise, the actualized truth.
This theme drives through everything in the issue. It is most obvious in the cover. Each of our main candidates are dominating the discourse. They are both right in that they have the best intention for America in mind, but they deliver that in very different ways. No matter who takes office in January, these power players will have to compromise somewhere down the middle and establish peace. The WSN is also symbolized within that fine line as something breaking down the clutter.
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