Following the paper trail

Monday, 13 September 2004 — 5:02pm | Journalism

A number of major newsmagazines routinely have an inset with plusses, green arrows pointing up or some other graphic connoting positivity interspersed with minuses, red arrows pointing down or what have you. They place them next to the names and organizations that have done something worthy of recognition of late – or at the other end of the spectrum, shot themselves in the foot.

If I were to make value judgments of such generality on this here column, my biggest green arrow this week would go to one Angela Thomas, last year’s Engineering Students’ Society President. This year she is the Editor-In-Chief of the ESS publication The Bridge, which has returned to a broadsheet format for the first time since I arrived at this institution. I finally picked up a copy of the September issue earlier today, and by and large, it is praiseworthy in many respects.

The quality of the layout is the paper’s most immediately striking feature. While the type design is in itself nothing special, it comes off as clean and professional without being overly tight or roomy; in a word, legible. None of the photography is out of place. The attention-grabbing headlines contrast well with the wall of text on every page. That’s the other thing: The Bridge is packed with content. Part of it is the absence of advertisements with the exception of the events and services that fall under the ESS, such as the tutorials that are affectionately known in the faculty as the Carmen & Markus seminars.

The section headings are easily my favourite design element in the whole works. In keeping with the Engineering theme it is styled like a measurement that stretches across the page from one margin to another, where the caption box in the middle has the ESS insignia in the background and a tidy small-caps section heading taking centre stage.

Content-wise, there is a piece on Page 2 that deserves a mention. Every paper on campus has tried to tackle the Universal Bus Pass issue in one way or another, but leave it up to the upstart Engineering student publication to get it right thanks to an exclusive contribution from Chris Jones of Points of Information, who is an alumnus of the faculty.

The comics and crossword on Page 7 are all syndicated from the Web, but my, what a crossword. This comes from a whole set of technical crosswords at RF Cafe – and Mr. Christie, these are tough cookies. Even industry professionals are in for a puzzle that will rack their brains for acronyms galore.

Page 8 is a very effective use of the back page, with a visual calendar of events in the bottom half and an alphabetized one on top. There is a blurb there on Talk Like A Pirate Day, today’s excuse to link to a Language Log post. (I should start a fan club, honestly.)

I do have a few gripes about this issue of The Bridge, and most of them will rightly come off as nitpicky. On the first page, Will Helary offers “Seven Steps to a Better Degree” and writes as one of his subheadings, “Don’t *just* meet other engineers.” I’m not sure why an asterisk was used there for emphasis when making it a bold-oblique would have done perfectly well, as it reeks of “chatspeak” and is a bit of a distraction on the printed page.

Line-spacing is consistent on the cover page but not so much on Page 2, where Jessica Mueller’s “Students Deserve More Than Half-Ply” is a little cramped while the Jones article above it has more room to move than it needs. The paragraph indentation is also a tad inconsistent between the two. I also see two mistakenly doubled Is on the page; one is the acknowledgment of one “Mustafa Hiirji” for his design assistance, and the other is more ironic: “Thiink this issue sucked?” reads the volunteer call.

Additionally, writing in all caps for emphasis is unacceptable in a print publication. Please avoid that from now on. The only person who gets away with doing that is J.K. Rowling, and even then I do consider it one of the blemishes in her otherwise commendable writing style.

But as I said, these are all minor qualms – mistakes, as it were – that are entirely avoidable in future issues. The Bridge has made a strong debut, and I wish it the best of luck as the year progresses.

Now, for that other student paper.

I checked the DemocracyNow website today and was pleased to see that there is indeed a functional site there, as opposed to the “Coming soon” that greeted any visitors who might have accessed it after seeing the address in their Clubs Fair pamphlet. What I was looking for was the answer to this question: what’s up with The Independent, anyway?

Right now, an assessment is tricky. I still see a whole lot of ambition and not a lot to show for it. I also see one change of plans after another. After reporting just last week that their brochure spoke of The Independent as an online publication, their About page calls it “a new and refreshing University of Alberta weekly student newspaper.” This really belongs in the future tense, as their plans according to this page are to publish once every three weeks in 2004-2005. I’m still waiting for the first one.

Hacks take note: they are aiming for a dedicated fee referendum.

I know I pick on The Independent a lot in this column, not out of prejudice so much as frustration that they have so many bullet points about what an inspiring and necessary forum for discourse their publication is, and hardly anything to prove it. I like to think of this as constructive. A few words of advice: Fix your logo. Fix your typography. Fix your grammar. Solicit contributors not named Rob Anderson. Stop getting ahead of yourself when it comes to marketing how big, important and objective you supposedly are. End this shroud of anonymity and attach some names to yourself so you can make yourself accountable, which is supposedly something you value in the political process. You are not The Economist, so stop pretending to be.

The first issue of the revitalized Bridge was a pleasure to read. As for the first issue of The Independent… let’s just say I’ll begrudgingly give them a second chance, and leave it at that.

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