Media Magazine

Hail to That Creative Director (it Was About Time)!

Posted on the 27 March 2013 by Themarioblog @garciainteract

TAKEAWAY: As titles go, newspapers have always had trouble associating the word “creative” with what happens inside a newsroom. Until now, that is.  The appointment of Tom Bodkin as chief creative director of The New York Times is one significant step.

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Our congratulations to Tom Bodkin, of The New York Times, for becoming that newspaper’s first ever Creative Director.  While many other newspapers and magazines are turning to that title to describe the person who presides over the visual presentation of brand and content across a variety of platforms, we applaud the Times decision to crown its long time design director with the title.

Because the Times is, well, the Times, this development will send a strong message to publishers and editors at other newspapers that it is more than all right to mix the words creative and newspaper in the same breath, that there is room for creativity and visual experimentation.

Roger Black, himself a former design director at The New York Times (1982-85, Director of Editorial Art), agrees:

This is important since it shows The Times is moving design to the top level, while other news organizations are demoting it. Historically it brings C-level status to design there for the first time. However, I am not sure that Tom or anyone will ever reach the position that Lou Silverstein had. Lou was Corporate Art Director. Some time after Punch Sulzberger moved him to the newsroom he relinquished that title, but he still effectively reported to the publisher/chairman/owner. I assume that Tom as CCO will report to the CEO, but not the owner.

It’s not that art directors and design directors and even those managing editors for graphics (doesn’t that sound old?), have not been creative in their pursuits over the years, but now the creative director has officially arrived: he/she sits at the top of the management heap, makes decisions alongside those in the know, supervises how the guys in marketing use or misuse the brand and have under them art directors, illustrators, infographics folks, and sometimes even photographers. There are high expectations for the creative director of today, who is respected and consulted.

In a perfect world, creative directors know a thing or two about the visuals of digital platforms, and make sure that designers under their watch design accordingly.

We’ve come a long way, baby

I remember the early 1980s during the birth of real newspaper design.  At seminars everywhere, we would have a question concerning what to name this newly appointed person who would supervise layout and all things visual.  The important question was: What should we call this person?

The preferred title was assistant managing editor for graphics.

The word design would not be uttered. Neither would the word art.

Art directors were for magazines, not for newspapers. That was that and nobody questioned it. There would even be the implication that art director implied soft, even feminine, while the job was to be more of a visual editor in that more macho environment of a newspaper.

By the 1990s, we were beginning to see design directors in newspapers. That was progress that was not easy to achieve.

Further progress was the elevating of the assistant managing editors for graphics to managing editors for graphics.

By 2000, the preferred title was Visual Presentations Director, which sounded good, and carried the extra responsibilities of supervising online design as well.

But this is 2013, and now creativity has to be part of the title and is forever intertwined with issues of brand, DNA and how a media company shows itself across platforms to the world.

Creative Director defines the new role.

It sounds better than any of the previous titles. It implies visual genius at work—a person who understands about typography, color, visual serendipity, who can design for telephones, online, print and tablet, and, more importantly, who has the skills and self reassurance to be the manager of the unmanageable: all those creative types who aspire to the boss’ job, and who have their own ideas about everything from type fonts to grids to what works on tablet screens.

Do I think for a moment that such a person exists that fulfills all these requirements? Of course not.

I also believe that the creative directors who will are still sitting in a college classroom somewhere, maybe a 20 year old sophomore. They will be the ones fully prepared mentally, academically and professionally to do justice to such a grandiose title.

It’s all in a title these days

As titles go, I still think one of the most interesting titles I have come across in the past year is that of Chief Content Officer, bestowed upon my friend Emory Thomas, of American City Business Journals.  Emory wears his title well, and, to make things even better, he hired as his Creative Director the talented Jon Wile. A dynamic duo those two, and the results are obvious.

With Tom Bodkin as Creative Director at the Times, that iconic newspaper is opening the big door to experimentation and visual serendipity as well. It also is sending a strong message to other newspapers: don’t be afraid to go creative, it’s a necessary step to be in a state of constant evolution.

I am convinced that there have always been creative directors in newspapers everywhere, even before the title was fashionable. In fact, Tom’s predecessors Lou Silverstein and Roger Black, among others, directed the Times design creatively during their respective tenures. It’s just taken the Times management a little longer to realize that it was about time to give the job these guys do its proper title.

Never too late, and in Tom Bodkin they have found a most qualified candidate. We wish Tom well and look forward to what the Times will come up with under its new chief creative director.

For more details:

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Hail to that creative director (it was about time)!

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