Monica Moses, Will You Marry Me?
Mario Garcia invented the WED concept in 1987 to solve a problem. In his travels as the world's most influential newspaper designer, he saw dysfunctional relationships, even adversarial ones, in newsrooms across the globe. In addition to stifling creativity within the work environment, this polarizing tension did something worse: it created disharmony in the communication of the news. He imagined a different kind of relationship and used an acronym to describe it: WED, the marriage of Writing, Editing, and Design. Not only would WED improve the culture of newsrooms, it would produce a new, more powerful kind of newspaper.
"...if Monica Moses and I are to marry our disciplines for the larger journalistic good, perhaps we need a pre-nuptial agreement."
Although Mario is a visual journalist, he chose a literary device to help us see something new. That device was the metaphor: a comparison that, by bringing two disparate things together, helps us see them both in a new light. In the visual arts, as in the literary ones, the associative imagination is the common source of creativity.
Creativity often begins with the familiar, the conventional, or the obvious. What happens next is what matters. Change the perspective. Rotate the globe. Counter-intuit. Rub against the grain. Turn things inside out or upside down. That's how we help our readers see the world with fresh eyes.
Mario Garcia's "eureka" moment came when, through the metaphor of marriage, he conceived a new relationship between journalists of the word and journalists of the picture. (It is only fair to recognize that Buck Ryan at the University of Kentucky was reaching a similar conclusion, using orchestration as a metaphor, in his elaboration of the "Maestro Concept.")
For Mario it was WED. The Marriage of Writing, Editing, and Design. A marriage a trois. Marriages, we know, can become dysfunctional and disharmonious. So the question he asks us is important: What shall be the terms of this relationship? What do we promise each other?
If WED is possible, if Monica Moses and I are to marry our disciplines for the larger journalistic good, perhaps we need a pre-nuptial agreement. Monica, let me suggest some terms:
1. We promise to work hard to understand one another's aesthetic. This doesn't mean that we need to master one another's craft. We must learn enough to ask good questions, to listen, and to work as collaborators rather than adversaries.
2. We promise to search for a common language that describes our common ground.
3. We respect the distinctive value of our individual crafts and those of our colleagues: writing and reporting, editing, photography, graphics, illustration, or design.
4. We recognize that these crafts live in a kingdom called "journalism," a land where these aptitudes are most prized: news judgment, information gathering, fact verification, story telling, critical thinking, public service. If this marriage is to work, the artist must see himself as a journalist; the journalist must see herself as an artist.
5. We must focus our energy and creativity not narrowly and narcissistically, but magnanimously and altruistically on "the job that has to be done." We ask first: what journalistic purpose is to be served? Then we discover which of our crafts, in what combination, will do the job. Some days you will lead and I will follow. On other days I will lead and you will follow. On every other Wednesday we will walk side by side.
Finally, if we are to be married, my visual fiancee, if I am to be your Paul and you my Paula, you must promise me two specific things:
A. You will never ask me two weeks before deadline what the first word of my story is going to be so you can design the initial capital letter.
B. For your own professional development, when you go to those SND meetings, when you see those magnificent page designs, as you engage in those hands-on workshops, oh promise me: you will read the words. How can you tell if those Swedish newspapers are well designed and well illustrated if you can't read Swedish? Oh, look at that delightful use of white space! What a nice open page!! What an intriguing palette of colors!!! How do you know if you can't read the words? How can you tell if the marriage is strong if you've only met one of the partners? So please, read the words and I'll love you forever. Or at least until my midlife crisis.
So, my betrothed, what do you seek from me?