New York Times’ ‘Seinfeld-esque’ sports page shows the power of nothing

Kapow! Blam! Surprise! Sometimes, that’s what nothing can do.

The New York Times sports staff reminded us of that again with their cover “story” about this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductees — or lack, thereof.

 

This sports front about the lack of inductees to the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame was designed by Wayne Kamidoi.

“Given the news, the package was Seinfeld-esque,” said Sports Art Director Wayne Kamidoi, “a cover about nothing.”

Kamidoi likes to push the boundaries when it comes to conceptual design, especially when there is a point to be made.

Conceptual design often involves a marriage of words and images that tells a story in the arrangement itself.

The staff was not surprised that nominees Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn’t make it, but it “felt like history had spoken,” said Sports Editor Joe Sexton in a note to staff sent Thursday morning. “How to convey that to our readers? I think we did it—a striking, profound emptiness.”

As they planned the design throughout the evening, most of the discussion was contained to the sports department. “Maybe out of fear?” wrote Kamidoi in an e-mail interview. “There was some apprehension, including from myself,” he said. “I was not reassured when the sports editor said on his way home he told the news desk about what we were planning … and walked away very fast.”

Concepts as unusual as this one work best when all of the details have been considered. It might be a visual wink and nod to a situation that captures the reaction to a story that people will be talking about the next day.

In this case, the staff felt the amount of white space represented was appropriate “to present a story that COULD have been,” if there had been an actual list of inductees, said Kamidoi. “Ultimately, some of the marquee names of The Steroids Era were rendered in agate-size type, a mere footnote in baseball history, at the bottom of the package.”

They worked to ensure that the few words that did appear in the story worked clearly. “I’m fortunate to have some sharper minds nearby like designer/illustrator Sam Manchester, graphics editor Joe Ward and baseball editor Jay Schreiber,” said Kamidoi, “to refine the concept.”

Over the years, Kamidoi has been inspired by a body of conceptual design work by “the informal fraternity of newspaper sports designers” he said. “Most of the best and fun concepts are done under deadline duress, and without having staff pizza. Concepts by Joe Zeff, before he became an app design warrior, and Christoph Niemann are some of my favorites.”

The power of a simple idea—in this case a startling void of information as an avid sports reader opens up the paper—can be remarkably engaging.

“Our night sports editor said we received phone calls from two of our print sites to see if we had made a mistake in typesetting the page,” said Kamidoi. Most savvy sports readers likely caught the gist, right away.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Egg-Man/681171228 Egg Man

    it bordered on the high school sophomoric, not cutting edge at all. got media attention and twitter peeks, but for the NYT to pull this stunt, it’s more ammo for the end of print newspapers, what i call snailpapers. they shouldna had done it. it backfired, while a few cool people thought they were being cool. Not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/woop.dedoo.1 Woop DeDoo

    very proud of the Hall of Fame voters for refusing to honor cheaters

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    There were people other than Bonds and Clemens on the ballot, though. I’d wager at least a couple of them didn’t use PEDs. The informative but difficult method would involve looking at more than one viewpoint. The useless and lazy method involves one mass assumption. Sports has been traveling the second path for quite a while now on this journey.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    It’s not as clever as some people believe. But I often say that about PFADs.

    The next verse of this tune is to suggest alternatives because, after all, this HAD to be the way to go, right? Here goes. I’d suggest an illustration, but too often these days those are juvenile, poorly done, and loose with facts and context.

    I’d suggest a photo of something — perhaps an empty ball field, or a snow-covered outfield or pitcher’s mound — but those types of ideas are rejected out of hand.

    We could go on like this, but for the better part of a decade and a half, the general theme has been to proclaim a published page the GREATEST. I don’t see it this time.

  • http://twitter.com/jimross96 Jim Ross

    A sports columnist at my college paper did something like this 22 or 23 years ago. The football team was bad, and members of the defense told the columnist that if he had nothing good to write about them, then he should write nothing at all. So he referenced the team’s advice and followed by “writing” an entire column of blank white space.

    Efforts like this are tough to pull off. The sports column worked because I had never seen that trick (although I imagine it has been done before.) Plus, it was a juvenile response to a juvenile request, and in its own way highlighted how silly the situation had become.

    This NYT sports front is OK. I understand the thinking. It works. But I wouldn’t have done it this way. I’m not surprised that Bonds and Clemens didn’t make it, and this front suggests that people would be or should be surprised. The vote was a bit anticlimactic.

  • http://twitter.com/schneidersnd Rob Schneider

    Josh Crutchmer wrote an excellent commentary on this page for SND

    http://www.snd.org/2013/01/drawing-a-blank-two-sides-of-the-nyt-white-space-coin/