Internship Series: The Virginian-Pilot — Week 5

Breaking news, breaking news and, you guessed it, more breaking news

A couple of weeks ago, the director of presentation mentioned that I seemed to attract breaking news. He’s not wrong, and this week proved it.


NBA playoffs

On Monday, I was designing the sports section, and it just so happened to be the night of the NBA playoffs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Since the game didn’t start until 9 p.m., the results wouldn’t be coming in until close to midnight. It was going to be a whirlwind of last-minute design.

The whole night, I was setting up the front page so that I could just drop the article on the page when the results came in and easily scan through images from the game on AP.

Up until the last buzzer, the night had gone fairly leisurely. But the moment after the game ended, it turned into a frenzy. It took awhile for the pictures to come in, so I was downloading pictures, placing them, rearranging the text, and then repeating the process after finding a better photo to use instead.

It sounds like a waste of time, continuing to swap out images, but since I wasn’t sure when the article was going to come in and when we were going to absolutely need to send the pages, I wanted to have all of my bases covered.

Considering the win was huge for Kevin Durant, who led the Warriors to victory, I decided to find a picture with him as the focus, and I really enjoyed the confetti flying in the background. The photo also had the perfect negative space for a huge, reverser-type headline, which is always a plus.

Doing the front for a playoff game was definitely great practice in other last-minute news, situations where you have time to prep but won’t be able to put in results or the story until the very last minute. For articles like these, it pays to be prepared, and not to be complacent with a mediocre picture you find from halfway through the game. Waiting until the very end ensures you get the best picture to accompany the article.

Breaking news in news

I couldn’t avoid breaking news just by leaving the sports section. When I designed the A1 Wednesday evening, everything was set to go, with a naturalization ceremony as the main art for the page and placed in the center of the paper, and with the Alexandria shooting as the main news lead.

But around 9:30 p.m. that night, The Pilot got word of a church that was burning down in Portsmouth, and once we saw the photos from the fire and how damaged the church was, we decided to do some rearranging and focus on that story instead.

The actual article didn’t come in until around 11, so I was working with the photos and placeholder text until then. I knew I was going to want a large lead-in, to explain what had happened before jumping into the story. After doing some searching on Google Maps, our night editor found a picture of the church before the fire that nearly perfectly matched one of the photos we had from after the fire.

I wanted to use the two pictures to show the stark contrast of the church before and after the fire, so it was clear just how badly the church was affected.

On the inside page, I pulled out a great quote that the reporter got from the pastor to emphasize the members’ resiliency and give the piece an emotional touch.

Working with breaking news is an exercise in quick thinking, forcing you to make decisions instantly, learning to trust your own judgement, and asking for help from others. The page certainly wouldn’t have been as strong without so many different components: the picture the night editor found, the headline that the news editor came up with to replace my original one, the collaborative effort to decide which story should get moved to the inside, and how the page needed to be rearranged.

Election Night in Virginia

It’s a quintessential newsroom tradition. Pizza on election night — and the last minute rush to update stories, place headshots, find statistics and use photos to get all of the election results in the paper for the next morning.

It was Tuesday night, and I was designing the inside A pages. Everything had been templated out already, but there was room for a big photo to accompany the lieutenant governor article from the after-party.

But we never got that photo. Instead, we had some great photos from the polls, but the page required some changes.

I decided to make the photos standalone photos, make the space for the lieutenant governor results much smaller, make the headshots larger, and include the percentages the candidates won by.

It wasn’t the most insane night, considering it was just results from the primary, but it was my first peek into what an election night in a professional newsroom really looks like.

It was surprisingly calm. Articles came in, which were edited and then passed along to me, and while it was late when the results came in, it wasn’t so close to deadline that it was a madhouse. It was great getting to work with people who were calm and collected, having lived through many election nights before (especially the general election this past November), and who knew exactly what they were doing.


Overall, this last week was great experience in a week full of last-minute and breaking news. It has helped me trust my design instincts, ask for help from my coworkers and collaborate to produce the best pages, even when under pressure.


This is the fifth installment in our internship series, where our contributors recount their news design internship experiences in weekly updates.