The Best Newspapers Are Toilet Papers

The test for how good a newspaper is, according to TODAY’s Design Editor Edric Sng, is how well it fares in the toilet. The writing must be good enough to sustain a “good long shit” and it has to be comfortable to hold. That is why he prefers the tabloid-size of TODAY, the broadsheet size, he says, is just too cumbersome for a readership that is pressed for time. He recalls how his father started stapling his copy of the broadsheet, The Straits Times (ST) last year. “It’s quite geeky, but it really works.” says the 29-year-old, and so he introduced it to TODAY too.

The former sociology graduate of the National University of Singapore first wet his toes in the media industry when he wrote part-time for Fins Magazine, a local diving magazine. Sng became its Editor even before he graduated but soon got tired of doing everything — writing, editing, designing, marketing — as it was a small magazine. He then applied to be a sub-editor at both ST and TODAY, choosing to join the latter and eventually rising up the be its Design Editor today.

He readily admits his lack of credentials but says, “Do you know why people become newspaper designers? Because they are not good enough to be designers for other media.” For Sng, newspaper designers need to balance editorial with design, “(Our) strength is at least 50 per cent words.” he says.

For someone whose job is mainly to design, Sng spends more than half the time talking about words. He bemoans ST’s headlines. “Our headlines are harder to think of than ST’s headlines. We try to be a bit more clever.” he says as he flips through today’s edition for an example.

Instead, he finds himself muttering page-after-page, “That is a ST headline” and quickly apologises, “We tried to do more last time although we seemed to have gotten quite plowed under by work… who the hell wrote these headlines?” he exclaims. An ST headline, according to Sng, is “straight” as compared to what his 12 subs in TODAY have to come up with, “We like to put sex in our headlines.” he says.

Sng is also worried about the poor writing in Singapore journalism as many writers seem to lack a soul in their articles, and to him, it doesn’t matter how good a design is if the content does not match up. He cites former TODAY writers Clement Mesenas and P N Balji as well as former-ST journalist Cherian George as writers he likes to read.

To him the relationship between text and design is crucial for newspapers, “I think designers should be very much more concious about words than what people normally think.” he explains. “The content, and the sound and style should forge how your paper looks and not the other way around.” This desire to visualise a paper’s “voice” is why TODAY uses certain typefaces and looks this way, “A broadsheet-level respect for readers but with a tabloid finish”, he says.

In the next part of this interview, The Paginator asks Edric about redesigning TODAY and finds out why ST has it easy in news design.

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