Ever since I could competently hold a pencil, I’ve been in the awkward position of knowing I wanted to be a journalist and also knowing that I never wanted to be a reporter.

What else is there to do?

Obviously, I’ve settled into editing, which is a process I love. But in high school and throughout journalism school, I thought my place in journalism would be as a designer of newspaper front pages.

I pored through design books and hung Piet Mondrian posters on my wall. His blocky artwork is the template for modern newspaper design. My senior year of high school, I won a national award for newspaper design and flew to Boston to collect it. The main article on that winning front page was a feature on teen parents with the masterful headline “Teen Parents Speak.” (I’ve gotten better at headlines since then.)

In college, I had an assignment to shadow the front page designer for the L.A. Times, and for some reason we chose Nov. 2, 2004, as the night that was most convenient for both our schedules. Why this man agreed to let a college kid hang around and ask questions on one of the newsiest nights of the century, I’m still not sure. That night was a presidential election. So right off the bat, it was chaotic and intense. But on top of the election, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was clinging to life. The whole night, the designer faced the specter that everything would have to be rearranged at the last minute if we got news of his death. Oh, and did I mention that we were also in the thick of two wars? A car bomb had exploded in Baghdad, and 11 troops were dead in Afghanistan. That night was about more than just throwing stories onto a page; it was about piecing together moments of our history, each significant in its own right, in a way that did justice to all of them.

I was thinking about that night a lot this week, when a disagreement bubbled up about the hundreds of newspaper front pages memorializing the moment the first woman in our history was nominated to the presidency by a major political party. The problem: There weren’t any photos of her on those front pages. Instead, virtually every newspaper included a shot of Bill Clinton, the nominee’s husband, because he’d given a major address on stage that night.

On its face, this makes sense. He was on stage, so the front pages reflected that he was on stage. But step back for a second, and that logic doesn’t hold up. Because journalists aren’t supposed to simply transcribe, robotically, events as they unfolded. They provide context, and weight, to those moments. It was a weighty moment. And it should not have been bound only by photos from the previous 12 hours.

When we were scrambling to prepare for Arafat’s death that night in 2004, for example, no one said, “Well, if no one sends us a photo from his deathbed, then I guess we don’t have to worry about it.” No, photographers were combing through archives to assemble photos that would tell the story of the man’s life and his place in history. And that history was bigger than just the day he might have died. (He ended up dying about a week later.)

Newspaper designers had months to prepare for Hillary Clinton being the nominee of the Democratic Party. Some news events require scrambling and quick action, but this was not one of them. She deserved not to be written out of her own piece of history.

What VOSD Learned This Week

There are many big showdowns coming in November, but Maya Srikrishnan highlighted one this week that could determine how California will approach its housing crisis – and you might not even know this particular showdown existed if you looked only at the statewide measures on the ballot.

That’s because it’s a slate of local measures – not statewide proposals – that could disrupt Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to help developers bypass certain local rules in order to build more housing. The local ballot measures would put up more hurdles to building, just the opposite of what Brown is seeking.


When we think of school and preparedness, we tend to think of things like SATs and college applications. But parents are finding that their kids are playing catch-up starting in kindergarten. Scott Lewis examined this preparedness gap and how the state is working to address it.

One of the factors in the mix is Common Core, the new set of standards guiding how children are taught beginning in kindergarten. Mario Koran fleshed out how those standards work, and what kids should be learning in preschool to enter kindergarten equipped to tackle the Core.

Meanwhile, outside the classroom, Rachel Evans visited a number of high school campuses around town and found that safety protocols vary wildly from school to school. Put simply, it’s amazing how different each school is in what it takes a regular person to get on campus.

And over on the administrative side of things, Ashly McGlone details a bizarre giveaway orchestrated by the County Office of Education that prompted an audit and questioning from board members.


Though we’ve been keeping close tabs on the Lilac Hills Ranch project, a 1,700-home development in rural Valley Center, there are still some outstanding questions now that the developer wants to have voters weigh in.

Maya Srikrishnan laid out some of the big items to look for in the county’s report on the ballot initiative, and how it differs from the version of the project the Planning Commission studied. One of the big questions is whether the developer plans to build a school to help accommodate all the new residents.

What I’m Reading

Power Ladies

 That Hillary. (Creators)

 What it was like watching Hillary make history. (New York Mag)

• A powerful San Francisco lady I know and love is Aminatou Sow. A powerful San Francisco lady I aspire to know is Audrey Cooper, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Amina’s quote about stealing Drake’s car to buy tampons is precisely why we’re friends. Audrey’s quotes about hating meetings and getting trapped in parking garages is why I feel like we should be friends. (KQED, New York Mag)

• Mariah Carey proves what I always suspected to be true: That there are people who really do break out into song in regular conversations. That detail aside, this profile also illuminates her musical talent and business savvy, which she doesn’t get much credit for. (Complex)

Odds and Ends

• We’ve had a pretty harrowing year in which it seems like we’ve pinballed from tragedy to tragedy to tragedy. This extraordinary package zooms in on one week in March that saw several attacks across the world, and tells the stories of the lives lost and those impacted by the terror. (New York Times)

• The ways in which default settings rule our lives. (ProPublica)

Line of the Week

“And before the ugly general election battle starts this fall, where it’s hard to remember why anyone would like politics or how you could ever agree with someone who disagrees with you about the presidential race, we at least get a reminder that sometimes, politics is just a girl, standing in front of a voter, asking it to love its award-winning cheese and note that the Green Bay Packers have never won the Super Bowl without a Democrat in the White House.” – From a tribute to the party conventions’ roll call of the states, which is unironically wonderful if you are a civics nerd like myself. And let’s be real, if you’re reading this, you probably are.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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