That’s the best journalists can hope for. There’s always someone or something that could have made the story, photo, video, graphic, headline, caption, layout just a little bit better. Not necessarily more accurate or newsworthy, just better.
Perfection is the goal, an elusive and impossible one to attain. Still, it drives us. Learn more, do better. Next time.
But sometimes being almost perfect can have a huge effect on your audience. Producing something that is almost perfect can transcend the daily goals of telling accurate, newsworthy and interesting stories and reach an emotional connection with your readers and viewers.
The front page of The Lantern on Nov. 26 is almost perfect and it has affected Ohio State families, coaches, alumni, employees, casual fans and the journalists who helped make it happen.
Ohio State’s Zach Boren standing over Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is the dominant visual on the page and rightfully so. It is a powerful image, framed well and Boren’s imposing figure stands in front of a simple, one-word headline: “Undefeated.”
The bottom third of the page includes the score of the game, the recap and smaller photo of Coach Urban Meyer and senior defensive lineman John Simon. All very well done, but the front page’s anchor, the reason it continues to resonate with the audience and is now being sold as a poster that people are actually buying is the photo of Boren.
So why is it almost perfect? Why am I trying to find a problem, any imperfection, in something that has evoked pride from so many people?
The short answer: I’m not. But I see so much more than just one photo on one page. The deeper you look, the more elusive perfection becomes. That is not a bad thing.
Almost perfect could also describe the football team this year. Their record was perfect, 12-0, in Meyer’s first season in control. But with a bowl ban and no shot at the only other undefeated team in the country in a National Championship Game that would likely have drawn more hype and viewers than even Notre Dame vs. Alabama will: almost perfect.
The photo itself: almost perfect: Boren has been an inspiration this year. I shy away from commenting on the football team or any others on campus because there is always a chance that these young men and women could end up as students in one of my classes. I think I’m safe here since Boren is graduating and unlikely to end up in my classes in Spring.
He started the year as a fullback and was becoming a featured player in Meyer’s evolving offense, carrying the ball and scoring more than he had in the last three years combined. Then, the team was hurting on the defensive side of the ball, and a player, a captain, having a great season, did the selfless thing. He went where his team needed him, making the switch to defense from offense. A runner who used to blow up linebackers with lead blocks, or run over or through them with ball in hand, would instead try to deliver similar punishment from the other side of the line.
Boren did more than try. He quickly became a leading tackler and provided stability to a group that needed it. The photo of him standing over Gardner splashed on the front page of the student newspaper, a seemingly perfect end to an imperfect but Hollywood-esque season and career.
But I want more in the photo.
I want to see Boren’s face. I want to see the name on the back of his jersey. I want to see Gardner’s face.
I know those things are impossible. I know I’m a jerk. I know journalism is imperfect. I’m OK with all of that.
Still, there are few parts of this story, this photo, this front page and its aftermath that have been perfect. That selecting the photo was a group effort in the newsroom which quickly became the only choice: perfect. The reaction from Cody Cousino, the editor who took the photo, and his colleagues as they continue to hear the stories of the fans who want to buy it, the coaches who want to add it to a wall at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the family members who want it for scrapbooks: perfect.
Cody has called the emails and phone calls “humbling.” The Lantern staff has taken tremendous and rightful pride in creating the page. That’s obvious when you see the genuine, satisfied smiles on their faces with every new accolade: few papers left on the racks, the business office selling the posters and sales going well, congratulatory emails and tweets from alumni and fans, including one Lantern alumnus and Columbus Dispatch editor who called it a “bold” choice.
Those reactions and kind words are what I’ll remember most, not the photo or even the perfect season that demanded it resonate with The Lantern’s audience.
The front page, the photo, the team, the story, the caption, the headline, the layout: almost perfect.
And that’s a good thing. It gives these journalists (and me) a new standard of excellence to work to surpass.
The goal is always perfection with the knowledge that almost achieving it can be just as rewarding.