Co.Design

How Kimye Inspired The New York Times' Great Lebron Cover

Sports Editor Jason Stallman chats with us about some unlikely inspiration.

We’re totally impressed with the clever, minimal approach that the New York Times took to one of the biggest sports stories of the year, Lebron James's announcement that he’ll be returning to Cleveland.

Sports Editor* Jason Stallman offered us some insight into why the Times decided to devote the entire front page of its SportsSaturday section to a “Transactions” clipping, with James's transaction highlighted in yellow. Turns out, the inspiration was as unexpected as the layout itself: Graphics editor Kevin Quealy riffed on the New York Post’s snarky, 55-word announcement of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding in May, of all things.

“The New York Post covered Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding in very unlikely un-tabloid fashion,” Stallman tells Co.Design. “You think they’d go wild, but instead they did a small, brief very mean-spirited and snarky announcement.”

Quealy had the idea to cover Lebron's huge announcement in a similarly understated style. “By the end of the day, against all the hype about the Lebron decision, we wanted to go in the totally opposite direction. Most publications had big displays about Lebron, with huge photographs and headlines. We wanted the simplest, crudest possible representation of what happened.” Designer Ben Hoffman toyed around with various layouts, and the team fell in love with the idea of using a clipping of the transaction section against a large white space.

You’d think the powers that be would balk at publishing an all-but-blank front page, but the design was unanimously beloved. “I really wish I could tell you this fabulous story of me going to combat with the masthead and finally prevailing on them to see the side of the righteous,” Stallman says, “but we came up with the idea, printed out a few options along these lines, and put it on [executive editor]Dean Baquet’s desk. He smiled and said, ‘That’s brilliant, I love it.’ There wasn’t even any discussion involved.”

So does this signal a new era of layout design--one dominated by playful uses of white space--or is it the kind of trick that only works once? “We’ve done a few different presentations over the last several years involving taking advantage of the white space,” Stallman says. “Print design can look very similar day to day. When you reel in the big pictures and headlines and go with a lot of white space, it can actually be louder. I don’t know if it will spur a trend, but our designers are certainly always looking for new ways to tell stories.”

*An earlier version of this story referred to Jason Stallman as the Deputy Sports Editor of The New York Times. He is the Sports Editor. We regret the error.

[Image: Lebron James via Domenic Gareri / Shutterstock]

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5 Comments

  • The piece about the wedding wasn't very nice or done well. I'm unfamiliar with the paper but I feel almost embarrassed that they would print something in that manner. With that aside, the New York Times' cover was surprising and overall attention grabbing.

  • Dave Rothacker

    I like it because it's different. I'm not thinking understated though. By removing all other content but the Transaction section and then by highlighting the Lebron announcement, the paper has now overstated and focused the news.