'The Exonian' gets a new look

The fabled publication's redesign blends classic and modern.

Patrick Garrity
April 29, 2020
The front page of the newly redesigned Exonian

The Exonian has published continuously through two world wars, three presidential assassinations, the Great Depression and myriad other maladies to befall the nation since 1878. The COVID-19 virus is no different. 

So, when the decision came in March to close down campus and move spring term entirely online, the 142nd editorial board saw it not as a breaking point but as breaking news. Hours after that landmark announcement, the editorial staff, stretched across the country and around the globe, reported the story on a newly revamped website.

In the weeks since, the newspaper has continued to cover the impact and inform the community from afar. 

Editor-in-chief Anne Brandes ’21 and the new editorial board took the reins in early January with a three-pronged plan to improve the publication: retain writers, diversify the newsroom, and grease the gears between the print, digital and business operations. The most obvious of the changes were makeovers of both the printed newspaper, designed by Otto Do '22, and the website, spearheaded by Daniel Zhang ’22.

“I think the root of the idea is that no matter how good your content is, people will not read it if it doesn’t look nice and there’s not some kind of graphic or picture that attracts your attention initially,” Brandes says in explaining the redesigns. “I think especially as media becomes more digital and becomes more visually focused, that The Exonian really needed to step up our game.”

Brandes, who grew up in New York reading the city’s papers as well as digital news sites such as ProPublica and The Marshall Project, worked with Do on the new look of the print edition. She sought a clean, minimalist approach that supports but doesn’t compete with the writing. “Anne’s vision to revive the print really inspired me,” Do says. “I feel very passionate about this. I’m using design to revive the paper and so it’s more than just something fun or a hobby.”

The editors respect the newspaper’s place in history — it’s the oldest continuously operating high school newspaper in the country — and tapped into the past even as they pushed ahead. Part of that nod to history was to resurrect the original banner design that graced the first edition on April 6, 1878. 

“This is our 142nd year,” Brandes says. “The original logo I think is strong and simple, but also switching it to the old logo as opposed to [a] new one shows that we really care about our heritage and we care about our legacy. We’re not just starting something completely new. We’re building off of a really strong and rich history. 

“This is very much The Exonian,” she says. “It’s just easier to read, more accessible.”

In pursuit of truth-telling

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

“We are in an age where the powerful want truth not to be true and want the pursuers of truth not to pursue it. And yet, truth stands, rigid and sharp, unforgiving and unafraid. It is our only guardian against tyranny. .... A free, fearless, adversarial, in-your-face press is the best friend a democracy can have.” — Charles M. Blow

The words of The Exonian Strickler lecturer and New York Times columnist Charles Blow struck a chord with the campus newspaper’s writers and editors, who consistently face challenges and responsibilities in producing a weekly publication, and doing so truthfully. The editors I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the past eight years of The Exonian’s 142-year history are dedicated to this noble pursuit. They take pride in being the inheritors of the nation’s oldest continuously running preparatory school newspaper and take seriously the charge to safeguard their role on campus as an independent forum for student and community voices. They’ve covered difficult stories about sexual assault. They’ve explored gender, racial and socioeconomic disparities in clubs and classrooms. They’ve dispelled myths about the college counseling process. They’ve reported on the Women’s March, climate-action rallies, Black Lives Matter and Afro-Latinx Exonian Society protests, and the impact of local and national politics.

And just as The Exonian is committed to editorial independence, it also strives to remain financially independent in the wake of the removal of the student subscription fee several years ago. On par with publishing trends nationally, The Exonian has seen financial and cultural shifts: a reduction in local ad sales, fewer subscriptions and declining print readership. My co-adviser, Ellee Dean ’01, watched her former employer, The Boston Phoenix, cease publication in 2013. Our newest student executive board is hard at work developing marketing plans to keep the paper solvent and help it grow, from enhancing subscription and advertising outreach to improving the design and features in both the newspaper and on our website. Meanwhile, every Wednesday, our production deadline looms. In normal times, as reporters’ articles filter in, the editors work from noon to 10 p.m. to edit and lay out articles, debate hot-button topics and news angles, and nab a slice or two of pizza, thanks to The Exonian Pizza Fund. A weekly visit from Barbara and David Bohn ’57 further sustains us with homemade cake and cream puffs. As our deadline approaches, the cream puffs and pizza gone, the seriousness of the work kicks in — the final page proofs, the headline writing, the typo-catching. And embedded in everything the editors do is a desire to get it right. They want to tell the truth. Former editor Suan Lee ’20 wrote that Blow’s comments about a rigorous press “was a pressing reminder that we must all be active truth-seekers to build a connected, informed, and progressive society.”

As a former reporter myself, I understand that, given the limitations of time and sources, uncovering the “truth” isn’t always easy. It takes practice and dedication. It takes getting it wrong to figure out how to get it right. The Class of ’73 Fund and The Exonian Fund have enabled us to attend the Harvard Crimson journalism conference each spring and offer a summer study scholarship for promising reporters. For many young writers, The Exonian has been a space where they can learn the value of telling the truth and practice, word by word, how to tell the truth and how to bring those core values into their daily lives and future professions. I see it as an extension of the values and skills at the core of Harkness — speaking up, listening, asking useful questions, seeking and sharing the truth. 

In a culture where claims of fake news and skepticism of the media are at an all-time high, The Exonian’s charge of pursuing the truth is more important than ever. Our editors know that 142 years of independent journalism is an excellent legacy to build on, and Ellee and I are confident, guiding them from the sidelines, that the futures of journalism, and humanity, and the truth-telling required for the longevity and success of both, are in good hands.

Erica Plouffe Lazure is an instructor in English and co-adviser of The Exonian.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.