Shine news

‘What do I do with blank space?’ 💭

Hello everyone,

This past week I was thrilled to host our first ever online teachers’ forum. The idea behind the session was to assist teachers who are overseeing students putting together a school newspaper or magazine project.

We know that managing that kind of project raises all kinds of practical questions and we thought if we put you and your colleagues together with fellow educators who work in media, as well as a seasoned newspaper journalist, we’d be on to something.

What followed was a fascinating to-and-fro. At this time of year, we know many projects are wrapping up and in particular there’s a big question around a topic I raised in my ‘design top ten tips’ a couple of weeks ago. Blank space. Students are nerve-wracked by empty pages or gaps. Often they take great articles and try to squeeze every word in by making text smaller and headlines bigger. Our advice: this isn’t a Victorian novel – let it breathe.

Joining the conversation we had Dr Glenda Cooper, Deputy Head of the Journalism Department at City, University of London, Dr Sharon Maxwell Magnus, Head of Media Group, Principal Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Hertfordshire and Katherine Whitbourn, Contributing Literary Editor, The Mail on Sunday and news sub-editor for The Observer.

I thought it would be handy to offer the outcome of one of the best exchanges we had. Where photos are in short supply and pages seem yawning and empty, the collective advice was to:

Be structured and confident with the layout, while ensuring it sits with the rest of the design by following the same column-grid as elsewhere;

Use gorgeous large typography for headlines, perhaps in striking colours. To seek inspiration on how to do this, take a look at magazines like Grazia, The Face or Cosmopolitan;

Every article needs somewhere for the reader to begin. Is it the headline, the opening paragraph or a ‘standfirst’, the short sentence before you begin to read?;

Use the best quote in the article as a large ‘pull-quote’ to break up the text, provide interest and make the pages where the article sits really ‘pop’;

Remember it’s always possible to ask a fellow student who has real talent in art to draw an illustration or cartoon that sits with the article (and both of these open your project up to two more Shine Award categories too!).

At the Shine Awards day in July we always host a teachers’ forum and we will be doing the same this year. We love to offer advice – and listen. Understanding the challenges schools face helps us tailor the awards programme every year, a real priority for us.

As ever, if you have questions about your entry for the Shine School Media Awards 2024, just drop us a line at

Til next time,

Chair of Shine