Harry Potter Exclusive: Ball State Student Designer Explains How Daily Prophet Came to Life

It was like I was in Harry Potter’s wizarding world,” said Jen Minutillo, “even if it was just for a day.”

The Ball State Daily News chief designer recently spearheaded the creation of a special issue for the student paper: The Daily Prophet, the newspaper of record in the land that Rowling built.  “I wasn’t going to do a sort-of attempt at replicating this paper because I know fans put so much stock in J.K. Rowling’s attention to detail in her books,” said Minutillo, a senior secondary English education major earning an additional license in journalism.  “It was either go big or go home.”

The result: a big, interactive success that went viral on Ball State University’s campus and online.  The BSDN’s version of the Prophet featured articles about various aspects of muggle living, Quidditch match recaps, and a confession from a BSU student about the “unforgivable movie sin” of not seeing all the HP films. A separate faux teaser promised “breaking news updates about Azkaban breakouts [and] He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s whereabouts.”

Most impressive, Minutillo and her team put together a layout truly embodying the Potter Prophet, including the shifting vertical-horizontal specs and a front page video news report and photo slideshows that come to life (online at least) with a simple point and click.

The front page of the BSDN's Daily Prophet. Click on the image to travel to the site where the page is featured, enabling you to access the photo slideshows and video news report.

Aly Brumback, the impassioned Daily News editor in chief: “As a fan of the movies and books myself, I thought it sounded like a great idea. I talked to the Daily News‘ adviser John Strauss to see what he thought, and he said it sounded like a really fun idea. . . . [Jen] is a fantastic designer, so I knew it would turn out great. . . . This is probably my favorite issue of my semester as editor in chief. It definitely exceeded expectations.”

For her über-impressive design chops and outside-the-box brainstorming, Minutillo joins an array of other student media muggles in the CMM j-student spotlight. Below, she explains how she created the Prophet, reader reactions to the finished product, and the level of her personal HP passion.

How did The Daily Prophet first take shape?

Two weekends before the “Deathly Hallows” movie premiere, roughly 15 to 20 Daily News staff members got together at my apartment for a 16-hour Harry Potter movie marathon. About halfway through the movies, sort of jokingly, but mostly seriously, I suggested to Aly Brumback that we turn A1 into the Daily Prophet on the day of the midnight premiere.

I knew that in the heat of the moment everyone would love the idea, but it I was afraid when I really pushed it that it would somehow get derailed.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Ultimately, there really never was any big grand plan.  I knew- judging by my own level of obsession- that other students would immediately recognize the Daily Prophet nameplate, and it was the best way to play off the excitement of the day.  I just had an image in my head of how all this awesome Harry Potter-themed content would look laid out like the Daily Prophet, and it sort of came to life from there.

What were the toughest parts of bringing the Prophet to life?

The biggest challenge in the design process itself was figuring out how to replicate the nameplate without it looking like a really bad attempt at using the pen tool. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that whoever designed the paper for the movie created his own font, so it was impossible to find one already on my computer that really matched the DP.

So, the challenge was 1) Trying to find an image with a high-enough resolution for me to be able to accurately hand-draw the letters. And 2) Actually doing the drawing. I drew and re-drew the nameplate several times before I came up with something I thought did the original nameplate justice. I spent a lot of time on this because I knew that would be the first thing people noticed about the page, so I knew I had to do it perfectly.

The second challenge came on the actual production day.  Somewhere along the line, it was never communicated to the advertising department that we wanted the front page to be open with no ads.  So when I sat down to transfer my work to the newsroom’s computer, opened up the page, and saw a giant bright red ad on the front, I had a major freak-out/raging moment.  I had already done the entire layout before the production night, so I had to quickly figure out how I was going to move up all the content without it looking smooshed or forced.  After accepting that there was no chance we could move the ad, I just started playing around with the design to make it fit like we needed it to.  It all worked itself out.

How did your team embed the videos and slideshows into the front page?

The video and photo slideshows were actually the work of design editor David Downham and graphics editor Mark Townsend.  After I finished the page, they took the InDesign file and used some of InDesign’s basic interactivity/Flash features to embed the click-through slideshow in the photo frames that were already on the page.  The video was put together by videographer Tamaya Greenlee, and David and Mark embedded it in the same way as the photos.  Although I’m not certain on the technical specifics, I believe everything they used to put the .swf file together was available in InDesignCS5 under the “interactive” panel.

What is your favorite part of your Prophet?

My favorite part of the layout is the package headline “MUGGLES PACK THEATER TO SEE THE CHOSEN ONE.” I was so happy I found a font in our library that was very similar to the DP font, and the fact that I was able to get MUGGLES huge on the front just made me laugh and smile. I knew as soon as people saw the paper- even if they didn’t immediately recognize the Daily Prophet nameplate- they would make the Harry Potter connection to muggles. On the whole, though, I just really loved all the little details that went into it- from picking fonts that mimicked those in the real paper to adding the little details like “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s whereabouts” and our Twitter breaking news promo. I wanted it to seem as real as possible while still keeping our readers/advertisers happy, so I think those details were like the cherry on the sundae.

Another page of the Prophet.

What has been the response on campus?

People went wild over the paper! I grabbed a couple extra copies for myself, but when other students in my classes saw me looking at the paper they all asked if they could have a copy or if I knew where to find more.  Usually the arts & journalism building gets the most traffic during the day because of its location on campus, but rarely are all the copies of the paper taken by the end of the day.  Other Daily News staff members told me every copy of the paper in that building was gone by about 2 p.m. that day, and the stacks in many other buildings where the paper was delivered were gone, too.  Aside from that, I got a ton of Facebook and Twitter messages from friends, and some strangers, telling me they loved the page and a lot of re-tweets of the link to the PDF and Charles Apple’s blog about it.

What is your personal level of Harry Potter obsession?

Surprisingly, I’m a bit new to the wizarding world of Harry Potter.  I refused to watch the movies or read the books growing up because I was one of those kids who never wanted to do what everyone else was doing.  It wasn’t until this summer that my boyfriend forced me to watch the movies. I became obsessed almost instantaneously.  I read all the books between July and now and I’m eager to start re-reading them all.  I wore my Daily Prophet T-shirt and Gryffindor scarf to the movie premiere.  I also watched all the movies at least two to three times each in the week before the premiere.  I tried to justify that über-nerdiness by saying I was doing research for the A1 page- I would watch the movies on my laptop and pause on spots where the DP was shown so I could study the layout!

Were there advantages to working on the Prophet at a student pub?

I took advantage of the opportunity and the freedom working for a college publication has because I knew this would probably never be possible at a professional publication.  I had friends who are working professionally now message me throughout the day saying they were so jealous that they’d never be able to do something like that anymore, so it made me really contemplate the mentality professional publications have right now.  I saw people reading our paper who would normally never read it.  Maybe it’s some of this spontaneity and sheer fun that professional publications need to keep readers from ditching the print product and going online.


Potter and Minutillo

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