Q&A with Paolo Zinatelli

Lately I’ve been fascinated by people’s career stories, and our CCPR teachers have an abundance of them. Today, Paolo Zinatelli, production editor and senior news designer at the National Post, answered some of my questions. Paolo went to school for journalism, wrote a ton, did many an editing internship, and ended up working behind the scenes at one of the world’s most award-winning newspapers. In addition to working at the Post, Paolo teaches copy editing and design and layout courses at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre. He’s a cardigan-wearing, quick-witted, soft-spoken, cat-loving typography fiend. <—— I may have violated CP Style a bunch there.

Here is how Paolo sees himself:


“Long story short, I got my job because I decided to walk into The Gazette student newspaper and the next day they printed a news brief I wrote. It was the best decision I ever made!”

On to the questions!

1. Technology: good or bad for grammar? Is it making our grammar worse, or simply showcasing a problem that always existed? As an expert, how do you feel when you are bombarded with bad grammar every day? Good and bad. Good, because it allows more people to share their ideas and thoughts and makes it easier for people to communicate. Bad, because like all automation, it takes a lot of the skills of editing and writing out of the hands of the writer and places it in the hands of the technology. We quickly forget how to spell or write proper sentences because our computers will fix things for us. (Or a good editor!) I’m more forgiving of bad grammar if it’s not coming from a so-called “professional communicator.” If you want to be a writer or editor or work in any job that involves communication, you should know proper grammar regardless of whether you are at a computer or not. We don’t all have to speak like the Queen of England, but we should know the difference between “less bottles” and “fewer bottles” (I’m looking at you, ScarJo!).

2. Why are cats so popular?
Cats are popular because they’re adorable, and fluffy and like to be left alone. I think it’s human nature to want others to like us. And cats, in general, don’t like anything. But they have these adorable little fluffy faces that call out to us. So we are constantly trying to win their affection, even though they won’t have it. Also, cats are popular because, deep down, I think we’re all jealous of them for leading the life we all want. Who wouldn’t want to sleep 18-20 hours a day, get fed, belly rubbed and pampered. And then take a nap! Also, their natural curiosity (when they are awake) makes for some interesting adventures. I can always tell when one of my cats has been on an “adventure” (ie someplace she’s not supposed to be) because she likes to drink her water with her paw, and as a result leaves little wet paw prints on EVERYTHING.

3. Tell me more about your love for design. Many of your copy editing students are shocked to hear that you’re an award-winning designer, Mr. Modesty!
I really got into design when I started working in the Arts section of the Post. Working with such a talented designer, I began to have an appreciation for newspaper design, and how powerful it can be. I learned to think about how visually designing a newspaper can help the reader to understand a story better. When the visuals are clear, a reader will know where to look and it will help them appreciate a story. The best written story can get overlooked if it doesn’t look good on the page with an interesting photo or a smart, well-written headline (and yes, headlines are definitely part of the design). Also, maybe because I’m really an old man at heart, I love the way newspapers look. I love reading them. Holding them. Turning the page and discovering something new, whether it be a story, a photo or an amazing graphic or illustration. I think my favourite part of working at a newspaper is the fact that the story changes everyday. Every morning a reader can discover something new, and be inspired by it. They can come across an incredible story, or a breathtaking photo, something that will make them stop and think. And I think design plays a big part of that process. I work with readers in mind, and hope that in the end they appreciate the work we do each day.

4. Had you always been such a self-confessed “type nerd”? What’s your earliest memory of obsessing over typography?
I only really got into typography when I started at the Post, so about 8 years ago. The Post is designed around striking visuals, and typography is a big part of that. We use a mix of traditional and modern typefaces on our pages. I learned how changing the typeface on a headline, can change the way readers will perceive the story. Also, it’s fun to play with typography as art. Sometimes, when I have a story that doesn’t have a great photo to go with it, I’ll turn the large typography on the page into the art. Playing with typefaces, colours etc. And it can be like a jigsaw puzzle, cutting letters into pieces and putting them back together again!

5. What frank, thoughtful advice do you have for current CCPR students?
Be honest about what you hope to accomplish, and believe in what you are doing. Whether you’re promoting an event or a product or a charity or whatever it is. If you truthfully believe in it, then others will too. You’ll be more likely to put your all into it, and as a result you’ll have a better product in the end. Do your research and know your stuff. Also, don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience. No one likes to be talked down to, and we can all spot a phony from a mile away. And, don’t forget the importance of grammar! I’m sure the PR team that put together the SodaStream campaign didn’t run the “less bottles” by a copy editor, because it probably sounded right and even if it wasn’t, who would notice? Well, were they ever wrong. People do notice. Consumers are smart, and the media can be vicious sometimes.

Finally, to be brutally honest, it’s a tough world out there today for communications professionals. There are a lot of PR, journalism and media grads out there today, all fighting for a limited number of jobs. In an over saturated market, it’s difficult to stand out. But in today’s market, employers are looking for someone who does stand out. It’s hard to land a full-time job, let alone a paid internship. And I understand how hard you have to work for what you want. Don’t let that scare you, but instead use it as a chance to try new things. Who knows, it could lead you into a career you never imagined having. I wanted to be a reporter most of my life. Then no one would hire me, because, frankly, I’m not as good at storytelling as I thought I was. But, someone did take a chance on me as a copy editor (a job I originally thought would be boring and dull) and it led me down a different path. Had you said to me 15 years ago that I would become a newspaper designer with a love for typography, I would have said you were crazy!

6. What does the fox say?
Hey, how’s it going?

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