Richard Curtis, USA TODAY graphics and photography editor, dies

By David Colton and J. Ford Huffman

Richard Curtis, one of the original designers of the look and feel of USA TODAY, including the bold use of color photography and graphics that revolutionized newspapers in the 1980s, died on Sunday. He was 75.

Curtis passed away quietly at home of cancer, surrounded by his wife, Jane, and family.

The managing editor of USA TODAY’s graphics and photography department for 27 years, Curtis always said his goal was to be “distinctive” in a crowded and emerging media world.

“You can look at a USA TODAY page anywhere, anytime, and it looks like a USA TODAY page whether it has the name of the paper on it or not,” Curtis said proudly in 2007. “You can’t say that about other newspapers.”

As part of the Gannett editorial team that launched USA TODAY in 1982, Curtis helped oversee an unprecedented reliance on bite-size and full-page graphics to convey news and information. He was a tireless advocate for visual storytelling, convincing editors and skeptical reporters that more readers scanned graphics and read photo captions than sometimes read the story itself.

“Today’s readers – especially younger generations – see the narrative as the addendum and visual journalism as the core,” Curtis argued, while always cautioning that the strength of visual journalism “is the reporting that goes on behind it.”

Richard Curtis, managing editor of Design Dept.  at USA TODAY, in December 2008.

That uber-visual approach, which many say was an influencer of online news to come, was widely copied by others.

“It’s amazing how many color weather pages debuted in newspapers in late 1982 and ’83, isn’t it?” Curtis joked in a Poynter Institute interview with George Rorick, who helped design USA TODAY’s groundbreaking full-page Weather Map.

“It was just about the most groundbreaking thing about USA TODAY,” Curtis said. “I remember one of the early surveys we did about the paper, and the Weather Page came out as the ‘second most-looked at page’ after Page 1.”

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