Posts Tagged ‘page design’

Times Herald-Record vs. am New York
Today is one of those days when you can look across the country and ask again, “What is the purpose of a newspaper’s front page?” On the most basic level, it’s for the biggest news of the day. On a practical level, though, the front-page treatment of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act offers a stark example of different approaches to handling the big news of the day, and at this level the front page is either for what happened yesterday or it’s for what the big event is going to mean down the road.

If you look over today’s front pages at the Newseum (note that the pages change automatically, so after Friday June 29 you’ll see different pages than I’m referring to), it’s clear that most editors took the former approach. A sample of the headlines on this theme:

Court upholds health care law
Court upholds health mandate
Health care law stands
Health Law Survives
Obama’s health care law upheld
Court: Health care law passes muster
Top court upholds law
Landmark victory for health care law
Health reform survives
Health-care law upheld
Upheld 5-4

But this court decision did not come out Thursday night. It was shortly after 10 a.m. when it became the top item of discussion on every TV and radio news network and it exploded across the Internet. The kinds of people who buy newspapers do not live in caves. By the time the morning paper showed up, they already knew the law had been found constitutional, and they likely had heard tons of reaction and explanation.

Given all that, what purpose does the front page with headlines like those above hold? Perhaps it becomes a keepsake for them, something to file away in a box to pass on to the grandkids.

But if one of the purposes of the front page is to entice people to read, I don’t think the headlines trumpeting what the reader already knows do that. Especially for single-copy sales, the above headlines are not going to draw the occasional reader – the people who care about news but may not subscribe.

Scattered among the day’s pages you can find a notable minority with headlines that spun the news forward to answer the question, “What does this mean for me?” especially in the context of what your particular state now has to do – even papers that took the “yesterday’s news” approach generally answered this question in story or Q&A form, but if there was a headline addressing it, it was small – and a few that focused on analysis, such as the surprise role of Chief Justice John Roberts casting the decisive vote. Those would seem to be much more promising territory for finding things that the typical person would still want more information about.

We’ve been saying for years now that newspapers are competing for attention in an environment when people are saturated with breaking news, yet at times like this it seems we struggle not to fall back on old habits. Agree or disagree?

A post at Poynter.org has a compilation of some of the day’s more notable front pages if you are late in looking for them.

7/9/12 UPDATE: Sam Kirkland, a Dow Jones News Fund copy desk intern for the Tampa Bay Times, makes a similar point in a July 6 post at Poynter.org, saying that most of the headlines on the health care ruling may serve the role of scrapbook material but they didn’t make him want to read:

“… the louder a headline shouts, the less likely I am to read the story, because a story commanding a 120-point headline likely commanded my attention yesterday, when it was fresh.”

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Ever see an iPad crease? Maybe it can happen, but I bet you can’t read it after that. But a newspaper crease, sometimes that’s the hand of God at work, perhaps a mischevous God testing to see if we’re paying attention, as when a crease merges an f and a t so that “shift” appears as sometime much more interesting. See more on the above from Charles Apple.

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A friend and former colleague gets irritated by the way the media in general make big deals of round numbers — the 10th, the 100th, the 500th, the 1,000th whatever — and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was no exception. He posted on Facebook, “Sept. 11: blow it out every year, or don’t blow it out at all.” I understand his point, but the media attach greater significance to big, round numbers because that’s human nature; if we didn’t do it, people would ask why because they themselves (with a few exceptions such as my friend) do it. So if you look over the Sept. 11 pages archived by the Newseum, for the most part you’ll see attempts to note the weight the date carried. Not all of them attempted to “blow it out,” but many did. At Poynter.org, Julie Moos highlights 25 front pages that she felt convey the power of deliberative design: “By using tower imagery, illustration, flags and iconic photos, they carry the power of the moment.” One that didn’t make Moos’ list but is extremely evocative is the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a very arty design of two arms either reaching into the air or grasping at it, with a person falling between them:

Cleveland Plain Dealer

None of Media General’s pages from the day made the 25, but as you can see below there was quite a range — from pages that look almost like any other day to ones qualifying as keepsakes. What’s most striking may be that there are no two that look very much alike.

Richmond Times-Dispatch Tampa Tribune Winston-Salem Journal Bristol Herald-Courier Charlottesville Daily Progress Culpeper Star-Exponent Danville Register and Bee Dothan Eagle Hickory Daily Record Jackson County Floridan The McDowell News Morning News Mooresville Tribune News and Messenger The News-Herald Opelika-Auburn News Statesville Record and Landmark The News Virginian

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USA Today graphic
You might giggle at the sight of a weather graphic that makes it look like the sun is horny, and you might be ashamed at having the mind of a 12-year-old boy on such matters. But if only someone at USA Today had that, the paper wouldn’t be enduring several days of ridicule. As design consultant Charles Apple notes, citing several other examples, you need a dirty mind to be an editor in this business. Actually, it will help you in any business that involves putting words and images out for anyone else to see.

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Weekly Dig
Newspaper design consultant Charles Apple rounds up how various newspapers played stories about predictions of the Rapture. For comics fans (like me) it’s hard to beat the front (above) of the Weekly Dig from Boston, depicting Jesus as Marvel Comics’ world-destroying Galactus confronting an Avengers-style group of various other deities. It’s an alt-weekly, so they have the kind of freedom to play around like that.

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