Huge news broke Monday morning: The Pope is resigning. Pope Benedict XVI will be the first pope in 598 years to resign, as opposed to dying in office.

This move — along with the baggage the Catholic church is carrying around these days — made for huge play atop page one of today’s New York Times.

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That picture by L’Osservatore Romano via the Associated Press was one of the few actual news photos I could find on today’s front pages, as collected this morning by the Newseum.

The Los Angeles Times used a picture from the same source and also shot fresh at the event Monday in which Pope Benedict made his surprise announcement.

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The Times not only included sidebars on church politics but also on the ongoing sex abuse scandal. A large infographic shows the numbers and distribution of Catholic faithful throughout the world.

Average daily circulation for the L.A. Times is 616,575. The New York Times circulates 1,586,757 papers daily.

Most papers today did not use art shot during Monday’s event. I especially liked the tired expression in the file photo from Agence France-Presse, used today by the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

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That’s a great example of selecting a photo that fits perfectly with the quote superimposed over part of it.

Average daily circulation for the Star-Ledger is 278,940.

In a more humorous vein, I enjoyed the blue-collar sensibility reflected by the headlines afront today’s New York Post.

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Average daily circulation for the Post is 555,327.

And while some papers speculated on page one that the next pope might be “from a developing nation,” none played up this angle as loudly as did the Philadelphia Daily News.

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That is Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana in that AP file photo.

Average daily circulation for the Daily News is 110,000.

While several papers today created very nice page-one treatments of the Pope’s resignation, I feel like six were head-and-shoulders above the rest. Here’s a look at them…

#6

THE REPORTER

Fond du Lac, Wis.

Circulation: 10,186

The photo here — an AP file shot from 2005 — is wonderfully chosen and cropped. I also love the three little decks above the main headline that cite major elements of the story.

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Note how the decks color-coordinate with the cape the pope is wearing.

The downside: The main headline tells us nothing new. That news was out at mid-morning Monday. It might have been better to write a headline that tried to give a little more perspective on the story or spun it forward just a bit.

Other than that, this page sings.

That page was designed in Gannett’s  Des Moines Design Studio by Wisconsin team leader Sean McKeown-Young and Brooke Curry,

Brooke, by the way, is currently a student at Grand View University in Des Moines and has been interning in the studio for a solid year, creative director Nathan Groepper tells us. Find her portfolio here.

#5

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Chicago, Ill.

Circulation: 414,590

As terrific as that last page was, here’s another wonderful one that is seemingly shot from the opposite angle.

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In fact, that’s a file photo by Franco Origlia of Getty Images. I don’t know the year.

The page was designed by Michelle Rowan and Ryan Smith, I’m told.

Honorable mention goes to Express — the commuter tab published in D.C. by the Washington Post — for getting great mileage out of that same picture today.

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Average daily distribution for Express is 183,916.

#4

DES MOINES REGISTER

Des Moines, Iowa

Circulation: 101,915

Designer Nicole Bogdas, working out of Gannett’s Des Moines center, tells us about the front page she built for today’s Register:

I think some folks here were skeptical at first when they saw just the photo, but after I put it together we agreed it was the way to go.

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When I was pitching it, I likened it to the famous Babe Ruth photo, and when I went home last night and described the photo to my boyfriend he said, “So, like the famous Babe Ruth photo.”

That would be this picture of Ruth shot at his last public appearance in 1948 by Nat Fein of the New York Herald Tribune.

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Fein won a Pulitzer Prize for that picture.

Find Nicole’s portfolio page here and her Twitter feed here.

That picture of the pope — file art by Gregorio Borgia of the Associated Press — was also used today to great effect by another Gannett Design Studio host paper, the Arizona Republic of Phoenix.

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Phoenix studio director Tracy Collins tells us the page was designed by Amy King. He asked Amy to tell us how her page came together:

I started looking through photos on the wire. George Berke (Republic team leader) and I talked possible options. We ran the chosen photo past the photo editor, who was a bit worried the image was too white, but saw its potential. The photo says it all. Pope: out. Mystery person: in.

We sent the copy editors and started brainstorming headline ideas.

Then George, Page 1 Editor Michael Squires and I huddled around my computer to discuss secondary display text – reading through the pope’s speech to find a good excerpt. Then a bit more photo editing to find a good image to pair with the quote.

I’ve written about Amy’s work at least three times. Find her statehood centennial pages here, an immigration law front page here and go here to find an interesting page on sexual assault.

Average daily circulation for the Republic is 321,600.

#3

VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Norfolk, Va.

Circulation: 142,476

One thing is consistent in this crazy newspaper world we live in: You can count on the Virginian-Pilot to do something interesting.

In this case, it was the Pilot‘s Bethany Bickley who put together this terrific front page.

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The first thing I though of this morning when I pulled the newspaper out of the wrapper and looked at the front was how much it reminded me of this:

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Just like that now-iconic Cleveland Plain Dealer front, the pope appears to be walking off the page. Note how Bethany turned the Pilot‘s nameplate white-on-white, with only a faint dropshadow to help it pop just a bit.

The picture itself is a 2010 file shot from the Associated Press. And at least two other papers also ran the picture huge on page one today:

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On the left is the 147,085-circulation Buffalo (N.Y.) News. On the right is the Daily Local News of West Chester, Pa., circulation 24,946.

Find Bethany’s online portfolio here, her NewspageDesigner gallery here and her Twitter feed here.

#2

DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE

Rochester, N.Y.

Circulation: 114,502

We’ve all seen pictures of the pope swinging burning incense. I never thought that an innovatively-cropped version of a picture of this might make for a nice front page presentation.

Joanne Sosangelis of Gannett’s Asbury Park studio did, however.

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Joanne tells us:

Well, it all started back in …

No, seriously, fellow team leader, Omar Vega, actually pulled the photo. He used a similar image that was horizontal for some of the papers he works with and I ended up choosing the vertical version — knowing that we don’t typically run wall-to-wall centerpieces on my team’s papers.

Rochester originally started with a tall centerpiece (three columns over four), very much like what we ran in Cherry Hill, Vineland and Westchester/Rockland. As the day progressed though, we began toying with losing the skybox and pushing the story up higher. Then we tried having the story above the nameplate, and then even under it, but wall-to-wall — and incorporating the nameplate (in white) into the art.

After showing several different options, our partners in Rochester decided they wanted to go full-page (minus the ad and index space) — and there was no argument from me!

The photo is a 2010 file shot by the Associated Press.

As she mentions, Joanne’s centerpiece found its way today to several other papers designed in that same studio:

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From left, those are:

  • The Asbury Park Press, circulation 98,032
  • The Vineland, N.J., Daily Journal, circulation 12,139
  • The Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, circulation 46,547
  • The While Plains, N.Y., Journal News, circulation 72,764

Find Joanne’s design portfolio here and her Twitter feed here.

And special kudos to the Free Press of Burlington, Vermont, for showing us how this same photo can be put to great use even in a tabloid format.

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Average daily circulation of the Burlington Free Press is 30,558.

#1

JOURNAL & COURIER

Lafayette, Ind.

Circulation: 25,531

My favorite front page of the day, however, is this one by yet another Gannett design studio.

I’m not a Catholic, nor am I a particularly religious man to begin with. But this presentation, I feel, is a wonderful blend of spiritual imagery, terrific cropping and design and perfect headline writing.

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That page was designed by Cait Palmiter of the Louisville Design Studio. Cait tells us:

The art that was chosen for the page was originally a photo from when Benedict first became pope, but Spencer (Holladay, Indiana team leader) said I should push for something else. I found a couple where he had his back turned because I loved the symbolism of it — him walking away, resigning. I showed them to my copy editor who said they still liked the other one.

I then sent an email explaining the idea to several people including the editor as well as three or four mock-ups that David Leonard created for the Louisville Courier Journal (not to be confused with Lafayette’s Journal and Courier!) and an explanation for why we should use a different photo, showing the Pope’s back.

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They came back and agreed! Persistence can pay off!

We used the basic idea of David’s mock-up and I worked with doing something a little more features-like with the headline.

It was a really satisfying page to design and I think the photo choice worked out very well. I credit Spencer with convincing me it was worth pushing, David for finding that photo, and the editors in Lafayette for being open to listening to what I had to say and changing their mind. One of the great things about the design hubs is the group of design-minded people to work with.

Great teamwork. You gotta love it.

Find Cait’s portfolio here and her Twitter feed here.

All of these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.