I was most anxious to see how South African papers played the death of Nelson Mandela on today’s front pages.

You guys will recall, I’m sure, that I spent quite a bit of time in South Africa teaching design and infographics. Between August 2009 and last summer, I spent a total of nine months there, over six separate trips. Among the many things I did for my clients there: I helped them plan and build Mandala pages and elements to use on pages when the sad day finally would come.

Which it did, yesterday.

Circulation: 17,151

You get a sense of how late the news broke Thursday night when you see the Friday front of the Witness.


Naturally, the “rumors” turned out to be true. This time, Mandela did pass away. The Witness came back later Friday with a special edition featuring a wonderful collage cover illustration.


This is what I hoped to see on the front page of today’s papers — things that had never been done before on page one.

I’m not sure we saw that. Don’t get me wrong, we saw some great pages today. But nothing really jawdropping.

Circulation: 63,016

The papers I worked with in South Africa — the Media24 chain — produced wonderfully reverent front pages today. This is the largest weekday paper owned by Media24, in Johannesburg.


The paper wisely killed its front-page ad and all the skyboxes — they call them “pluggers” there — and used a lot of mourning black. The result is elegant and quiet. Reverent.

Cape Town
Circulation: 57,696

Media24’s Cape Town paper turned its lead art black-and-white to help emphasize the moment.


Normally, die Burger runs its nameplate in blue. The fact that you don’t see any blue up there today is significant.

I saw an earlier version of this page that included an ad at the bottom.


Memo to whoever was responsible: Killing that ad was the right thing to do. Most definitely.

Cape Town
Circulation: 32,428

Several South African papers today simply turned their page black and ran the best Mandala portrait they could find.


Circulation: 28,396

This one — it appears to be what we Americans would call “an extra” — seems to suffer from an awkward crop.


Circulation: 80,303

A number of papers tried to crop in tight on Mandela’s face.


I’m not real sure how effective that one was.

Circulation: 17,988

This one is a bit better, I think.


Volksblad is a tiny paper, so they probably didn’t have much jump space inside. It’s a shame they couldn’t push the story inside and run a larger picture. It’s even more of a shame they couldn’t kill that ugly ad.

South African TV today canceled all its commercials. I don’t think it’s feasible for newspapers to do that, but I do think it’s appropriate to push an ad off the front on a day like today. It should be written into any contract for a front-page ad.

Circulation: 50,236

The Times of Johannesburg also went with a tight crop and a black background.


Circulation: 41,116

I love the feel of this one — it’s more of a magazine feel than the other pages, above.


I think the little red Mandela silhouette at the top of the page is overkill, however.

Circulation: 49,731

And while I like the black-and-white treatment on the front of today’s Citizen


I’m not quite sure why we needed to see a second photo of Mandela in the bottom right. All that does is to diminish the lead art.

Circulation: 95,068

That same picture used in the little circle by the Citizen was lead art on today’s Sowetan.


In case you’re wondering, “Tata” is “father” in Mandela’s native tongue, Xhosa.


My friends in the graphics department of the Media24 papers have been hard at work for years, now, preparing for the ten days of planned official mourning between yesterday and the day they’ll bury Mandela. Among the pieces I saw created during one of my trips there: This wonderful collection of notable Mandela quotes.

madiba quotes page copy

That was designed by my friend Rudi Louw.

Find the Graphics24 online archive here.


A number of papers in the U.K. did a fabulous job displaying the story today. My favorite was this wraparound cover by the Times of London.


British newspaper consultant Peter Sands rounded up a number of U.K. front pages today. Check ’em out here. Also, see the Guardian‘s collection here.

U.S. papers have also been rounded up by the Poynter Institute and by the Society for News Design. There’s quite a bit of great work out there, so please go take a look.

My former colleagues at the Virginian-Pilot produced what may be my favorite front page of the day.


And just across the river in Newport News, the Daily Press did a fabulous job as well, combining a tight crop, black and a lot of reflective-feeling quiet space.


I was very proud of the front page my colleagues here at the Orange County Register put together today.


That’s certainly one of the iconic moments we’ll always remember about Mandela: Feb. 11, 1990, the day he was released after 27 years as a political prisoner in his own country. The photo is by David C. Turnley.

And I had my own little piece of the story today: Back in March and April, when I was just cranking up production on my daily Focus page, I built an advance page featuring a timeline of Mandela’s life.


The main timeline runs down the right side. In the center, I pulled out four big chunks of Mandela’s life and focused on those. Highlighted is is 27 years as a political prisoner.

I didn’t have a decent (copyright-free) photo that  illustrate that phase of his life, so — to hell with it, y’know? — I just used my own.


We wanted that page to run as part of our Mandela coverage at the front of our A section today. I sacrificed color in order to make that happen.

However, the page did run in color in today’s Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise — a paper our owners here bought recently. I’ve not seen it yet, but they put a small plugger out front today.


And, of course, I’m delighted to be in the Riverside paper today. As well as my own.

Best wishes to all my friends in that part of the world who are working hard to cover the story while in mourning themselves. Today, we all are South African. Best wishes to the Great Man. And best wishes to us all.

South African media writers Gill Moodie and Herman Manson rounded up a number of South African papers today, too.

The images in this post are from the Newseum, PressDisplay, Facebook, Twitter… and even a few came in via email. Thanks to all who contributed.