As I mentioned earlier today, I was awfully disappointed in today’s debate front pages. Mostly, I thought the headlines were, at best, less than helpful to readers. At worst, I thought many of them were laughable.
I’m going to run through these pretty quickly. I won’t identify most of these papers. If you’re curious, place your cursor atop the headline and hover just a moment.
HEADLINES THAT TOLD US NOTHING
The first thing that struck me about many of today’s headlines is that they could have just as easily run the previous day. After all, “Round One” would have made a nice headline for a debate preview package.
And lots of papers ran “round one” headlines today.
A few varied the language just a bit. But it was still clear that yes, this is a label head atop a story about the first presidential debate of the season.
Oh, here’s just what we need: A headline with all of the day-after-the-event utility of a “round one” headline, but with none of the charm.
“Let the debates begin”? But the debates did begin. Last night!
I was just astounded that newspapers would use headlines like this the day after the first debate.
“Time for debate”?
No, it’s neither. That time was yesterday.
But what the heck. Let’s make that two words and put some punctuation on the end for emphasis!
A number of papers felt the need to put heavy emphasis — via their main headlines — on the fact that the debate was being held in Denver.
Because, y’know, that affected the debate so much.
Working that Denver angle into a headline was apparently a stretch for some papers.
The word “showdown” was very popular today.
Some papers liked it so much that they just ran the word “showdown” minus the Denver reference.
Let me remind you, please of the obvious: These are not headlines for debate preview stories. These ran today — the day after the first debate.
Do you suppose readers found these headlines helpful?
WORST OF THE ‘NO SHIT’ HEADLINES
As bad as those were, I’m afraid this next section is even worse.
These next two headlines were the main headline on page on in their respective papers.
Those might have made great labels above the headline. Or decks. But no. Those, I’m sorry to say, were main headlines today.
Oh, and just in case readers forgot who was running in this year’s election:
The two candidates came to the debate to — Gasp! — battle it out.
Because each candidate has a different path he wants the country to take.
Each candidate has a different vision for America.
Those visions dueled. For the nation’s future.
Yet, they each stood firm.
Oh, hell. I can’t keep this up. I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face here.
Of course there are separate visions. A clear divide. Opposing outlooks.
That’s why we’re have an election every four years, right? So I fail to see how any of these headlines were helpful to readers who might be seeking analysis of last night’s debate.
Possibly the two most baffling headlines of the day were this one…
…and this one.
Well, of course! No need for silly ol’ elections or debates or politics in general! Let’s just agree to disagree!
This brings us to a little section of our presentation that I call “That’s what debates do.” This is a collection of headlines that breathlessly told readers today what they already knew — not because they heard it first on TV or the internet. But because what the headline describes is what debates do, dammit.
Yeah. Debating differences. That’s been known to happen in a presidential debate.
Occasionally, issues get debated. Can’t always count on it, though.
Occasionally, when you have two candidates at a debate, they end up going one-on-one. That’s what debates do.
The candidates shook hands and then traded jabs. That’s what happens at debates, y’know?
Sometimes, the candidates participating in a debate have a difference of opinion.
Not always. But sometimes. That’s what debates do.
When they have competing visions, sometimes candidates will discuss the plusses and minuses of their proposals.
Sometimes, a challenger might press an incumbent on his record. That’s what debates do, right?
Sometimes, the candidates might go back-and-forth.
Occasionally, a viewer might end up with an idea of where the candidates stand on issues that matter to them. That’s been known to happen in debates.
Sometimes, the back-and-forth helps the viewer define the two candidates and their platforms.
And sometimes, the the viewing public comes away with differing opinions.
That’s been known to happen. That’s what debates do!
A DEBATE ON DOMESTIC POLICIES MEANS: THE ECONOMY
Wednesday’s debate was the first of three presidential debates. It was earmarked up front to be about domestic issues, as opposed to foreign affairs.
That, of course, means: The economy.
So we knew that going in. I was surprised to find headlines like this on the front of a good number of newspapers today.
Because we already knew the focus would be on the economy, that makes these yet more “no shit” headlines.
This one is probably just as bad. I kind of like it, though, because the alliteration is so cute.
Of course the economy dominated the first debate. The first debate was designed that way.
The economy didn’t just dominate the debate. It ruled the debate.
Hell, the economy ruled the entire night.
I might argue that the economy has pretty much ruled the past four years. But whatever.
You’ll notice these headlines just go on and an on. Despite the fact that they gave the reader no new information at all.
Oh, now we’re getting cute.
Ooops: We’re back to the “Showdown” headlines.
The economy was the highlight of the debate, this paper says.
The economy was key to the debate.
The economy fueled the debate.
The economy was the debate’s what?
Naturally, the candidates differed on how to approach our economic problems. Again, I hardly see how this was banner headline fodder. Yet, it was.
The candidates didn’t just debate or contrast or differ. They mapped.
The candidates flung.
The candidates tangled.
The candidates wrangled.
The candidates traded shots.
The candidates jabbed.
All this was to protect Americans on the home front.
Yes, this was a debate on domestic affairs. But this makes it sound like there might be a battery or public disturbance charge in the future for someone.
Or, at the very least, an appearance on Cops.
But despite this, the big topic was still the economy.
It’s all about the economy, really.
Because — in the good ol’ U.S. of A., money talks.
MEETING OF THE BODY PARTS
Something that seemed to fascinate editors today: This was the first time, really, that Obama and Romney had met during this election season.
So instead of sniping at each other via the media or their TV commercials, the candidates were able to stand toe-to-toe.
Or, even, head-to-head.
There was one “butting heads” headline today…
But no “heading butts” headline. Thankfully.
HOW CONTENTIOUS A NIGHT WAS IT?
That’s a good question. You’d never figure it out by just reading the nation’s headlines.
The debate was spirited.
But the candidates stayed civil.
Um, except for the parts in which they turned acrimonious.
Still, they were polite.
Polite but pointed.
Yet, the candidates managed to keep on the offensive.
More than just offensive. They were in attack mode.
The candidates clashed sharply, in fact.
They even may have thrown a punch or two.
While, of course, staying cordial.
Wait, strike that. They weren’t cordial at all. They were combative.
They came out swinging at each other.
Oh, wait. Strike that, too: It was Romney who came out swinging.
He must have landed a blow or two, because there was a giant bang.
And then: A punch. And a counterpunch.
Sounds like it turned into a complete brawl at that point.
It was more than a brawl. It was a battle.
Blood was spilled.
In all, last night’s debate may have been the start of a Civil War.
Time to conscript some troops and fire on Fort Sumter!
REPORTING THE ACTUAL NEWS
There were, in fact, some headlines that seemed to touch on what actually happened in the debate last night.
This one, for example, struck me as a brilliantly-written headline.
Or this one, that seemed a bit more whiny. But still accurate.
Or this one, that was just plain ol’ funny.
This headline addressed the enormous amount of fact checking that was going on last night.
And this one actually address the results of all that fact-checking.
Now, even the most left-leaning of observers would have to admit that Mitt Romney came out pretty strong from the opening moments of the debate. Obama seemed to play things conservative. As a result, he seemed awfully passive while Romney seemed in control.
So headlines like this seem like they would have been much more appropriate for today’s front pages. Moreso than all the other dozens of headlines we’ve seen so far.
Steps up. Lays down. Whatever.
The man definitely came out on the offense.
Thankfully, a number of papers did get it right today. As you can see.
“Comes on strong” certainly describes well what happened last night. But, y’know, it’s much better to go hunting for a great verb to give some snap to your headline.
Swinging. Firing. Attacking. All these work well.
Drilling? Why not? “Drill, baby, drill,” right?
I don’t know about “puts heat on.” That brings to mind images of electric heating pads and tubes of Icy Hot ointment.
This one seems descriptive and addresses how the president seemed oddly listless last night.
We don’t know yet if Romney will score well in the polls after the debate. And it appears he didn’t score well with the fact-checkers. But he scored well enough in the debate itself.
This one — from the Washington Examiner — may have been one of the better headlines of the day.
“No-drama Obama.” You gotta love that.
Sure enough, the debate gave Romney a bit of a boost.
Still, some papers seemed to find the need to play “even-handed” today. Despite the fact that there really was a clear winner of debate No. 1.
The use of ellipses to be coy about naming a winner? I hate it.
Just name the winner. Or tell the news.
I sort of like the sentiment expressed by this headline. Many of our readers feel the same way, perhaps.
The problem I have with that headline: In fact, there has been plenty of substance in this campaign. You have to look beyond the endless TV commercials in order to see it, however.
A few headlines today made me wonder: Were these editors even watching the debate?
“Full of fire?” Does anyone really feel like that described President Obama last night?
How about this one? I’d argue the debate was a huge letdown for Democrats.
A “doozy“? How so?
A bit of a stretch, I’d say.
Or even more laughably, consider this headline.
Titans, huh? Please let me know when they release the Kraken.
If there’s one thing we did not need today was a question headline. Especially one as empty as this.
The problem with this question: You might not like the answer.
Who’s listening? The same folks who are reading our newspapers and web sites, most likely.
And finally, here’s a wonderful one to close on:
I don’t know if it’s debatable. But it’s definitely misspelled.
That was the Bulletin of Manteca, Calif., with a typo in its lead headline today.
A LOOK AT SOME NOTABLE FRONT PAGES
Now, let’s take a look at some entire pages, shall we?
NEW YORK POST
New York, N.Y.
On a day in which broadsheets seemed a little shy about telling it like it really was during last night’s debate, the tabs stepped up and let it rip. As much as I loathe the Post, I just had to love this headline.
That particular picture of Obama — looking a bit chagrined — is perfect. Both of those pics are from Getty images.
The Boston Herald — which slants awfully far to the right just about every day anyway — really let Obama have it for how he sleptwalked through Wednesday’s debate.
The picture is another Getty image.
And RedEye covered the major debate topics — Wall Street and Main Street — with an additional nod to the big talker of the night.
As far as I can tell, RedEye was the only major paper to make a huge reference to Mitt Romney’s “I love Big Bird” comment.
I’m not crazy about cutting out live pictures shot on cycle for a news story. But if you can get past that just a bit, you’ll find much to love in the color-coded quote treatment used by Nampa, Idaho.
Those are Associated Press pictures.
Ithaca did something very interesting today: It pushed the debate story completely off the front — and possibly out of the paper — and ran this giant web refer instead.
Both of those pictures appear to be file photos. So possibly today’s paper was an early run or something. If anyone from Ithaca would like to fill us in, please do.
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE
Staten Island, N.Y.
I also liked the way Staten Island moved its big debate stories inside and cleared out room on the front for a grid showing local folks’ ratings of how each candidate did.
The format — best moment, worst moment and letter grade — kept this from becoming a quote-of-the-day thing.
Fond du Lac, Wis.
I love this illustration for the front of Fond du Lac, created by folks at the Gannett Design Studio in Des Moines.
The problem? It would have been more perfect on the front of Wednesday’s paper.
Today, it looks a lot like a featurey advance. The day after the event.
Wonderful execution. Lousy timing.
Likewise, this cute photoillustration afront one of my favorite smaller papers, the Observer of Fayetteville, N.C., seemed a bit odd the day after the debate.
Nicely done. But again: A day late.
New Bedford, Mass.
And while I applaud the folks in New Bedford, Mass., for trying something different this morning…
Rarely does a stacked headline work well. I’m not crazy about sideways type, either. But I think it would have worked better than this did.
THE BEST FIVE FRONT PAGES OF THE DAY
What follows are my picks for the five most effective front page treatments of the day…
5. JOURNAL & COURIER
I like the photo and how strained both of the candidates seem to be with their cheshire grins. I like the placement of the cutline and the quotes at bottom left.
But what really rocks here is the headline.
I might have suggested that instead of grey, the designer pick up the blue in the background of the picture by Charlie Neibergall of the Associated Press.
4. THE FORUM
The photo is nice and big. And despite having two quotes and a headline atop it, the picture doesn’t seem crushed or crowded at all.
The deck really drives home the big news of the night: Romney’s better-than-expected performance.
Presentation editor Bill Wambeke tells us:
Page designer Heidi Tetzman Roepke did the page.
We had to rework the front for second run because the AP was moving crap photos early, so the photo we used was selected around 10:30 Central Time. I suggested the pull quotes in the middle.
The analysis didn’t move until about 11:15, so the whole thing didn’t come together until right up until the last minute. Plus, because of the impending snow storm, we weren’t allowed to send new plates after 11:30. So we had to roll with whatever we got.
Apparently it worked :).
The photo is by Reuters’ Jason Reed.
3. BUFFALO NEWS
Although Buffalo played its picture smaller, it still gets plenty of eyeball love. Must be the white space and the oh-so-careful placement of type.
The photo is from the Associated Press.
2. DENVER POST
The host city paper did an outstanding job with photo selection today. These two pictures — Romney lecturing away, shot by staffer John Leyba while an exasperated Obama looks on, captured by staffer Craig Walker — are perfect. Just perfect.
San Antonio, Texas
My favorite front page of the day, however, is from the San Antonio Express-News, thanks to the interesting way the quote is handled.
Express-News news production manager Dean Lockwood tells us:
Adrian Alvarez came up with the front page design. Actually further and better reflected on the jump page, where we did the same thing but housed more quotes in more of a display fashion.
Click for a larger look.
We’ll probably do that treatment with all the debates.
We were thinking these debates are, literally, wars of words, so we wanted to highlight those in more of a display manner, rather than a standard “little type” solution.
Robert Kolarik wrote the 1A headlines.
The Express-News, you might recall, also did something interesting with quotes following the national conventions in 2008.
I still show those pages in some of my presentations.
All of these images — except for the inside San Antonio page — are from the Newseum. Of course.