One of the reasons I love the little 26,531-circulation Victoria (Texas) Advocate is because the paper does a pretty great job now. But it’s always looking to do better.
Case in point: I heard this morning via Twitter from Chris Cobler, the editor of the Advocate. Chris writes:
And my reply is: You did pretty well today, Chris. You recognized right away that the protest shots that were moving all over the wires yesterday was not a good choice to lead today’s front page. In your case, you looked to add a little analysis to the decision.
So you went in the right direction. And sometimes, text is the way to carry the front. As you’ll see in this (admittedly overlong) blog post today.
The quibble I have with your front today, Chris, is clutter. Your page is well-organized. But that lead element at the top — the mug shots of the Supreme Court — could have worked with less ink on it.
The good news: Although it had major impact at the top of your page, that would have been a pretty easy — and quick — fix. You had your fundamentals right. And that’s the important thing.
Which leads us into today’s lesson…
I was awfully disappointed in the choice of lead art by most papers today. Those protest shots were all taken by 10 or 11 a.m. Thursday. Meaning they were nearly 24 hours old by the time our readers today saw them. Not a great way to sell newspapers, I think.
And most main headlines I saw today simply told what happened yesterday. The important stuff — how the decision is being spun, what happens next, how it affects the reader — was pushed into smaller headlines or sidebars or even off the front page.
And those were the most important things to push at the top of page one today!
MILLIONS OF MUG SHOTS
Let’s start where Chris left off — with pages built around mug shots of the Supreme Court justices.
A number of papers stripped the mug shots across the top of page one today. Some divided the mugs into “for” and “against,” like Pittsburgh did (below right). Others made the readers hunt for that info in the little cutline labels (Bangor, Maine; below left).
Two of the nation’s largest newspapers put this kind of treatment on page one today. The Washington Post ran its mug shot collection below the obligatory protest photo…
…while the New York Times built its own into a centerpiece. This kind of thing is very unusual for the Times, I think it’s fair to say.
What did both of those pages have in common? They kept their little mug shot graphic treatments as clean as possible. There’s a minimum of lines, boxes and rules. And there’s plenty of white space to give the mugs some air. The little semi-cutout treatment helps reduce clutter, as well.
The Denver Post today ran two mugshot graphics across the top of today’s front, in order to show how the court voted on two issues.
Note how the greyed-out effect makes this a quicker read.
While the Newark paper made their group shot of the SCOTUS — little little labels — into lead art.
The newly-converted-to-tabloid Burlington, Vt., paper also made a huge, reversed (for extra oomph) headline and a collection of mugs its lead art today.
Every one of these pages worked well. Just like I think Victoria’s page worked.
Or, rather, might have worked a little better without all the boxes and lines. But you get my point.
Here’s one — from Gainesville, Ga. — that I thought was less than successful:
The problems? First of all, the designer “ghosted” an image of the Supreme Court building into the background of that package. I’m not sure how effective that is at telling the story. It harms readability and it’s also an awfully “old-fashioned” approach.
Secondly, I take issue with the main headline. It refers to state officials, while the main visual shows the Supreme Court of the United States. This makes for a huge disconnect between the main head and the main art.
While we’re on the subject of SCOTUS photos, let’s look at two pages that focused on the “swing vote” in this particular decision, Chief Justice John Roberts. Bakersfield turned Roberts into today’s huge centerpiece art.
The problem I have with that page: From what I can tell, that’s a photo of when Roberts was sworn in as a justice, back in 2005. That seems like a bit of a stretch. Was there nothing more recent than this?
And while Hartford didn’t run a photo of Roberts out front today, it did make him the subject of its main headline.
I’m not sure that worked at all. Better if there was some way of working either a big photo of Roberts into that package. Or, at least, including a mug shot of some kind.
POLITICS OF THE DAY
I don’t have to tell you that the subject of affordable health care — like so may other topics in this country — has become way too politicized. A number of papers today dove into the political waters today by taking that bigger-picture look at Thursday’s court decision.
And, in some cases, a few of these papers even seemed to take sides.
The Allentown, Pa., paper didn’t take sides. But it made it clear: This wasn’t just a landmark court decision. It was a political win for the President.
The Portland Oregonian made the same point and added a health-care pun as a bonus.
This one caused me to stop and scratch what’s left of the hair on my head.
A “Hallelujah moment“?
I like this front page quite a bit — it’s clean and bold and the typography and colors are just wonderful. And I also like the gentle pun.
But wow — I’d think anyone of a conservative bent would boil over when they saw it. I wonder if the editor of Newsday got calls today.
In that magical world of New York City tabloids, of course, just about anything goes.
Most papers tried to play it much straighter, of course. Many focused on the fact that Republicans are pledging to either a) defeat the President this fall, b) repeal the legisation, or c) both.
Canton, Ohio warns us all: This ain’t over yet.
The Cincinnati Enquirer made the conservative backlash the main story today.
And a number of papers followed along these lines — at least with their main headlines.
Great Falls, Mont.:
St. Paul, Minn.:
San Antonio, Texas:
That last one struck me oddly. That sounds like it’s edging a bit towards advocating for the conservative point of view. If that’s intentional, then that’s fine. But I suspect it may not have been intentional.
The headline afront today’s Gainesville, Fla., paper seemed to put just a bit too much emphasis on the part of the ruling that limits an expansion of Medicaid.
This caught my eye because no one else really did this in their main headline today.
The headline used by Syracuse also struck me as odd:
The decision ignites new debate? Really? You mean no one was debating health care before Thursday morning?
And the main headline on the front of the tiny Twin Falls, Idaho, paper nearly made me laugh out loud by calling the decision “a precarious situation.”
Yes, Tea Party-types like the man pictured there might consider this ruling “precarious.” But I think the rest of us regard it as politics as usual. Or what passes for “usual” in these days of extreme political polarization.
The Washington Times — to the surprise of no one, perhaps — screams the nation was stunned by the decision.
The New York Post took the opportunity to have quite a bit of right-wing fun with the story.
Talk about a political spin: According to the Boston Herald, this decision gives Mitt Romney just the fodder he needs for a vigorous race this fall.
And, at first glance, this front-page editorial by tbt — the youth-oriented tabloid published by the Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg, Fla. — seems to be directed against the ruling and against the health care legislation.
In fact, the editorial is for it. I’m not quite sure if the disconnect is a) intentional or b) only in my mind.
PUSHING THE STORY FORWARD
I think the best way to handle the story today was to push it forward: Rather than focus on the politics or analyze how the ruling went down — that’s great material for inside — spend your page-one real estate explaining what this means to the reader and how this will affect her.
If you can do this with a strong local bent, then so much the better.
There’s no “what happened yesterday” headline afront today’s Fort Lauderdale newspaper.
Now, granted, I think the design of that centerpiece package is a little scattered. I’d love to have inserted vertical rules between the “if you have insurance” and “if you don’t boxes, as well as between the main copy and the little sidebar down the left. But the point is: This package told readers just what they needed to know today: Why should I care?
The Indianapolis Star did much the same today.
My two complaints here: 1) There’s just a bit too much text. Too much text will scare off most readers. And 2) The headline is very close to advocating for the newly affirmed law. Better to keep it more neutral, I think.
The centerpiece package on the front of today’s Chattanooga paper might have used a bit more structure — trims or rules or some other device — to make it seem less text-heavy.
But again: The content seems right and the direction is spot-on.
Las Vegas built its front around a series of iconesque pieces of stock art — in essence, building a graphic.
The Seattle Times did the same, but then used reverse bars to try to group its text boxes into categories.
This, in fact, did give the Times‘ centerpiece a little more structure and made for a better reading experience.
I don’t like the way two short stories are crammed into the lead story space here. But I love the right side of the package on the front of today’s Poughkeepsie, N.Y., paper.
What it means to individuals. What it means to businesses. What it means to hospitals.
This is what I’m talking about when I refer to structure. This is readable. Very much so.
And notice: The lack of a dominant image doesn’t really hurt this page at all.
My old friends in Des Moines did want a dominant image today, so they went with (what I presume is) stock art.
It almost worked.
The problem: The skews on the right side of the package makes that “10 ways” sidebar a little hard to read. I wonder if this might have worked better if the huge icon were just a bit smaller.
What’s very good there, though: The localized headline. The state prepares to deal with the fallout from this decision.
The same Gannett Design Studio that produced that last page also designed this one, for Iowa City. To some extent, I think this one might have worked a little better.
Clean. White space. Easy to read.
Look at this tab illustration by AmNewYork. Note how the headline is written about you.
That’s the secret to these headlines. What does this court ruling mean for us?
Here’s just the headline from Salem, Oregon:
And Rochester, N.Y.:
Also cool to get out front — if you can — are local voices. Note how the Connecticut Post pushed its protest shots inside — if it used them at all — and built its front page around a local doctor and local medical patients.
Ditto for the Detroit Free Press.
These editors and designers knew the protest art from outside the Supreme Court building would be way too old to lead page one today. So they looked for ways to build their front pages around local folks who will be affected by the law.
My favorite of these pages: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.
Mostly because of that nice picture by staffer Robert Craig.
And while I don’t particularly think this page works very well, look what Medford, Oregon tried today: It built its entire front around local quotes about the law and the court decision.
It was a great idea. But, as you can see, the result was awfully cluttered. Perhaps if the mug shots were a little smaller — meaning we could have had a little more white space between them — the centerpiece might be a little kinder on the eye.
The summary rail down the right side was a little too jammed, as well. Trims might have been made here.
But the idea was sound.
Now, speaking of clutter…
TOO MUCH CLUTTER
Many papers were very ambitious about what they wanted to put out front today. That’s a good thing.
But in several cases, papers either tried to pack too much stuff into their lead packages. Or they didn’t take the opportunity to do a little trimming or use a little white space.
The result, as we’ve seen in several examples already, is cluttered. And it’s difficult to attract the reader’s eye with a cluttered page.
Here’s one example from Johnson City, Tenn.
If the designers could have dumped the shot of the building, run the SCOTUS group shot across the width of the package and then put the two stories side-by-side, this might have worked a bit better.
But someone felt the need to force the Supreme Court photo into that page. To the detriment of the page.
This page, too — from Ventura, Calif. — simply has too much going on.
By themselves, each element might work well. But together? Yikes.
The paper in Youngstown, Ohio, used a graphic treatment down the left side of its lead package and an actual graphic across the bottom.
What went wrong here: The two promos that were jammed into the top of the package. It was just too much.
Daytona Beach today went with what I’d try to describe as a collection of pictures and mug shots.
It’s a little cleaner than the last few pages we saw. But I think there were simply too many elements here to make this work.
And I was concerned about these three pages, which have a) Very small pictures, and b) a lot of text.
Those are all three Cox Communications newspapers, which are in the process of consolidating their design, graphics and copy desks this summer.
I was hoping that hubbing these papers might open up the design a little more. But perhaps it won’t. Sigh.
THEY TRIED TOO HARD
And the lack of strong art today as noted by Victoria’s Chris Cobler resulted in a number of papers trying hard — way too hard, perhaps — to build something around which to build a front-page centerpiece.
The designers in Stroudsberg, Pa., for example: They dove into the stock art library pull a prescription pad, a judge’s gavel and a huge, 3D check mark.
I’m sorry. But I think a protest shot from Thursday morning might have been more effective.
I applaud the effort on this piece by the Gannett Design Studio in Asbury Park for the East Brunswick, N.J., paper.
I applaud the effort. But not necessarily the result.
At the very least, there was no reason to fade the bottom of the art.
The folks in Longview, Texas, thought to bring “Lady Justice” into the mix.
Note the doctor’s mask on Lady Justice. Also note the way the editors wrote the headline to make the package work better.
Good try. I think.
The News-Times of Danbury, Conn., went with a more illustrative style for its gavel icon.
Note how the little gavel is striking the headline.
Again: I think they were trying just a little too hard here.
The Shreveport, La., paper went with a faux EKG across the top of its package to signal: This is about health care.
And remember that big question mark/caduceus icon we saw on the front of the Des Moines paper. Well, if using that is a good idea, then using it nine times must be a fabulous idea!
The rail down the right might have worked better with simple bullets or larger lead-in text.
Also, if you feel you must have art overlap your photos, at least turn your drop-shadow to “multiply.”
I’M PUZZLED BY HEADLINES
I have to admit, I’m bad about writing question headlines myself. But I’ve been coached — and, sometimes threatened — not to write them.
My opinion: If the “question” is too obvious, you’re not just voicing the reader’s concern. You’re also looking a little silly. It’s kind of a “Duh!” headline, if you know what I mean.
Sure, we’re all wondering what’s next with the health care law and its implementation. But I’d argue a “What’s next?” headline today is just a little too obvious. Or, at the very least, a little too broad.
Yet, there were a bunch of question heads today. From the San Francisco Chronicle…
…the Salisbury (N.C.) Post…
…the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal…
…the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Gazette…
…the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News…
…and the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
I rather liked the “cheat” the folks in Arlington Heights, Ill., used today. This is basically a question headline. But there’s no question mark. Therefore, the paper is telling me what’s going to happen next, as opposed to looking like they don’t have a clue.
I was very surprised today by the number of papers using the word “Obamacare” in their main headlines. I’m under the impression this was a term that is mostly used by Republicans as an attempt at disparagement.
If that’s the case — and that’s a big “if” — then the term has no place in a lead headline on page one. If a newspaper is trying to remain politically neutral, I mean.
Yet, the word was all over the place. Here’s the Sandusky (Ohio) Register…
…the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera…
The Intelligencer Journal/New Era of Lancaster, Pa….
…the Bucks County Courier Times of Levittown, Pa….
…the Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram…
…the Decatur (Ala.) Daily…
…the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent…
…the Prescott, Ariz, Daily Courier…
…the Massillon, Ohio, Independent…
…the Lorain, Ohio, Morning Journal…
…the Pascagoula Mississippi Press…
…the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal…
…the Los Angeles Daily News…
…the Fort Smith, Ark., Times Record…
…and the Grand Junction, Colo., Daily Sentinel.
Perhaps this is a like Ronald Reagan‘s old Strategic Defense Initiative, which nearly everyone eventually called his “Star Wars” plan. Perhaps so many folks out there — on either side of the ideological spectrum — call the Affordable Health Care Act “Obamacare” that it’s OK to use the term in a headline.
If that’s the case, then I’d feel better seeing it in quote marks. Like so:
The Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle…
…the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune-Democrat…
…the Dover/New Philadelphia, Ohio, Times-Reporter…
…the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Tribune-Review…
…the Lodi, Calif., News-Sentinel…
…the Brainerd (Minn.) Dispatch…
…the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla….
…and the Ottawa (Kan.) Herald.
But at least these headlines say something. This next one says nothing at all, I’d argue.
I hate to embarrass anyone, so I won’t tell you that headline came from Fort Myers, Fla.
What I really liked today, however, were a number of headlines that presumed the readers are not dummies and that they had already heard about the ruling. Sure, the decks give you the entire story. But the headline here — in this case, from Hendersonville, N.C. — says simply “It stands.”
Sam thing here from the paper in Spartanburg, S.C.
Granted, these are still backward-looking pages with backward-looking lead art. But I think this approach to the main headlines shows promise.
Here is Express, the commuter tab published by the Washington Post.
And here is the Boston Globe.
Some good ideas there, I think.
THE DAY’S TEN BEST FRONT PAGES
So, after all that… Are you still awake? Are you ready for my picks of the day’s best ten pages?
Is anyone surprised to find the Virginian-Pilot at the top of this list? The Pilot nearly always does a superb job of presenting the days’ news. The bigger the news, the quicker the Pilot rises to the task.
Ace A1 designer Robert Suhay was responsible for this one, I’m told.
Note the features: A headline that assumes you’ve already heard the news by now. A brief collection of SCOTUS mugs across the top, summarizing their positions. A collection of photos that round up the day’s events. Three stories that 1) Tell the news, 2) Provides the statewide local angle, and 3) Offer up “how it affects me” info in an easy-to-read, Q&A format.
What makes this all work is plenty of structure and plenty of white space between the elements. That keeps it all from becoming too cluttered.
Wonderful work, as usual.
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Salt Lake City, Utah
Another nice, clean page with plenty of structure and plenty of white space. While I’m not crazy about the protest shot, at least there’s an unusual, horizontal crop on it to give it some visual interest.
My favorite two features of this page: 1) I love the headline. “Curveball” does a great job of summing up the morning’s news. And 2) The “what’s next” timeline across the bottom. Clean and succinct.
Reversing that text out of yellow and orange boxes might not have been a great choice, however. I hope the Tribune‘s presses could handle that kind of registration challenge.
JOURNAL & COURIER
The tiny Journal & Courier also went with an approach that sums up the entire story. Three small vignettes show the scene in Washington D.C. and a larger picture tells the story of a local person who expects to be affected by the ruling.
The page was designed by David Leonard, I’m told.
What makes this work well: a) Structure. b) Some white space. And c) A great headline.
Anyone seeing a pattern here?
First, what I don’t like here: The headline seems a little weak. Obvious, even.
Now, what I do like: Everything else. Especially the photo — by staffer George Walker IV — of a local advocacy rally.
While I don’t like the headline, I do like the three bullet point decks. The little SCOTUS head-shot graphic across the bottom is nicely done, as well.
The page was designed by Nancy Broden of the Gannett Design Studio there in Nashville, I’m told.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Santa Ana, Calif.
The folks at the Orange County Register knew they didn’t really have lead art today.
Their solution? A “type attack” approach. Which worked beautifully, thanks to a) A wonderful headline and great subheads to break it all up, b) Plenty of white space, and c) A rail of supplementary material down the left side for contrast.
Daniel Hunt of the OCR tells us:
This was the handiwork of senior designer Andrea Voight, who also did our bin Laden cover a little over a year ago. The headline was written by our copy desk chief, Wendy Fawthrop. The pieces were packaged by our news desk chief, Gene Harbrecht, with help from wire editors Mathis Chazanov and Paul Davenport.
TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH
Here’s a very similar approach by a much smaller newspaper, half-a-continent away.
I asked Vanessa Pearson if she could tell me who designed that page. She replies:
It was me! I actually saw [an] Arizona Republic page on your blog when I was scrambling for a concept. So I borrowed. I worried it was so text heavy but our reporters got all over it to localize it to the tune of 150 inches almost. I thought it came out well.
I thought so, too, Vanessa.
The folks in Jackson, Miss., also went with a text-heavy approach today. They, too, went with a horizontal crop of the SCOTUS building across the top of the page.
The difference between this page and the previous two: Color reverse bars and tint boxes to break up the type. It worked nicely — mostly because the designer didn’t let the page get too cluttered.
While Omaha’s page looks nice and clean, there are, in fact, a number of moving pieces here.
Most obvious, I suppose, is the Supreme Court building photo. The headline here is particularly nice: It looks forward and also gives you a sense of the political realities. In fact, this might very well be the best headline of the day.
You’re seeing two stories, a long, vertical summary down the right side and a graphic showing how the justices voted on three factors in this case. In fact, that graphic is my only complaint here: With so many rules and reverse bars, I wonder if it might have been done with a slightly lighter touch. All that black ink draws my eye down there to that graphic a little too quickly.
That’s a relatively minor quibble, however. The page was designed by Tammy Yttri, I’m told.
ASBURY PARK PRESS
What I like about this page…
1) The headline, which uses a “cheap” designer’s trick to add to the “oomph.” However, the trick works very well here. So don’t let that sound like a complaint. More importantly, I like how the headline puts the focus on the reader.
2) The box down the right side that sums up the effects on the ruling on various aspects of daily life.
I’m told the page was designed by Gary Stelzer.
Now, compare that to the APP‘s sister paper in Parsippany. What we gain is a bigger, bolder headline and a larger photo.
What we lose, however, is the rail down the right side. Instead, that is converted into a brightly-colored tint box.
Which do you like better? Normally, I’ll go for the bigger art every time. In this case, though, I prefer the Asbury Park version.
Compare both of those, however to a competing paper in that region, the Herald News of Passaic, N.J.:
The Herald-News also went with a protest photo and a summary of “what it means to you.” But notice how this page just isn’t organized nearly as well. The length of the breakout box and the visual clutter caused by the items being to close to each other make the structure of the whole thing break down.
The lesson here: Keep your page clean. And a little white space can go a long, long way.
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
We’ll close with what I think might have been theho best tabloid page of the day. I’m not so crazy about the lead art, which I expect might have been stock art. Rather, it’s the headline that makes this page sing.
Now, that’s how you get folks to read about the decision and how it might impact them.
All of these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.
- Find Poynter’s roundup of today’s front pages here.
- Find the Huffington Post‘s roundup of today’s front pages here.
- Find the Newseum‘s own Top 10 front pages — and boy, do I differ from them — here.