Front pages today: Prince Philip, 1921-2021

By Brad Needham

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a towering figure, both in physical and societal stature. The husband of the longest serving monarch in British history. Married for more than 70 years to one of the most powerful woman in the world. Himself the longest serving royal consort in British history. While he retired from his royal duties in 2017, his stature didn’t fade. Prince Philip died two months shy of his 100th birthday.

Newspapers are often ready for the death of a significant figure. While nobody likes to think about or predict someone’s death, readers have come to expect information immediately. There has been a long practice, perhaps nearly as old as journalism itself, to prepare obituaries for key figures ahead of their deaths, particularly for anyone who could be at greater risk. So media organizations will have obituaries prepared, starting with “z-copy”, a.k.a., their history, so all that needs to be added are the new details, such as when and where the person died, any recent events or interesting information, and then refining as required. That allows the story to be posted very quickly, and then it can be refined later. But that’s the story. What about the design? Readers demand the story immediately. The design comes next.

In most cases, newspapers won’t have predesigned pages, unless something is imminent. In the case of Prince Philip, he had developed heart problems in his 80s, and was recently hospitalized. It’s possible media organizations had started to compile key photos. But it’s unlikely it went much further, though that very well might not be true of papers in Britain. While the Duke of Edinburgh was a significant figure around the world, particularly in Commonwealth countries, no where would his stature be larger than at home.

While media often struggles with just want to say about key figures when they die — do they mention Prince Philip’s racist comments and other offensive remarks over the course of his life? — the same is often not true in design. The design captures the gravity of the situation — or the gravitas of the person. While the display copy — either the headline or the deck — might capture some of the negative aspects of the person, it is generally left to the story to capture the nuances. The good and the bad.

Today newspapers around the world had some amazing front pages that did just that. It captured what he meant to so many. The good and the bad, of him and the monarchy. There will be more powerful front pages after his funeral. For today, I want to put a spotlight on front pages mostly from Britain, but some from other Commonwealth countries as well. I will let the pages do most of the talking, as that is the power of a great front page. It shouldn’t need much help.

I will start at home for me, with the National Post. It was the best cover in Canada, one of the best in the world today. And on days with big events, it often is. It is known for its bold design. It used the entire front page real estate and showcases a beautiful illustration by artist Kagan McLeod. A great use of white space and an emotional quote, played small, but powerfully. It’s entirely possible the National Post had this illustration ready to go already. If not, it’s even more amazing. In Canada, the announcement came with hours to go before deadline, so papers had a chance to give design more consideration.

British papers on the other hand would have had less time. But they all did well, which speaks to how committed print journalists still are to their craft. No surprise that the Guardian would have a powerful cover. A stately portrait, his name, and the dates he lived. Simple and effective.

The Daily Telegraph has similar play to the Guardian. Elegant photo, name, dates. And that’s all you need.

The Advertiser in Australia uses a classic photo of the prince and the Queen. The big headline, all caps, GOODNIGHT, MY PRINCE, captures the emotion. These are still human beings. They had a long marriage, many trials and tribulations. This page evokes nostalgia.

The Independent has a similar but slightly different approach. A black and white portrait, capturing a younger Prince Philip. A lovely page.

The Evening Standard went with a more recent photo. Capturing the now. It’s a beautiful portrait of man who lived a long, full life. A headline about his service. He was actively serving royal duties until 2017.

I chose this one for a different reason. The design is nice. But the Daily News also split the attention between Prince Philip and DMX, and many thought it should have been DMX getting these covers instead. The page has some issues, as it highlights the troubles of DMX, but doesn’t touch on any of the controversy around Prince Philip. But I respect that the paper, in New York, knows its audience. Readers expect DMX to get attention. And he should have. He was very influential. On any other day, he would have been the cover. And in many papers, maybe he should have been anyway.

There were plenty more worth celebrating for their creativity and power.

Expect more powerful covers after Prince Philip’s funeral. It will be a major event and the world will be watching. While many will watch it live, newspapers will do their best to capture the moment with a strong front page. Have thoughts? Share them below!

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