By Brad Needham

The world has a lot of newspapers. With the help of Freedom Forum’s Today’s Front Pages website, the pool I generally look at as been narrowed down greatly. I will look at the best front pages I’ve seen from newspapers around the world. And this is A1 only. Papers like the L.A. Times and New York Times, and so many others, do amazing things with features sections. One day I will look at those. Today, A1s. And like the post from Canada’s best, I am highlighting the papers that go above and beyond regularly.

Anyone who follows my Instagram will see the same papers again and again. That is not because I am ignoring other papers. It’s because these papers are consistently producing great pages, while other papers don’t. Many do once in a while. The papers below do it regularly.

I will pull out a few of the top pages from each, and then put the rest in a slideshow. There was some outstanding work in 2021.

Dennik N Slovakia

What can I say about this tab. I have been in awe of Dennik N since I first started really paying attention to pages from around the world. I look at 500+ every day, and every day I could highlight the front page from this publication. They definitely have their own style. The cover often has cartoons, and the characters come back again and again, like the health-care worker (shout out to them, as it’s been a trying two years to say the least). On average, I enjoy more covers from this paper than any other in the world, though Reporte Indigo has some breathtaking stuff as well. All illustrator-driven.

This 9/11 page was one of the most powerful, and simplest, to mark the 20th anniversary. It was so close to another cover, not featured here. Just the idea of adding a thin line to the top of a thick line. It was just 1. Now it’s a 1 and a tower. Simple. Powerful.

Cover of Dennik N commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

This little dude made a few appearances. Health-care workers were in the spotlight as COVID ravaged our lives. My life is more difficult. I can’t imagine working in health care right now. This little guy was always just right.

I don’t think much needs to be said about this one. It’s just simplistically beautiful.

I could go on forever with the paper. They do amazing stuff. Maybe one day I can talk to one of the designers. Here are some more from this amazing paper.

Reporte Indigo Mexico

Like Dennik N, but to the extreme, Reporte Indigo is driven by illustrations. Unlike Dennik N, which often has basic and simple illustrations, Reporte Indigo has elaborate pieces. The work is always stunning. Always worthy of recognition. I don’t have as many from them as they aren’t on the Freedom Forum site. I only found where to get them partway through the year (the entire paper can be downloaded from their website, and you can see it on PressReader). The art goes on throughout, every page pretty much. I can’t imagine how much time and effort this takes, so kudos to them. It’s gorgeous. This first one is truly mind blowing.

I just loved this visual when I first saw it. And I love the little dudes walking past the flag. That is some attention to detail.

Reporter Indigo newspaper front page, drawing of man stretching between books as people walk over him.

And here are a few more. You get the idea, but damn, they look so labour intensive. A for effort, and unreal execution as well. But loving how hard they work.

de Volkstrant Netherlands

The tiny little words on top of the flag say it all: World’s best designed newspaper | European newspaper of the year. De Volkstrant is not at all like the ones above. It doesn’t rely on illustrations. It is elegant and clean. It is a paper that has mastered the use of white space. Did I mention it’s elegant. The fonts are so smartly chosen. I chose a similar looking font when I redesigned the Guelph Mercury because I am a fan of elegance in newspapers. And the little numbers they do are great.

Did I mention de Volkstrant turned 100 last year? I hope it has 100 more years in print with pages like this. Again, it’s not elaborate. It’s just beautiful. What a photo.

Just after I say they don’t rely on illustrations … a beautiful illustration by Paul Fasssen. But even still it fits their personality. It’s pretty, as is the text around it.

And just a few more to admire.

The Villages Daily Sun Florida

I have made it no secret that I love The Villages Daily Sun, a paper with a print-first mentality. Print FIRST!! Like Reporte Indigo, the designers here put a lot of effort it all the time. As I mentioned in my post on Adam Rogers and Colin Smith, they also worked hard to match the design to the community. That’s incredible. Unlike a lot of papers, there is never any doubt when you’re looking at a Daily Sun page. Branding, baby.

But back to effort. All I need to say is just look at this page. Mind. Blown.

Not a lot of papers went big with the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but the Daily Sun did. And it’s striking. Newspapers need to look forward, but they also need to look back.

And a few more.

Diari Ara Spain

Diari Ara grew on me slowly. But I kept seeing pages that clearly had a lot of thought put into them. And then I saw one I loved. And then another. This one struck me and I’m still not precisely sure why yet, but I just loved it. It speaks to me. I do love a good sepia tone. And the blurry person. It adds mystery.

This was one of my favourite 9/11 pages, marking the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

Politiken Denmark

Politiken has a harder news feel than some of the others. It uses sketches, less colour, often plays on the the white, red and black in its design, leaving other colours to wish they were invited to Politiken A1 party.

So … when they use colour … boom! The paper often has such a hard feel to it. Then Christmas Eve, and here is this beautiful page. I have no idea why or what, but I love it.

And just a few more from very little colour to a lot of colour.

Kleine Zeitung Austria

Another tab, and more great work. There aren’t a lot of papers like Kleine Zeitung in North America. There are tabs of course, but I don’t see things like this. It’s a lovely paper, doing lovely things all the time. This depressing page might have been my fave of the year, right under the wire.

I should always translate the text, and I worry about this one. But it is striking. It’s just such a clean page, with a nice illustration as the centrepiece.

They have had so many good ones, and here are just a few more.

The Spokesman-Review Spokane, Wa.

I have had a years’ long love affair with The Spokesman-Review (don’t tell my paper). Anyone who follows this blog will know this as I was lucky enough to talk to Caitlin MIller, an emerging designer for a recent post. Until becoming a volunteer with the Society for News Design for last year’s Best of Newspaper Design competition, I would have said it was the best designed newspaper in the world, after the Virginian-Pilot stopped performing it’s magic. I say that with all due respect to my former employees at Pagemasters North America. They did some incredible things for the Pilot after it moved production to PMNA. But it used to be the best cover in the world most days. I digress. The Spokesman-Review has a similar feel. It lets stories breathe, it goes big, it uses its flag in design. And it continues on other section fronts. I admit I have cheated here as I lost some from page files in a phone swap, so I am including some section covers. Sorry! As a side note, some other amazing things they do: they have today’s and recent front pages on their site, inside pages from today’s pub, historical pages and they list the designer. I wish more papers did this.

I love a few things on this page. I love the big reverse text head. I love that it is played in the background. The apples, and just the air.

The thing about the Spokesman-Review is that it has character, a consistency. I can say the same thing about each front page, yet it never gets boring. They try new things while somehow keeping the same flavour and feel day after day. A credit to Chris Soprych, I’m sure. Again, great typography. A playful bit with the dandelion. Air. And the flag. They play with their flag all the time. When that’s your brand, that’s bold.

And here are a few more, with some inside pages.

Jyllands-Posten Denmark

I love this tab. Just smart design, often simple and clean. It’s great. This page was my fave because of the smart and creative use of playful typography.

I love when newspapers do portrait-type art like this. There is no face, it’s simple, but readers will know who that is instantly. This is so nicely done.

And a couple more.

There were more from other papers. But these were my faves from papers who frequently went above and beyond. I am excited to see what 2022 brings, but I hope for more like these.

A newspaper front page can do and say so much. It can capture a key moment in history (man on the moon, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, tragic death tolls). It can celebrate big moments (sporting victories, like Italy’s big Euro 2021 win, or Argentina’s historic Copa America title — a victory for the country and short people everywhere — Google: Lionel Messi height, as it’s the thing most googlers care about after age and money). And it can hold people to account. One of the primary functions of newspapers is to hold people to account. Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. These are terms heard in the journalism sphere all the time. And sometimes power doesn’t mean the 1 per cent. Sometimes a city, a country, the world, needs to be reminded. They need to be held to account. Sometimes I need to be held to account. Not just the powerful, but the privileged.

I want to look at two issues from the past few months over two posts. I am looking back because part of the problem can be after a cover comes out, calling out the privileged to act, or at least think, the issue gets a ton of attention and then fades away. Other issues arise. News is happening everywhere, all day, every day. But I want to key in on the design, and how it helped raise awareness.

I am looking at the coverage around unmarked graves of Indigenous children being found at residential schools. Another discovery was made in Saskatchewan (after a previous discovery in B.C.) on June 23. On June 24, most Canadian newspapers dropped the ball (I will celebrate, and not critique design here, but I will critique editorial decisions). Postmedia, which has a local paper in Regina, had the story first. An example of why local news matters. Postmedia’s coverage on the first day was strong. The rest were lacking. But the next day, the Star attempted to make amends. The previous day highlights the challenges to newspapers. The story was somewhat late breaking. There wasn’t a ton of information. But, and it’s a big but, the story required more attention than it got. It was the tear-the-front-page-apart kind of story: 751 UNMARKED graves of Indigenous children were found at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. I won’t say hundreds, as every one is important. I highlight unmarked to emphasize the contempt, the lack of humanity, toward the children, the families. Here is what the Star produced the following day, Friday, June 25.

Toronto Star, front page, Friday, June 25. How many more?

This page is powerful for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the picture of the small shoes. Clearly for a child’s feet. The wording written on them is powerful as well. WE WILL STOP THIS. WE GRIEVE WITH YOU. WE MUST ADDRESS THIS ONGOING GENOCIDE. And the reverse white text on black. The big, all caps headline, with a powerful question: HOW MANY MORE? The start of a story by David Robertson, an Indigenous graphic novelist and writer, and Michelle Good, the author of “Five Little Indians.”

We know there are more. Many, many more. Unmarked graves of Indigenous children who were taken off to residential schools. As a parent I can’t imagine. When my daughter goes to school, she’s safe. That’s just a basic requirement. Safety. I assume she’s learning important lessons. (In Grade 1 and 2 she did learn about residential schools, and I’m grateful for that, as I never did as a child. We’ve been able to talk about it.) But she’s safe. I can’t imagine the trauma, the fear, Indigenous parents must have felt. But I should. I should know. This isn’t ancient history, and even if it was, I need to know. The privileged, who have never worried about these things, need to know. I know this front page is only a piece of paper. But it helped. It brought it to the forefront. And it needs to stay there. Which is why I was glad the Star followed up a little later with this cover, questioning whether Canada’s history is something to celebrate.

Toronto Star, front page, July 1, 2021.

This page was 100 per cent driven by the beautiful and powerful illustration by Chloe Cushman. An amazing, talented illustrator with a knack for evoking emotion with her work.

And credit where credit is due. This was one of the Postmedia pages (the Calgary Sun) the day after the graves were discovered. They had more time, as they knew earlier. But it doesn’t matter. Newspapers need to react. Most didn’t. The ad aside, which unfortunately didn’t reflect the seriousness of the issue, but pays the bills to allow front pages to keep happening, this page was one of the best in Canada the day after. It has a strong image, a big and powerful headline (one-word headlines aren’t uncommon but the right word has an impact).

There are going to be more. Probably a lot more. And despite knowing this, each discovery should feel just as shocking and unsettling as the last. One unmarked grave should elicit intense anger, and spark a call to action. I ask all the white and/or privileged parents in Toronto or Calgary or New York or London: when your kid goes to school, do you expect to see them again? Just think about it. Imagine. #everychildmatters

An observation perhaps not worth noting is that every one of these front pages has a tiny throw to a sports story that might have otherwise been given much bigger play.

My next post will be about pages on the the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.

By Brad Needham

Scrolling through newspaper designs on the Freedom Forum’s website is one of my favourite hobbies. I like to do it as often as possible, and hope I can even get there daily. The site is amazing, but only hosts pages for the day of publication. Like Cadbury Eggs and Easter, after that they’re gone. But it means if I miss a day, I might miss some magical front page designs. It also makes it exciting when I do find a great design. Like hearing your favourite song on the radio, rather than on repeat on Spotify.

Thursdays have been lucky days for me so far. Though it could be forced luck. I want to publish a post by Thursday every week if possible, so as a typical journalist, I wait until Thursday. And wouldn’t you know it? There are some great designs this week too. What I like to do most days is truly take a brisk scroll through the pages. If a page doesn’t catch my eye as I scroll through hundreds from around the world, I move on. But some did catch my eye today. As a picture is worth 1,000 words, I won’t blather on too much about each page, but I do want to celebrate the creativity and explain why I like these pages.

Anyone familiar with my designs might think I have a bias toward this because it reminds me of me. That’s simply … only slightly true. I love that the Collegian cover is blown out on one topic. I love the footprints, and how they’re a design in themselves. And, yes, I will give points for the play on words, Weed all about it. (Insert slow clap here.) It’s an important topic, creatively done. The white space is well used, which is harder than it looks. All in all, it’s a smokin’ page. The design draws me in and makes me want to … weed the story.

Great minds think alike. This was a page I did after completing a redesign of the Guelph Mercury (RIP). This was the first day of the redesign, and also looking at a carbon footprint.

The Toronto Star often has solid designs, particularly for their centrepiece stories. (Disclaimer: I worked at the Star!). This is a basic design: reverse text (white on black), big numbers. But that’s all you need. It’s above the fold, which, as discussed in a previous post, might be an outdated model in terms of design consideration, but it allows you to blow out part of page, and leave the rest for key news content. In the age of shrinking news holes and page counts, that can be crucial. Designs are nice, but readers come first. But the Star balances this well. Two key numbers that help tell a story. Text on photo. A nice header graphic. And a good bit of two stories to boot. That is just a nicely put-together newspaper page.

I like these two pages for the same reason: creative graphics/illustrations. Kleine Zeitung uses its headline to complement the photo, about prices going through the roof. I love it when a headline and photo or graphic really work together. And it’s just a fun illustration with the arrow breaking through the top. It looks like live action!

The Metro graphic captures your attention instantly. Presumably intentionally, it also ties the text to the picture, talking about how diseases have helped shape vaccines and health systems. And we all know that distinctive COVID shape by now. I also really dig the use of colours. The tan and black, with red text. Also using reverse text, as the Star did above. Often it can seem too busy. Three colours of headline text, different background colours. But this is thoughtfully done.

It’s pretty obvious what I like here on this Spectrum & Daily News page. You can see the thought process that went into this. It’s a Getty Images illustration (thank goodness for good stock art). But the design is visually enticing. A break from big blocks or text or a picture of some dry landscape in the region. I like the big and literally bold headline, the small red kicker and the big drop cap. And they story is placed in the middle of an interesting image, so you get a big, bold illustration, but also can start to tell the story on the front page. All can be entry points to draw the reader in. There is little doubt where one’s eye will go first on this page, or at least which story.

That concludes today’s leisurely scroll! Thanks for joining me. If you have any thoughts, let me know below!

By Brad Needham

Most days I like to look through the daily front pages of newspapers around the world from the Freedom Forum (I will do a post about this organization soon). I am always looking for inspiration or trends or just one-off great newspaper designs. Today I found a sad theme: COVID-19. Yes, that is on the front page of most newspapers every day. But for the most part they are standard news pages, though I have written about a couple of other days with great pages, one from the New York Times and its Wall of Grief and one that looked at the anniversary of the pandemic declaration. Today there were some big designs. Interestingly two of the three I found used what is also an increasingly common design device: the generic stick figure-type shape. But one newspaper used it to mark vaccination efforts and another to mark COVID deaths. Both striking.

Both of these covers are powerful in their own rights. One, the Citizen Times uses the figures to mark a sombre story. Each figure represents one death over a year, 301 in total. Not the one on the line on its own. Even that uneven number, the imbalance, as power to what has been a sad and lonely year for many. But it’s more symbolic as it talks about the first death, and then the 300 that followed. That first death will always be symbolic. And there is a single figure, on a line of its own. The Citizen Times takes an interesting approach of putting the text of the story in the middle, over top of some of the figures. Despite some of the 301 being covered, the idea is still powerful, and I am a fan of starting a story on text when it works. It does here.

On the San Francisco Chronicle front, each figure represents 10,000 people. But it’s more hopeful. The first batch, red, represents the number of people between the ages of 50 and 64 who are eligible to receive vaccines starting today. That is 5.5 million people whose lives could change today or soon. The next, the black batch, represents those who have not been vaccinated but are eligible as of April 15. And the bottom, the blue with check marks, are those who have received at least one dose.

It’s fascinating that two papers, thousands of miles apart, decided to blow out their covers with figures representing COVID-19. Two pages. Very similar ideas. Very different representations. One sombre, one hopeful. Both powerful.

Denník N, a Slovakian paper, uses this very powerful page also to mark the same sombre milestone as the Citizen Times. Deaths over one year due to COVID-19. It uses reverse white text on a black cover, which really highlights the gravity. A small cross in the bottom corner. A large number, both physically and as a marker for the number of deaths: 9,719. And that number is higher today. The deaths continue.

I expect we will see a lot more pages like these as communities continue to mark milestones, either grim or hopeful. I highlight these pages to show the power of newspaper print design, whether the message is positive or negative.

Previous posts:

The Pandemic Papers
The Wall of Grief
Print is dead, long live print

A look inside an edition of a Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design books.

By Brad Needham

For years people have been saying it. Print is dead. Newspapers are dying. Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, I want to celebrate those making an extra effort. Print design, newspaper design, has shaped my career. It’s a passion. There is not much like it, so I, for one, want it to survive as long as possible. They’ve long been sending out a please resuscitate message, and I’m happy to do newspaper CPR as long as necessary.

Where it all began (for me)
In 2003, fresh out of out university, I had just lied my way into a job in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Am I a good designer? I taught design at Mount Royal as a TA, I said. It wasn’t completely untrue. I landed the job, and thus I packed up and moved to northern Alberta in February to start my first daily newspaper job at the Fort McMurray Today.

It was there I stumbled on some books called The Best of Newspaper Design by the Society for News Design. It changed my life. The designs inside were spectacular. Awe inspiring for a young aspiring designer. No longer did I want to be a photographer and certainly not a sports reporter (sorry, dad). I wanted to do that. As I learned more about the Society for News Design (SND) I discovered they were the preeminent design society. The best designers in the world were competing to get into this book. New York Times, El Mudo, Virginian-Pilot, Boston Globe, Toronto Star. I was hooked.

I took these books everywhere (including to Red Deer when I left the paper in Fort McMurray … ssshhh). On vacations, to the cottage, on the bus. When other people were reading novels on the dock, I had my big cumbersome SND books, new sticky notes flagging inspirational designs being added frequently. Every time I did a big design, I was pretty proud. I look back on many of them now with less pride. But I was learning. At the Red Deer Advocate, the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, the Barrie Examiner (RIP). And then I got to the Guelph Mercury, the little paper that could — and did. I was offered a role overseeing the Here section, a feature section focusing on interesting local people and places. I was given time to conceptualize, assign, design. My managing editor was incredibly supportive of my ideas, even if they seemed bizarre on … paper.

That’s how it happened. Years after discovering the Best of Newspaper Design books, collecting dust on a book shelf in a northern Alberta newsroom, after dozens, maybe hundreds of pages drawn, I decided to enter. As a lark. Weeks passed. Nothing. Until one day a note popped into my inbox from SND. I had been recognized for my features portfolio. My heart was pounding. I jumped out of my desk and stormed into my boss’s office as if my house was on fire. I didn’t knock. “I … won an SND. I won!” I could barely breathe.

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I submitted five pages. One of those in a few weeks’ time would be in Best of Newspaper Design 28. It was beyond my wildest dreams. To be in these books I used for inspiration. After that I was handed the keys to a full redesign of the Mercury. I was told I could redesign an entire fairly major Canadian newspaper. One of the country’s oldest. I was humbled. With that behind me, I kept chugging along. I submitted a portfolio the next year. I thought it was stronger. But nothing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, I thought. Winning an SND award. Except it wasn’t. I won again a year later for a news page, based on the redesign. My managing editor allowed me to use all the front page real estate for a design idea. Best of Newspaper Design 30. And I won again two years later, Best of Newspaper Design 32, working with a great designer, Diane Shantz, at the Waterloo Region Record (but for a Guelph Mercury page — the industry was starting its contraction as the Mercury’s page production was brought into the Record. A sign of things to come, and why great newspaper design should be celebrated now more than ever).

A changing landscape
That was in the early 2010s. Print advertising started on a steady decline. Stories were available online for free. Newspapers, once a licence to print money, weren’t as profitable (but still doing well relatively speaking). But as revenues dwindled, newspapers started cutting staff. Some adopted a “good enough” policy (it’s true, but I won’t say who said it). It was the idea that readers don’t care about design. They don’t care if a photo is beautifully shot by a professional photographer. A handout picture would do.

Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, we should celebrate those making an extra effort.

Even by 2010, newspapers were in decline. A Pew Research Center report said half a dozen U.S. newspapers had closed down the previous year. Alarm bells were ringing. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. A report out of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina published in 2020 said about a quarter of all papers in the U.S. had closed in the past 15 years. And things aren’t any better in Canada. A story in the Toronto Star last year said 50 community newspapers closed over a period of six weeks. Six weeks. Compared to just over 200 in the previous 12 years. Three newspapers I worked at have closed, the Guelph Mercury, Barrie Examiner and Prince George Free Press. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned in these roles, and what those papers meant to their communities.

To make a short story long, there are very few people left who get days or even several hours to put a section together, to conceptualize design. To sketch out designs on little yellow sticky notes, as I did at the Waterloo Region Record, and hand them to a designer to implement. I have been fortunate in my career. Awards like the Ontario Newspaper Awards no longer even have a print design category (I won once, received two other nominations and had the privilege of being a judge one year). But because I have been fortunate, I now want to celebrate those who are still doing it. Still producing kick ass designs, like the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Spokesman-Review and so on. And I will look at these papers and more to find out why they’re still investing. Hopefully they can inspire future aspiring designers to aim a little higher.

Words matter. They always have. In design, they don’t matter any less. The beautiful thing about organizations like the Society for News Design is that when they look at pages and judge in their Best of Newspaper Design competition, a page has to be more than just pretty. It has to work as a whole package. The words. The design. The white space, or lack thereof. But what about pages that don’t have art? Without words … creatively designed words … the page would be relegated to Old Gray Lady status. Fine if you’re the New York Times. Not so if you’re the East Bay Times of Walnut Creek, California.