Old news? Booooooring! Old newspaper designs? Exciting! If you disagree, you’re in the wrong place. Beside my desk, on a special table dedicated to newspaper design, sits a handful of Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design books (as well as some awards and the National Geographic from June 1985, featuring the young Afghan girl with the piercing eyes). I still look through the SND books, and am amazed by how the newspaper design has held up years later. So when I thought about posting newspaper pages from the previous week, I though certainly those would hold up!
Most days there is a newspaper front page or two that stands out. Maybe it will never be award winning (recognition for newspaper design is becoming an endangered species), but there are pages worthy of attention for the effort and creativity put in. I look through more than 500 pages every day. Some days nothing catches my eye. But that’s why it’s worthy of attention when something does.
So, life permitting, I’m hoping to post a few of my fave newspaper designs from the week prior. I post daily on my Instagram. I will generally choose from the pages I posted there, though there are occasionally pages I don’t get around to posting.
These short posts will be driven by the pages not my words, unlike the babbling above! But I had to set it up somehow. Don’t judge me.
Here are a few from last week.
Der Standard Austria
I made no secret in twitter and my instagram that I loved this page. It is not lost in me that it is completely driven by the art, which I find stunning and so smart. Print and digital together. Newspapers barely visible through the sky. and it is to celebrate the 10,000th print edition. How many more will there be? Is that what this hints at? The demise of print or how print and digital will work together for a common goal?
The art is being auctioned off as an NFT (non-fungible token).
A nice Saturday page by the Toronto Star. It’s likely every weekly roundup will feature at least one page from a Saturday publication of Canada’s big three
Monopoly houses are nothing new in design. I’ve done it. And I almost did that t another time before creating one of my favourite pages, pivoted below, before taking another approach. But in this page the for sale signs make add that extra touch.
This was mine. I thought the design was begging for a green monopoly house, given the headline. But I took a different path. If you can believe it I did the art myself.
Tributes to Elza Soares
Here are some tribute pages to great Brazilian singer, Elza Soares, the samba queen as someone remarked on Twitter. The Metro page is amazing but the others, Correio Braziliense, O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S.Paulo, are great as well. Nice tributes.
There were some other great pages. You can see all of the ones I like on my Instagram.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Some newspapers have clearly given up on print design. It’s about content and digital. Obviously both of those are key to the future of media organizations everywhere. But I still believe print design is important. And that’s why I celebrate it here and on my Instagram account, both of which have been around for about a year now. While my Instagram shows great pages from day to day, this blog tends to focus on designers or bigger topics.
While I want to celebrate all newspapers making an effort (and I do on Instagram), the next two posts are going to show a few papers that consistently deliver striking and thoughtful designs. This post will focus on Canada’s big three: The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post. Perhaps next year I will add more, though I don’t see many papers upping their effort. Next post, the rest of the world.
Each of these top papers tends to have a solidly defined style. I will look at my top three pages from each publication (at least that I highlighted this year on my Instagram), then a slideshow of some other pages. To be clear, I know there is some amazing work happening inside these papers and on other section fronts, but this is about A1, and only includes papers making an effort — and a splash — frequently. I won’t look at one-offs, or rare successes in this post. I will feature them in order of my connections with each, so Toronto Star, Globe and Mail (only as managing editor of Pagemasters North America, which handles most of the page production for the Globe and Mail, though the pages featured here were likely done in house) and the National Post (I recently started working at Postmedia).
This was probably the page of the year in Canadian media for me (the top Globe page rivals it), though not necessarily from a design perspective. There were some stronger pages visually, more complex. But this is a powerful page, which gave a lot of real estate to a key issue at a key time. The reverse text, the big headline asking a big question, the little moccasins with a big message. It came out a day late (only because the day-after coverage in many Canadian papers was lacking), two days after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children, but it struck a chord.
The Star will less frequently blow out its front page for an international issue than the national papers, but it did here. It was the strongest Canadian 9/11 anniversary page, with a strong image and beautifully handled typography.
In the summer of 2021, the Star decided to focus more on print design (I’m not making this up), hiring an art director as well as three others to focus on design, graphics, illustrations, etc. This is an example of this, with a striking, contrasty photo illustration from Ramon Ferreira.
Here is a small sampling of some other great Toronto Star pages. All great in their own way, all very Star. The beautiful illustration by Hawlii Pichette, the strong art and colours on the Afghanistan page and the excitement of an epic gold medal win on the Olympics page.
Globe and Mail
The Globe and Mail is always swinging for the fences and often knocks pages out of the park, well beyond A1. The Globe tends to have elegant or pleasantly elaborate illustrations, big art and sometimes subtle headlines. Its weekend A1s can run with the best in the world.
This page might have been the best purely from a design standpoint. It’s simple, but smart. Likely planned for ages. It is powerful as well, about the “Two Michaels,” who were wrongly imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days. This was Day 1,000, a grim milestone. Some will argue this, but the Globe owned this story, especially in Canada. Every day the Globe kept track of days the Michaels were detained on the front page. I don’t know how early it started, but it was there for hundreds of days. This was the culmination of that. The tallies, how they work around the flag. No art. The contrast. It’s a stunning and powerful page.
The Globe had one of the best Election Day and and best election results page. But I love this visual. And fantastic use of white space.
I love this illustration by Klawe Rzeczy. It’s busy, it’s chaotic, but it is absolutely eye catching. And despite the Globe getting illustrations from various illustrators, it always seems to feel like the Globe. Refined.
Here are a few more. I love the keys from the keyboard. And, again, in Globe style, the white space. They do not fear white space because they know how to use it. They also did a stained glass look (see National Post below). It’s too bad it cost the Canadian women’s soccer team some play, but it’s a nice page. The dart board. White space. Red. Contrast. And the pencil. I did a page like this, so of course I like it! Again, bold white space. And Calgary. I love it for design, but also I’m from Calgary! Finally, the bear. So dark, and boldly dark, but the Globe can get away with it as it prints on glossy paper. I should have said that earlier as that is key to some of its success in print.
The National Post has been known for its design since its inception in 1998. For a long time it stood above the rest. It’s still exceptional, especially once you get past the very often great front page. The inside design doesn’t try too hard. It is elegant and clean. So much so that others have tried to imitate it, without success. The vertical flag is something I often talk about. It adds so much. Funny that these three papers all have very different flag styles, with only the Star having the classic text across the top. Sorry, tangent. The National Post is still giving it its all, particularly on Saturdays.
I debated my fave, but in the end this vibrant illustration won out. It’s played well with the other content on the page, but it, in itself, is just so striking. To tie things together, it’s done by Becky Guthrie, now the art director at the Toronto Star. The Canadian media scene is a small world.
But then there is the Christmas page. This has been a tradition for the National Post since it started, conceptualized as a way to compete with the Globe’s art-driven Christmas page. They took the boldly overtly religious approach to set themselves apart from the Globe. The reverse flag. The colours.
This page is a basic, clean design. There are other extraordinarily designed Post pages, but I wanted to give props to a big news page. Like headlines, designs are often more celebrated for feature-type stories as they are easier to illustrate. This was a big news day in Canada. The Two Michaels home at least. It was the best page for this event.
The National Post’s Election Day page was great. Still maybe my favourite. It’s very different from the Globe’s white space. A big monster headline. Contrast-y text on a dark background. I just love the symmetry on the next page. I almost chose the Prince Philip page as one of my top 3. It was close. What a piece of art by my good friend* Kagan McLeod. The next is an Olympics page. As I wrote then, the Post won the Canadian newspaper Olympics with outstanding design day in and day out. And a classic Post cartoon cover. *I don’t actually know Kagan other than over Twitter and through seeing his illustrations in each of the top three papers here, but I’ve been a Kagan stan for a while.
So while 2021 proved to be just as maddening and depressing as 2020, just with vaccines, it still provided plenty of brilliant newspaper front pages. I am thankful to the editors and designers at all the papers here, who keep pushing boundaries and working with passion. And to those at the papers who still do the once-in-a-while great pages. Every little bit counts.
Next up, a look at papers from around the world, featuring publications such as Dennik N of Slovakia, Denmark’s Politiken, The Villages Daily Sun from Florida (you must have known that was coming) and more!
If you want to keep seeing posts like this, subscribe!
Newspapers often go all out on Christmas Eve, often with stunning illustrations or photos on their front pages. This year is no different, except that it’s very different. With Omicron raging, lockdowns, limits on gatherings. It’s been a hard year or two for most, regardless of the season. No commentary on religion here. Just design and the feeling of hopefulness the season often brings. And the incredible front pages don’t hurt! After about two years with COVID-19, it’s nice to have hope so I appreciate these covers even more this year.
For whatever reason, Canadian newspapers seem to blow out their covers disproportionately compared to other places in the world. I looked through about 20 Canadian covers and at least half had very Christmas-y covers. The proportion of America papers was much, much lower, which was surprising. Many didn’t publish today.
Canadian Christmas Eve
Alas, the covers. First I will start with Christmas Eve in Canada. Each of Canada‘s big three has a very different feel, in line with its target audience. First up, the National Post. The stained glass look and the black really pop. It’s such a striking visual. The National Post has been doing this since its first year, 1998, and every year I love it. It’s become a Christmas tradition. It definitely has a stronger religious feel than many others, but that is by design. Of course their vertical flag, as it often does, helps creating a more powerful visual.
Next up, the Toronto Star. The Star has recently hired a handful of staff to focus on print visuals, including an art director, formerly from the National Post. It shows. This illustration is lovey. Happy-making.
Then the Globe and Mail. Like the National Post, the Globe has been doing a similar cover for years. A beautiful oil painting, from the Art Gallery of Ontario, with a little text. In fact I have learned they have been doing it since before 1998 at least, featuring art from its parent company’s art collection. Most years it’s more of a winter theme rather than Christmas.
Then there is the Guardian from Charlottetown, P.E.I. Just a pretty, hopeful and happy painting, submitted by the very non-winter-named Summer Kelly, 11. Amazing work from a young artist.
Around the world
And now for covers from around the world! This Het Parool cover is one of my faves. I just find the illustration to be so magical and eye-catching/pleasing.
Reporte Indigo is known for their illustrations. And they don’t disappoint here. So classy. Stunning.
Kleine Zeitung has a beautiful illustration but they don’t gloss over COVID. It’s part of our lives.
This cover from de Volkstrant is just simple and elegant. Really pretty art.
And this McDowell News front page. It’s different! Christmas stats. Very American. Nice contrast. It’s fun and informative.
There were more, but these were the tops that I saw. Thanks to all the newspaper designers out there, still doing their thing. I appreciate how much effort still goes into these pages. Happy holidays, everyone.
By Brad Needham (but mostly by newspaper designers around Canada)
It looks as though making an election newspaper during a pandemic is just as hard as voting in a busy Toronto riding during a pandemic. That is to say not easy. Very little art, no gatherings, no big hugs or ecstatic faces. Despite the results coming in early (as I — and any experienced journalist — would have guessed!), there wasn’t a ton of fresh art used today. I admit I had delusions of grandeur, of waking up to front pages that blew my mind. I love elections, and I love election newspapers. What does blow my mind about these is that most of this work was likely done in people’s homes. That’s an incredible feat, so congrats to all the editors who made this happen. There are some nice looking pages, for sure. I hope for more tomorrow.
Without too much political commentary, and for those not following Canadian politics — which probably includes most of the world and a good chunk of Canadians — this was an interesting election to cover. A minority government that brought itself down and came back as a nearly identical — almost to the seat — minority government, with a Quebec nationalist party seeing the biggest increase (which was still tiny). Naturally, with $612 million spent, it has caused some opinions to be formed in Canada, including in the media. Some in support, some clearly against. That is captured in some of these pages.
The papers that used fresh art and took a more neutral approach win my election newspaper edition of the this blog! The Globe and Mail wins a majority, with the Winnipeg Free Press filling the role of official opposition. Here is a selection of pages from this election, with little to no commentary on the content or design. Just the pages for your viewing pleasure.
And now for some more political leaning covers
Most newspapers have a slant of some sort. These papers chose to display theirs, subtly or obviously, on their election covers today.
September 11, 2001. 9/11. It was a day that changed the world. The attacks in New York, heard and seen around the world. Today marks 20 years since that infamous day. I remember my first indication something was up was waking up to an email from a friend who worked at the United Nations saying, don’t worry, I am safe. Shortly thereafter the world watched as a second plane flew into the World Trade Center buildings. I was in my final year of journalism school so wasn’t in a newsroom, but I have heard the stories. The chaos. Tearing papers apart. Trying to get special editions out. The Guelph Mercury apparently put out an edition with the attacks on the cover, removing all the stories that were there, but left the turns from the original stories inside.
September 11, 2021. Twenty years later, I look at some amazing newspaper covers as the world remembers and reflects on that day. Some are what you would expect. Some are not. It was a tragedy on an unimaginable scale. But this is about the creativity in newsrooms around the world. How do they tell the story visually? I will let the covers mostly speak for themselves. There were dozens (the vast majority of papers in the U.S. had a big 9/11 splash) so I have chosen a few that cover the themes I saw. Some just wildly creative and powerful, simple and elegant. Some showing current photos, some showing destruction. Some taking an artistic approach. Here they are.
This Newsday cover does so much. It’s different than many others. No towers, no planes, no destruction. Just a little girl. A New York T-shirt. A monument remembering those who died. A single flower.
Definitely the strongest 9/11 front page in Canada. The Toronto Star uses a big, powerful image. So well processed. An image similar to this was used in many newspapers. It was just used better here. Minimal text. Stunning.
The Dennik N page from Sept. 10 and The Economist from Sept. 11 do something similar with the numbers, similar conceptually, but they look so different. These are two of my favourites. Simple. Beautiful. I love so much that one line, on the first 1, makes all the difference. It takes it from numbers to buildings. So smart.
This is a creative page by Politiken. It is so simple.
These two — above, USA Today, and below, Chattanooga Times Free Press — went with the big photo of the Tribute Lights. Many papers took this approach.
Both these pages used an art-based approach. Above, Salzburger Nachrichten is quite bold. Below is the Longview News-Journal.
The Jyllands-Posten uses a different photo than most. No destruction visible. But the people. What a photo.
And the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It uses a similar photo to the Star, without the person. This photo was used widely today.
The Anniston Star went with one of the most terrifying photos from 2001. These photos will never not send me right back.
And below are two pages from 2001. I have looked at pages from this time in a previous post, so I won’t go too far into it. The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 12, 2001.
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!
Once in a while, on a day you wouldn’t expect, a front page comes along that leaves readers awestruck. It’s a page that does something to convey a story or an idea so big. Through a design, through a graphic, through an image. Sunday’s New York Times front page was such a page.
At a quick glance, the reader wouldn’t even know what they were looking at. The Gray Lady was even greyer as the primary graphic on the page was black and white and at first indiscernible.
It doesn’t get you at first glance. But when you look deeper you see it. The graphic is made up of nearly 500,000 dots, each one representing an American who has died from COVID-19. On the front page of the New York Times, about half the page taken up by almost 500,000 tiny dots. In newsprint almost certainly blending together becoming unrecognizable as single dots as the death toll starts increasing at an alarming rate. The page goes from grey and white to almost a block of black. That is part of what makes it so powerful. How in itself it tells a story. The dots blur together.
It goes to speak to the power that still resides with newspapers and why I celebrate them. Of course it’s easy to celebrate the New York Times, though more often than not it’s for the reporting, not the design. It may not be as grey as it once was, but its front page is still usually pretty busy. Even this one has other stories. Imagine if the entire front was simply this graphic?
In a New York Times Insider article about this page, Nancy Coleman explains that a similar version of the graphic ran online in January. Despite that, I didn’t see much about it on Twitter or other social media. But when I searched for front pages on Sunday, this page was everywhere. And that’s quite a feat for a newspaper page.
“The prominent real estate in the print edition conveyed the significance of this moment in the pandemic and the totality of the devastation,” she says in the article.
Because there is still nothing like it. The power of the front page. Where real estate is finite.
It may sound like a contradiction, but the graphic is both painfully simple — dots — and thoughtfully complex. What often gets lost in newspaper design is what happens before the execution. Someone is conceptualizing. They are either given a story or idea and told to come up with something or they come up with a concept and run it by their editors.
A huge shoutout to New York Times graphic editors and the graphics co-ordinator who worked on this (Lazara Gamia, Lauren Leatherby and Bill Marsh) as well as those who made the decision to run this in print. The insider article, linked to above, is a must read for those who wonder what goes into such decisions.
Here is some of the reaction from Twitter, just a sampling as there was a lot more.
Any time the front page of a newspaper makes such an impact in the digital world, and not for something stupid, it deserves to be called out. So thank you, New York Times, for such a powerful page. A devastating milestone captured not only for today’s readers, but beyond.
While some people have started taking screenshots of websites on big days, nobody is going to remember what the home page of the New York Times or Globe and Mail looked like on the night/day Donald Trump was elected. More so, most don’t care. But the front page of the newspaper? Many will remember. Many will seek it out later to see how it was played. Same for other major events. People in Hartford will remember the Harford Courant cover on September 12, 2001. People around the U.S. will remember the covers of their papers when Barack Obama won a historic victory.
There is something about a newspaper front page. They are a reference point for history. So much so that the Freedom Forum Institute is collaborating with more than 2,000 newspapers around the world on its front page gallery. Every day they post front pages of the day, and only for the day. However, going back as far as Sept. 11, 2001, 9/11, they have compiled key front pages from monumental days: 9/11, Donald Trump and Barack Obama’s presidential victories, the Charlie Hebdo attack, Osama bin Laden’s death, and so on. The pages are from events “that are considered of historical significance and fit its educational mission.”
Most recently, and the news hook if you will, was Trump’s latest acquittal. It was both a more and less historic day than his first acquittal on impeachment charges. It happened on a Saturday. Thankfully for American readers Sundays are still big publishing days. In Canada, most of the front pages from big Saturday news would come on Monday. In the examples above, two of the headlines are similar (USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer), both big and both use acquitted. Another not included said “Acquitted. Again”. Big bold words. The other, from the Telegraph in the U.K., shows how a non-U.S. paper played it. It didn’t get nearly the play it did in the American or even North American, media. Just another front page story.
I am always amazed at how these pages come together. While the conceptualizing for some, like elections, can start well in advance, for other events, it’s a mad dash to the finish, like the covers for September 12, 2001, (or for some papers, September 11 as they rushed to put out special editions or put out their afternoon or evening editions. The Guelph Mercury (RIP) tore up its cover to replace it with a 9/11 cover. As the story goes, it was so rushed that the turns from the stories that were on the cover originally still ran). I feel fortunate that I have been able to work behind the scenes on a lot of big days. I’ve worked too many elections to remember, but I do remember some. Obama was memorable. Trump was even more so, only because it was so tight and surprising. While papers always have contingency plans for election covers, I would wager most papers, like the Toronto Star, had a “Hillary Clinton wins” design firmly planted on the page for much of the night, with a Trump victory on the pasteboard.
There are a few things I find notable about big day newspaper front pages. Here are a few things I love.
Headlines: Big and short
Big events can be a headline writer’s dream … or nightmare. Often a big front page headline is 72 points. Smaller for most non-tabloid papers. But on big days the font size isn’t just bumped up a few points, it often explodes. 100 points. 200 points. And the bigger the font the smaller the headline in terms of words. Now instead of seven or eight words, you get two or three. The bigger the event, the fewer words you get to capture it for posterity. While some of these are tragic stories, I want to note the work by creative headline writers and designers who can create these packages and that capture the moment. The team that puts these pages together recognize the importance of what they’re doing. Some examples, and they may seem simple, but the words have to be just right:
OH-BAMA! It was a historic day. Americans elected their first Black president. Here are some of the headlines: Virginian-Pilot, Obama; Critica, Historica; The Commercial Appeal, YES HE DID; Philadelphia Daily News, New York Times and The Honolulu Advertiser (and more for sure), OBAMA; Kansas City Star, HISTORY. And, OH-BAMA!, Orange County Register. Lots of Obama, lots of history, lots of yes he can or did … And all beautifully played with strong, emotive art, and other key elements.
9/11 Some papers came out that day, some the next. The common theme was shock, anger, sadness. Here are some headlines: The Arizona Republic, TERROR; The Oakland Tribune, Terrifying; The San Diego Union-Tribune, NATION IN ANGUISH; Hartford Courant, ACT OF WAR; Chicago Tribune, ‘Our nation saw evil’; The New York Times, U.S. ATTACKED. There were some outliers, such as the Washington Post: Terrorists Hijack 4 Airliners, Destroy Word Trade Center, Hit Pentagon; Hundreds Dead.
Capitol riot What started as a fiery protest turned into a riot at the U.S. Capitol, when an angry mobbed stormed the building. Here are some of the headlines: Arizona Republic, PRO-TRUMP MOB INVADES CAPITOL; Anchorage Daily News, Pro-Trump mob storms Capitol; Tampa Bay Times, UNDER SIEGE.
I love that despite being hundreds or thousands of kiliometres apart there is often such similar language from paper to paper. Repetition of big, powerful, emotive words. Terror. Victory. Siege. History. On their own the words wouldn’t mean much. That is where the rest of the design comes in. One, two or three words. A poweful photo. A deck. All of the sudden a quick glance can tell the story. I think it’s magical.
The art of design: the photo
Iconic front pages are often made iconic by iconic photos. (Don’t tell the former editor from the Toronto Star that I said iconic three times in one sentence. I will be blackballed from the industry.) Those who choose the pictures deserve some props as well. It’s not an easy task most days, but on days of historical significance it is an even greater responsibility. Even on days when the art essentially chooses itself, it can be a painstaking process. Do we show the planes crashing into the building? Do we show show the Turkish police officer carrying little Alan Kurdi’s body? It’s an excruciatingly hard decision some days. And in print, once the paper hits the press, the decision is irrevocable.
The Boston Marathon bombing was a good example of a major story and of art choosing itself. When it happened, newsrooms started buzzing (I was in one and I remember it well). Images were flowing in. There were lots. The main image was replaced and replaced. Until the image came in. Rather than one caught by a witness cellphone, it was by Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki. Not all papers chose to run it, but many, maybe even most, did. It captured the panic. The moment. A runner on the ground. Police with guns drawn. Smoke. The kind of photo rarely captured by an amateur photographer. One captured by a newspaper professional.
Two of the three papers above took a similar approach. The big headline. Terror. Big photo. Less information. The Virginian-Pilot has a long and storied history, and is one of the most recognized papers in the world for its incredible design. I love that it’s not afraid to reduce the size of its flag to give more pop to the content. It’s bold. The Washington Post played it straight. More information, less about the design. As newspapers get smaller being able to blow out your cover on one story still happens, but it’s a much bigger investment than it once was. We might see more covers like the Post’s, but some papers are still going big. And I will celebrate them as I see them (I will write more about this in a future post). Being able to turn around a front page that captures a key moment in history at a glance, while under pressing deadlines, is an incredible feat, pulled of by teams of passionate editors and designers, and it happens all over the world.
Here are a few of the amazing pages from big events. I don’t think I need to say anything more. The designs say it all. Credit to the papers in flags, and to the Freedom Forum Institute, which has kept these pages easily accessible for the public to see.