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Chapter 6 (part 2)

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 1 month ago

Comments and Discussion:

Add comments, notes and translations here.


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Add comments, notes and translations here.


The front page of a newspaper is like a crowded store window. The newspaper depicted the realm of prominence and conflict, a world peopled by leaders and criminals, artists and celebrities.

The design of the front page became the crucial feature in the form of the newspaper. The front page would represent the serious intentions of the newspaper.


1970s-1980s Ben Bradlee


The newspapers shifted from the abundant complexity of the Vctorian era to the fixed simplicity of modernism.

The specific forms of the modern style:

• fewer columns

• prominent illustrations

• horizontal layout

• simplified headline typography

The modern newspaper simplified the news of the day and offered an insistent commentary on what mattered the most. Headlines also changed in accordance with modern design. The wider headline dominated and gathered together related items, including photographs and captions.

In early newspapers the headlines appeared as titles or labels, as in the tradition of the book, where chapters had titles.

The modern current changed the headline function from a table of contents to a statement of the meaning of an event.

The modern headlines called for horizontal layout, an aspect of headlines that reflects 3 values of modernism: simplicity, efficiency and tranquility.

The use of bylines provides another consequence of the modernism.

Illustration indicates an awareness of subjectivity. The relationship between illustration and the verbal content of the front page grew more complex.



In typography a sans-serif or sans serif typeface is one that does not have the small features called "serifs" (in Italian grazie) at the end of strokes. The term comes from the French word sans (meaning "without"), and so the term literally means "without serifs" or even grotesque from the German word grotesk.

Sans-serif typefaces are typically suited for headlines but not for body text. Serifs help guide the eye along the line; the lack of serifs makes sans-serif typefaces harder to read in large blocks of text. When read on a computer monitor, however, pixelation makes sans-serif typefaces look cleaner than serif typefaces, leading to their widespread use for body text on screen.

Before the term “sans-serif” became standard in English typography, a number of other terms had been used. One of these outmoded terms for sans serif is gothic, which is still used in Japanese typography and sometimes seen in typeface names such as New Century Gothic.

Sans-serif typefaces are sometimes, especially in older books, used as a device for emphasis due to their typically blacker type color.



Typeface senza grazie



Typeface con grazie



Typeface con grazie evidenziate in rosso



Barbara: From my point of view, the form of modern dailies is influenced by cultural context of each country. For example, Italy is a country of literary culture with a small reading market.

In the 1830s, the United States already had a popular form, the Penny Press (sold for 1 cent), and an elite form, quality newspaper. In Italy the small reading market created the bases for the so-called “omnibus” formula, which means designed to appeal to all sections of the population. A newspaper with different subjects addressed all different classes and family members. In the past, beginning 20 years ago, the newspaper was created by thinking of a primary schoolteacher, secondary teacher, and other cultured people, but in the newspaper there was also something for the concierge! The third page was addressed to teachers and cultured people. Now this page is completely different. Today the formula has changed and extended with the addition of supplements, the increase of pages, the circulation of business inserts, and the creation of sport and illustrated magazines.


Oriana: I agree with Barbara when she writes that the form of newspapers depends on different traditions and culture in the countries. I am focusing my attention more in the relationship between Italy and the United States now.

On the graphs published on the book I noticed that the line fall down in the long period, so it is difficult to find clear differences in a decade about newspapers published in one country unless that are different format (traditional newspaper, magazine). At the same time if we compare national Italian and American newspaper differences are quite evident in structure.




Measures of change

During the century, the newspapers in the study shifted from the abundant complexity of the Victorian era to the fixed simplicity of modernism. They adopted all of the specific forms commentators identified with the modern style: fewer columns, prominent illustrations, horizontal layout, and simplified headline typography. The front pages clearly became less dense and more orderly, as indicated in several measures. The average number of items (such as images, heads, and blocks of text) on the front page declined from a high of 58 for the Transcript of 1885 to a low of 7.29 for the Chronicle of 1985 (Figure 6.1). The average number of stories (groups of items related to the same event) on front pages declined from a high of 32.3 for the Register in 1895 to a low of 5.25 for the Transcript in 1985. Interestingly, for both of these measures, we found wide disparity among newspapers studied until the 1920s. Beginning with the 1925 data, increasing uniformity among newspapers accompanied the declining density of their front pages, apparent in the declining standard deviations among newspapers within each year.


The highly ordered front page appeared as a rather recent phenomenon. We take the number of stories on the front page to be an especially significant measure (Figure 6.2). The modern newspaper, by the mere act of selecting only a half dozen stories for front-page treatment, radically simplified the news of the day and offered an insistent commentary on what mattered most. Although newspapers had been reducing the number of front-page items from the 1920s on, the process proceeded rather gradually through the middle of the century. The average number of stories dipped below ten only between 1965 and 1975, although the decline had been clearly linear for forty years by then.


The declining population of front-page items accompanied declining density in other measures, as the modernist penchant for clarity and order required. The number of columns decreased gradually from a high of nine to a low of five or six, while the number of lines per column also fell — two measures of the shrinking physical format of newspapers. Besides publishing on smaller sheets of paper, newspapers enlarged their text typography. As a result, the number of words that the average front page could accommodate shrank from upwards of 10,000 in 1885 to less than 4500 in 1985, with a sharp drop again coming in the last years studied (Figure 6.3). The variation also went down, as newspapers uniformly became less dense.





If we consider design as a continuum ranging between two poles from books to newspapers, with the former referring to single column formats with larger type and continual, coherent subject matter, and the latter to the opposite, then front pages over the century moved back from newspaper to book forms. Of course, magazine forms had already staked out the intermediate position between the two, and newspapers in effect came more and more to imitate magazines in design through the nineteenth century (a point we take up again in Chapter 7).


Headlines also changed in accordance with the tenets of modern design (Figure 6.4). Modernists replaced the multiple decks of Victorian headlines, in the form of a list, with the streamlined heading that summarized the story in one truncated sentence. Measurements of form only hint at the change, first because only a few articles received deck headlines on any Victorian front pages, most article titles instead occupying a single line, and second because streamlined headlines on modern front pages occasionally carried a subtitle. On average, then, the number of decks went down by half a line, a small amount despite a pronounced change in visual form.


Other aspects of headline design contributed to the change. As the number of decks in headlines declined, the width of the average headline more than doubled. The wider headline dominated and gathered related items, including photographs and captions, under its umbrella. The change yielded a simpler hierarchy of emphasis for content. Along with the width of headlines, the width in columns for text running in the average story also increased somewhat. The removal of decks, arraying of text across (rather than down) columns, and creation of headlines spanning text and pictures together marked not only the visible form but changed the function of headlines.


In the earliest newspapers we examined (see Chapters 2 and 3), headlines appeared more or less as titles or as labels. That function followed the traditions of the book, where chapters had titles. It also followed the function (and subsequently the form) of advertisements. The heading, “European Intelligence,” for example, looked and acted like the label, “New and Imported: For Sale.” The uniform style remained typical of the printerly era, including the editors’ newspapers of the Partisan era. In the Victorian era, the function and form of the headline shifted, again in line with advertising practices but also in response to the rise of telegraphic news, to produce multiple tiers, typographically differentiated, within a single stacked headline. These headlines still acted as titles, but also were more descriptive of the content of the news item (or items) that followed. One might think of them as a table of contents.


Modernism changed the headline’s function from a table of contents to a statement of the meaning of an event. No longer an outline, the headline instead gave a pointed summary of the news — we use pointed in the sense that it denoted and captured (the point of) the story and also in the sense that it compressed and (pointedly) connoted the story: Headless Body in Topless Bar. The modern headline carried deeply embedded codes of news values and cultural values, in this example ranging from the unusual and the timely to the powerful and the moral.


Modern headlines called for horizontal layout. Written usually as declarative sentences, they asked to be read across the page, proportional to their size, just like any other sentence. The layout of the stories followed on the whole, becoming more horizontal as measured in the width of the average story in columns. Although the number of columns each story occupied grew over time from a nearly universal single column in 1895 to a more expansive column and a half (with fairly high variance) in 1985, the pronounced expansion of headlines across columns led the way. Of all the design aspects of the newspaper, headlines spoke most directly to the audience and stood out on the page as sense-making devices. The headlines gave meaning in much the same way that the enlarged names of countries and major cities signal what matters on a map.


Although the trends toward horizontal forms continued throughout the years sampled, a real quickening occurred in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Not every measure followed the same pattern (Figure 6.5). In other headline characteristics, the changes largely fell into place

before the so-called design revolution. Sans serif typefaces, a marker of modernism, increased in the first half of the twentieth century. Headlines in all upper case letters, a marker of Victorianism, began declining after the 1920s. Then the Victorian effect of condensed type dropped off later, after mid-century.


The aspects of headlines reflect three values of modernism: simplicity, efficiency, and tranquillity. A sans serif typeface exposes the structure of letters, without the customary decorative flourishes at the ends of the strokes. Serifs connote the handicraft of calligraphy and stone inscriptions, and modernism continued to use such classically derived forms, but sans serifs connote a desirable simplicity of geometry and logic. By mid-century serifs had become secondary to plain sans serif typefaces in headlines as an expression of the professional bent of newspapers.




Type in all capital letters fell victim to the modernist inclination for seeking efficiency. Studies of legibility and readability, employing the methods of social science, showed upper-case letters less easy to distinguish from each other, compared to the lower case, and when used in quantity capital letters slowed down the process of reading. Those results accumulated into an irresistible force for modernists working after the 1930s, and all-capital-letter headlines dropped off in the second half of the century.


The serenity favored by modernism could not enter a landscape dominated by conflict so readily as did the modernist values of simplicity or efficiency, which matched the journalistic preference for quick and clear reporting. Condensed typography provided a form of emphasis, a way for newspapers to call out to readers in the printed parallel to a street vendor. All-upper-case headlines did the same, and that declamatory capacity helped delay their decline. Such modes of selling events eventually decreased under the modern conception of news. Condensed types followed an up and down course (and reemerged in newspapers at the end of the century).


The use of bylines provides another measure of the rise of modern design. Bylines of all sorts became much more frequent by the 1920s (Table 6.1). Shifts in bylining indicate a series of changes in news production that also involved the continuing impact of modern notions. Although bylines became a familiar element in newspapers, not until the 1960s did front-page stories become routinely bylined, and only then did the individual reporter’s byline become prevalent. At the same time, the array of different agencies cited in bylines contracted.


We can summarize the process of change in bylining as the simultaneous institutionalization and personalization of reporting. Bylines that attributed news to wire services had become general by the 1920s, and Associated Press (AP) attributions remained commonplace thereafter. In fact, the data understate the importance of the wire services as named sources of content, because our study focused on the front page, where newspapers in the second half of the century tended to showcase material their own reporters produced. Institutional sources of news became regularized and received routine credit in bylines to an extent even greater that the data suggest. At the same time, individual reporters became more likely to be named on front pages.



A complicated story lies behind the rise of the modern news byline, which we discuss in more detail in the following chapter. Suffice it here to note that the byline to a significant degree recognizes the reporter’s subjectivity (Schudson, 1978). The discovery of the subjectivity of the perceiving individual is one of the prominent features of the modernist moment. The novel science of psychology grew out of the challenging of fixed notions of human nature that modernism encouraged. In conventional memory, Sigmund Freud’s “discovery” of the unconscious mind was the founding event in this history; in the United States, the more prosaic psychology of William James (1890) also drew attention to the crucial role of a subject’s intentionality in constructing the world.


Another design feature, illustration, also indicates an awareness of subjectivity. We previously discussed some of the philosophy behind illustrated news (see Chapter 5), particularly its aims to provide vicarious experience for readers and, to convey series of events, and to depict important personages. The mere existence of illustration in the news indicates an initial engagement with modernism. Not surprisingly, we found that the prominence of illustrations on the front pages of newspapers increased.


The change reflected the hegemony of modern design ideas, which included the demand for a larger range in the scale and a clear dominance of some images (or one image) on the page. Not only that, but the change also marked the acceptance of photographers as partners in journalism instead of merely as artists. At the same time that the number of photographs on the front page grew, the total number of items declined (see Figure 6.1). Photojournalists thus took a greater share of the shrinking front page, and their centrality to the task of reporting top-priority news increased.


Under modernism, the relationship of illustrations to the verbal content of the front page grew more complex. A rather striking upswing took place in the number of illustrations included with stories, from 5.7 percent in 1895 to 21.5 percent in 1985 — an increase accounted for by charts, maps, drawings, and other forms of what news editors called infographics. The change, of course, related to the role of headlines already discussed, but also marked the integration of visual forms of information into the older verbal center of news. Meanwhile, the percentage of photographs directly related to accompanying stories declined from 90.5 percent in 1895 to 66.7 percent in 1985. Pictures came commonly to stand on their own on the front page, although stand-alone photographs remained in the minority. In every measure, the rise of modernism enhanced the status of the image and along with it the status of the photographer.

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