4 reasons the Sunday front page now looks a lot like the Monday front page

Where are all of the truly great Sunday, front page designs in the U.S. these days?

As I do my daily run through the Newseum’s collection of front pages, Sunday looks a lot like Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Papers seem to be taking fewer chances,” said Suzette Moyer, creative director of the St. Petersburg Times’ Bay Magazine. “Instead of blowing out that one big story that they know is good, papers are trying to appease every reader by cramming it all on the front page.”

You have a little more time to read on a Sunday, right? And more time to analyze what you’ve read. It should be special.

Granted, there might be a beautifully executed front page on any given Sunday in any given town with the ability to stop a reader in her tracks. Some papers excel at this (see examples below). But, by and large, I think the volume has been turned down to a rather monotonous murmur around the U.S.

“I don’t think there is enough surprise to most Sunday papers,” said Moyer.

And no big surprise as to why.

Supposition 1: There are tough cuts in every part of the newsroom. It’s unfortunate and inevitable. But perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point in quality by eliminating too many positions for visual journalists?

Design and graphics staffs are about half the size they were 10 years ago, says Jeff Goertzen, graphics director of the Denver Post (and soon to be director of graphics at USA Today), who conducted an informal survey of about 50 newsrooms earlier this year.

“The average design staff that was about 22-24 people 10 years ago in a big newsroom is now around 12 or 13 people,” said Goertzen. Where there were once nine artists, those staffs now have three or four. Eight of the major papers surveyed have no graphic artists at all. Copy desks and photo staffs have taken tremendous hits, too.

Supposition 2: Those designers and graphic artists who remain in newsrooms are doing a lot more things — and often those things don’t have much visual impact.

A front page designer might fill a news editor slot throughout the week, lay out multiple inside sections and produce for the website. Most websites are strictly formatted, so the work has relatively little design impact outside of a standard layout.

I know photo directors who pick up assignments themselves, losing precious time for essential picture editing. I know disappointed copy desk chiefs who have little time to think about the headlines they so love to write.

“That’s the trend,” said Goertzen, “those people that are left are morphing into more hybrid positions.

“Even a photo gallery is time-consuming to create,” said David Kordalski, visual editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “And online photos don’t get a lot of eyeballs. Galleries still don’t have the reach that print does for now, at least not at the Plain Dealer.”

Supposition 3: The average news hole in the Sunday paper is smaller than it was five years ago. Historically, investigative projects are the ones that have been afforded more time and space for design, photos and presentation. Perhaps the big, expansive investigative stories are fewer and farther between.

But, regardless of the size of the story, you want to be able to draw readers to the most important stories of the day—every day—with an element of surprise. A “regular” day might be no different than a “twelve-part series” day to a potential reader who might buy a newspaper from a box.

Good design also means knowing what the volume level should be on the front page over time and designing accordingly. “In some cases, (newspapers) have turned it up to an “11,” said Kordalski, “without the story really warranting the play.”

To design well is to edit well.

Supposition 4: The creation of centralized design centers and simplified templates are business decisions — decisions that might show considerable savings on overall production and something that certainly works for low impact pages. But the time saved should be used for strong visual storytelling on key pages.

Much more than filling holes on a page, design requires conversation and upfront time with the story so that it can be presented as it should be — a true marriage of words and images. It requires time and inspiration for it to gel.

Front page design isn’t usually suited to an assembly-line situation.

“I think designers have lost a little bit,” said Moyer. “We need to get back up on the ladder.”

Here are a few pages that made me stop.

The Virginian Pilot goes big on concept with a story about the national debt, yet they still manage to have five stories starting on the front. The Cleveland Plain Dealer draws the eye with an equation on a chalkboard.
The Virginian-Pilot goes big on concept with a story about the national debt, yet they still manage to have five stories starting on the front. The Cleveland Plain Dealer draws the eye with an equation on a chalkboard.
These pages work especially well for me, for different reasons. The Virginian Pilot, which does a great job every day, uses a compelling visual dimension to convey information. All design needs to communicate. The San Francisco Chronicle chose to use this image of Steve Jobs as a young man, in an environment that says a lot about who he was.
These pages work especially well for me, for different reasons. The Virginian-Pilot, which does a great job every day, uses a compelling visual dimension to convey information. All design needs to communicate. The San Francisco Chronicle chose to use this image of Steve Jobs as a young man, in an environment that says a lot about who he was.
These two front pages have dynamic centerpiece packages, even without dynamic photographs. The Huntsville Times's graphic presentation certainly turns up the volume on a story about tuition increases; The Salt Lake Tribune blends a nice yet static photo of a local theater with data about the arts.
These two front pages have dynamic centerpiece packages, even without dynamic photographs. The Huntsville Times’s graphic presentation certainly turns up the volume on a story about tuition increases; The Salt Lake Tribune blends a nice yet static photo of a local theater with data about the arts.
The National Post's front pages move easily from layered analysis to poster-sized photos.
The National Post’s front pages move easily from layered analysis to poster-sized photos.

I’d love to hear your ideas and see front pages that were so great you couldn’t help but stop to read them — on a Sunday or any day.

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  • http://essay-writing-service.co.uk/ essays uk

    I think it`s look nice ))

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    “I think instead of wondering where the front pages are going, we should
    be more concerned about where the publications are going.” Great thought. That actually should have happened 25-30 years ago.

    But places like Poynter wonder where the front pages are going. Sadly, so do the people in the newsrooms and in the universities.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    At one paper, we stopped getting most Sunday stories before the Saturday shift. The city desk said they weren’t going to send them in advance any longer because they would sit in the queue. I guess that was true, but only because they were sending them on Friday, another chronically understaffed shift. (At this particular paper, all one had to say was: “I don’t want to work Fridays,” and the request was granted.)

    Of course, lost in the cry for more focus on design is the obvious: If your desk is spending more time on doodads, it’s spending less time on editing. There weren’t enough people to justify some of the stuff that was happening before, and there certainly aren’t now.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    “I know disappointed copy desk chiefs who have little time to think about the headlines they so love to write.” I remember that feeling. I also remember knowing why that was happening — the never-ending cry for time-consuming doodads in the false quest to “draw readers in” or “to make them drop their cereal bowls.”

    I guess I missed the context of David Sullivan’s comment. Maybe it’s important. But I suspect it’s not.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    Chuck, you’ll come to find that holds true with many things here.

    As usual, the pages that are highlighted as “great” are not. The chalkboard centerpiece is a cliche that has been hammered into dust. Giant red arrow that cover the newspaper flag lost their impact 1,001 uses ago. Studies have shown repeatedly that readers don’t want reverse type and won’t waste their time with it, yet two of these examples have large blocks of that type. And on and on and on; it’s almost like designers only hear what they want to hear.

    The biggest problem not mentioned here is that designers were allowed to complain about not having elements early enough to create Picassos For A Day. In some cases, those complaints were valid, but it also had led to a situation where things that aren’t really news are played up as giant stories on the front.

    Finally, it’s amusing that the Cleveland visual “editor” talks about playing things up to an 11. Does that include running a giant 11 as the main “headline”?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORAUGGD6HE3CGOERH5D6YTIVRI Mr
  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B7WM743CF2BPQ2FLD2TEDEMBOI Chuck B

    The lack of reality in this analysis is laughable … simple answer … the resources are exhausted and tired. Staffs that used to be of 6 or 8 at a metro are now 3 or 4, yet nobody expects any drop in quality. 

  • http://twitter.com/NicWirtz Nic Wirtz

    Looks like 19th Century newspaper design is in this season!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, some of these are pdfs, taken from the news organization’s site and converted to jpgs in Photoshop. A few are actually just screen grabs.

  • Brian Haas

    My guess is they’re either .pdfs of the fronts (which many papers post) or they’re ripped from the Newseum site here: http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/default.asp

  • David Sullivan

    If you think a print paper is simply a dying cow that you are trying to keep tottering until you have “harvested” all the edible parts, why would you care what it looked like?

  • Brian Haas

    Simple answer: Short-sighted media companies, because of spectacular failures of imagination, planning, innovation, and management, have gutted their staffs. That accounts for 1-4.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t speak to newspapers, but I can tell you from my experience that enthusiast magazine publishing is suffering from these exact same maladies. I think instead of wondering where the front pages are going, we should be more concerned about where the publications are going. I have no doubt that paper media publishing will be a much different landscape in the next few years. Newsstands will become artifacts. 

  • http://twitter.com/leesteele Lee Steele

    Another problem is simply lack of planning. With a smaller staff, it’s usually all-hands-on-deck to meet more pressing deadlines. Sunday centerpieces that were well along on Wednesday are now getting started Friday afternoon.