The Iowa caucuses produced as colorful and interesting a crop of front pages today as the candidates they covered. Some of the work was outstanding, with a mix of great photos, strong headlines, good stories and timely graphics.
Many newspapers seemed limited by the need to offer equal treatment to both parties. I wonder if the convention of equal-sized photos and headlines is outdated, especially given that so many readers already know the news.
Most headlines and photos emphasized the news of the night rather than spinning the story forward, which raises this question: What balance should newspapers strike between providing analysis and context — which is their franchise now that breaking news is delivered by television and the Internet — when the news itself is so, well, newsworthy?
Here are a few case studies of how newspapers dealt with these issues:
A strong, clean front page featuring excellent photo choices. Mike Huckabee, an Arkansas Republican, looks more energized than in nearly any other photo elsewhere. Excellent layering of headlines and subheads. The use of the red accent color draws attention without overwhelming the page. Refers to the Web and inside coverage are complete and prominent. The local analysis at the bottom of the page fits nicely into the balance of national and local coverage.
Good — but not dynamic — photos. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, and Huckabee are given fairly equal treatment. Excellent selection of stories and headlines. The graphical treatment of vote percentages at the bottom of the package is well-crafted, looking more like a TV or Web presentation than a newspaper page. The “Campaign Sketch” at the bottom of the caucus package offers readers a different kind of story treatment without dominating the news. Surprisingly, the tie-in to washingtonpost.com was small, tucked away in a refer box in the lower right corner — for a news organization with such strong Web presence, this should have been larger.
Unusual photo choices and balance — the Obama image is much more dynamic and is played larger, but well below the smaller image of Huckabee. This balancing act works, playing the smaller photo higher on the page to offset a much larger, more emotional photo down-page. Finally, the departure of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd from the Democratic race seems like a fitting afterthought for the page and the event. It’s good that the local politician still makes the front page.
Probably the most localized front page, dominated by a strong Obama headline and photo. The political reporting is personalized by the writers’ photos. Oddly, there is almost no Huckabee coverage — just the Robert Novak tease — and there are no delegate numbers or percentages on the page. The paper’s reliance on single-copy sales probably drives an approach that is short on small type and last night’s news.
This original front page uses a whimsical photo illustration to tell the story. It manages to be light but also conveys the leading Democrats’ vote percentages. Who says politics can’t be fun?
A Couple that Missed
The lack of energy and prominence of the caucus package is nearly as startling as Huckabee’s strong showing. Admittedly, Iowa is only the first contest, but the hometown politician’s victory is sandwiched between stories on late loan payments and Toyota’s year-end sales figures. The prominence and placement of the Huckabee story raise questions about how this front page defines a local story. Why not plan more prominent coverage for a local politician on a national stage?
Some issues of proportion and dominance here. The red accent color seems a little overbearing. It appears in refer at the top left, the flag background and in tease boxes at the bottom page. The lead photos are the same size but feel unbalanced because of the tight crop on Huckabee and the looser crop on Barack and Michelle Obama (which goes to the question of equal play). The typography feels a little unbalanced, and the “Turnout” and “Dropping Out” subheads seem too large compared to the headlines over the stories below.
What do you think about the papers’ presentations?