Graphic Design in newspapers is often overlooked by the journalists and copy editors who tend to be more interested in the stories, articles and other features but how a paper is designed graphically can make a huge difference to the reader.
Although headlines are what get readers attention, the layout of the paper, graphics, and photographs are important to keep a readers attention. Without the use of illustrations, a paper would be a jumble of words that can create monotony and boredom for the reader.
The first American newspaper appeared in Boston in 1690. It was titled Publick Occurrences but was immediately suppressed because it was published with permission. The first successful newspaper was published in Boston by postmaster John Campbell in 1704 and was titled the Boston New-Letter. After that more and more papers began springing up throughout the colonies and by the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 there were forty-three newspapers in print.
It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution around 1850 that newspapers began to transform into the media that we recognize today. With the advent of new powerful presses that could print ten thousand complete papers in an hour, they also were able to create the first “pictorial” newspapers that included illustrations created by woodcut engravings and the newly invented photograph.
By the 1890's there were over 11,000 newspapers in print. This popular form of journalism now included bold new modern features including banner headlines, extensive use of illustrations and the funny pages. The use of caricature became popular and was used often to present political views. If you look in newspapers today, you will still find this form of illustration popular.
Today the technology is so advanced that anyone can create his or her own newspaper from a home computer. There are hundreds of typefaces to work with, templates, layout designs, so what is the challenge to today's small newspapers and what is preventing them from creating exciting new looks?
The answer may have to do with training. Newspaper editors and copy chiefs are trained in journalism and not graphic design. Even though they may have been exposed to some form of graphic design education while in school, it is not where they spent much of their time learning.
So the individuals responsible for making decisions for the overall look of a paper may have some basic design skill sets, but they have not mastered the finer points of art direction, color use or typographic display. In some cases they were trained as left-brained journalists and not right-brained designers.
It means that the people at the top including owners and editors must recognize their strengths and weaknesses and either find trained designers to supervise this aspect of the overall design or train their copy editors to understand the nuances of typography, illustration and layout.
It also means that newspapers need to come up with a look or “stylebook” that is consistent throughout the paper from one addition to another. This requires that someone in charge is keeping an eye on the overall production to be sure the Sports editor is laying out the sports page similarly to the Business editor on the business page. There must be a standard.
The goal of design management is not to stifle creativity of the individual editors and journalists but rather make sure the newspaper stays within the parameters set up in the stylebook. Without an understanding of design standards and the number of people who have creative input, a paper can become a style nightmare.
With all the challenges facing the editor to create an effective “style” or “look” for the newspaper, what can he or she do to insure consistency? They can start by realizing the job is too big for one person and whoever is in charge needs proper training. Just because an editor takes a couple of classes in newspaper production doesn't make him or her a graphic designer.
The entire staff has to understand there is a look the paper is going for and the reasons for that style. More importantly the organization needs to understand the need for consistency.
By training the supervisors to review page design and layout on an on going basis, the likelihood of poorly crafted editions is reduced. These supervisors must make sure the visuals work with the copy and are effective in communicating the story.
Does the headline work? Is it too big or too small? Does the article fit on the page? Is it too long or too short? How does the illustration for photograph help the story?
These are just some of the questions a supervisor needs to be trained to answer.