The third annual ACES Award for Research on Editing was shared this year by two scholarly papers that compared newspapers’ front-page presentations contemporarily and across time: “America's Front Pages: A 30-year Update,” by David L. Morris II and Matthew Haught, and Anatomy of Front Pages: Comparison Between The New York Times and Other Elite Newspapers,” by Yung Soo Kim and Deborah Chung.
Morris and Haught, of the University of Memphis, provided an update to several decades’ worth of research into trends in front-page design – not just designers’ need to address the interests of readers accustomed to online news consumption but the increasing role of centralized hubs for design and editing for newspaper chains. Examining 453 front pages from Sunday, March 9, 2014, from the Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages site, they studied art and type selection, informational graphics, page navigation, nameplate placement and other matters.
Front pages in their study on the whole used fewer stories than the pages examined in a 1995 study. Photo use, most frequently two or three feature photos, was consistent with the 1995 findings. Photo illustrations “have become a staple of newspaper design,” appearing on more than 86 percent of the pages chosen, and more than 70 percent of pages had some sort of alternative story form. The study found more commonalities among some hub-designed papers than others.
Given the importance of design in addressing changing audience needs, the authors conclude: “Design might not be the only solution to the problems of the newspaper industry, but it clearly should be a part of it.”
Kim and Chung, from the University of Kentucky, compared the front page of the New York Times with the fronts of six other prestige newspapers from the East, Midwest and West Coast on such factors as the type of news presented, the size of headlines, the use of images, and the proportions of staff-produced content. The authors looked at 42 issues of the Times, chosen by stratified random sample, and seven issues each of the six other papers, chosen from the same weeks as the Times pages.
The Times, they found, carried much more international news and images on its front page than the other papers but less local or regional content; proportions of business news were similar. Nearly all of the Times’s 1A stories (more than 99 percent) were staff-written. Staff content was also predominant at the other elite papers (82.5 percent), but 17.5 percent came from wire services. The other papers relied heavily on staff photographers; the Times used slightly more freelance images than staff images.
Besides putting a numerical face on popular perceptions of the Times and its news decisions, the authors say, their study makes a case for more detailed study of “non-political organizational influences” on news content.
The ACES award is presented in conjunction with the Newspaper and Online News Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. This year’s winners were announced at the annual AEJMC conference in Montreal.