Parts of a Newspaper: The Front Page

In this installment of the Parts of a Newspaper series, we’ll be looking at the part most central- the front page! Contributing to this post was city reporter for the Juneau Empire, Gregory Philson, who helped shed light on differences between century-old front pages to those of today.

Below is a front page from the former Alaska Daily Empire (now the Juneau Empire) almost exactly 100 years ago, in honor of our guest:Juneau Empire 100 years ago

When encountering an older front page, one of the most striking differences to the modern reader is its sometimes-chaotic layout, such as this one below from the January 5, 1923 issue of the Seward Gateway:

Where's the story

Based on this front page, there is no clear visual “path” to the story from its headline. The main headline likely functioned to draw readers into the issue, and to then send the readers in search of the story, while taking them to the other stories. Back then, headlines needed to print every story on its front page, due to the relatively high production costs. Newspapers today typically will have one “central” story surrounded by secondary ones, which may not be as important to that day.

Looking at headlines on a more micro level, an important, if sometimes overlooked, aspect of front page design is in its typography. In addition to the way words look through typefaces, kerning (letter spacing) and letting (spacing between leaders) matters greatly. Letting should allow the reader to not have to think about how the story is physically designed and to enable the content to be understood.

To demonstrate kerning, examine the headline below from the April 21, 1918 issue of The Seward Gateway Daily Edition and The Alaska Weekly Post:

Bad Kerning

Upon first glance, it is difficult to discern the meaning of the sentence when it looks like “DOUBLEMURDERATKENAI“. Being unable to understand a headline at at quick glance is a clear issue. If the reader does not know immediately what something says, they are less likely to want to read it. Moreover, the philosophy behind proper kerning is to make the words easily read by anyone, which is the objective of any newspaper. Readers simply cannot absorb information if the words themselves are not legible.

Front pages prioritize main stories that highlight conflicts (foreign wars and domestic disputes), or people and events of note. The front page can represent a microcosm of one day in history; readers can search newspaper databases like Chronicling America just by the front page of a specific title. Whether a newspaper represents a small town or a major city, its front page often reflects the people, places, incidents, and events its readers value. A front page of a newspaper reflects a singular moment in time.

Many thanks to our guest, Gregory Philson, and the Juneau Empire, for your time and insights!



Thanksgiving Day: Rev. L. H. Pedersen Tells of Its Significance and Duties

Happy Thanksgiving from the AKDNP!  We’re thankful for the opportunity to make 100,000 pages of our historical newspapers accessible through the National Digital Newspaper Program and Chronicling America.

The following article titled “Thanksgiving Day, Rev. L.H. Pedersen Tells of Its Significance and Duties” was printed in the December 2, 1905 issue of the Seward Weekly Gateway.  In it Rev. Pedersen writes, “The best thing that hearts that are thankful can do Is this – to make thankful some other heart too.”  Here’s hoping our participation in NDNP is making all you researchers’ hearts thankful too!


“Thanksgiving Day, Rev. L. H. Pedersen Tells of Its Significance and Duties.”, The Seward weekly Gateway, December 2, 1905.


Opening Statements: The Daily Alaskan

The Opening Statement series features the foreword or introduction given by  editors or publishers in the first issue of the paper addressing its readers. 


The Morning Alaskan, February 1, 1898, Vol. 1, No. 1

Editor: O.W. Dunbar

“With this issue THE MORNING ALASKAN makes its debut before the citizens of Skaguay and the countless hordes of people who eagerly await any news pertaining to this city and the country beyond. But a few days a resident of Skaguay, and that time busily occupied, I have been unable to make the acquaintance of as many of the citizens as I would have wished, but through the MORNING ALASKAN I hope to become personally acquainted with all.  THE MORNING ALASKAN shall always be maintained as a bright, newsy sheet, with the interests of Skaguay and its enterprising citizens always uppermost in the editor’s mind.

O.W. Dunbar”

New Content: Batch II Live on ChronAm

The Alaska State Library is please to announce that the next batch of digitized historical Alaskan newspapers is now available online at!


New additions include:

Need some help finding what you want?  Check out our blog post Searching Chronicling America for tips!

Featured Content: Batch II: What to Expect

The second batch of Alaskan historical newspaper pages has been accepted for ingest in Chronicling America!  Batch II will include two titles, the remainder of Douglas Island News and the beginning of The Daily Alaskan.  These titles will be available on Chronicling America in December.  Currently available titles for searching are the Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1917), Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and The Thlinget (full run, 1908-1912).

Batch II Details:

  1. Douglas Island news, Douglas City, AK, 1907-1922
  2. The daily Alaskan, Skagway, AK, 1898-1905

For more information on these and other titles visit the Alaska State Library’s page on Alaska Historical Newspapers.


Alaskan Roughnecks

What separates Alaskan roughnecks from their counterparts in the lower 48?

The following blurb from the November 18, 1916 issue of the Iditarod Pioneer has this to say about the men and women of the frontier:


“The following paragraph in answer to a query was published in the Literary Digest recently:

Roughneck is a slang term for a tough or a rowdy, such as a member of one of those gangs that at one time terrorized the people of the slums of New York of Chicago.  The term is also used to denote a person who lacks manners or refinement, in contrast to one who has a good address and the appearance of culture, as “Oh! he’s a roughneck!”  In the Evening Post (New York) of August 17, 1903, we find the following: “His (Sam Parks) stated income amounts to union wages from his union of roughnecks, as the ironworkers call themselves, as walking delegate.”  Also in “Colonel Crockett in Texas,” published in 1836, we read: “You may be called a drunken dog by some of the clean-shirt and silk-stocking gentry; but the real roughnecks will style you a jovial fellow.”

In Alaska the term “roughneck” has an appropriate meaning distinct from any of the above definitions.  Far from being a term of reproach, it is in large measure complimentary.  It refers to that large class of Alaskans who, meeting and combating natural obstacles in an untamed wilderness, overcomes them and glories in the task.  The Alaskan roughneck may have been reared amid the refinement or luxury, or he may have been a product of the slums; but the trials and difficulties met with the Northland lend that touch of nature which makes them all kin.  The roughneck of today is apt to be the capitalist of tomorrow, and even then he is not ashamed of being designated as a 
“roughneck” [emphasis added].