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!



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.


Opening Statement: Alaska Daily Empire

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

Alaska Daily Empire


Alaska Daily Empire, November 2, 1912, Vol. 1, No. 1

Publisher: J.F.A. Strong


With this, the first issue of the Alaska Daily Empire, a few lines as to its purpose may not be altogether inappropriate. In the first place every effort will be made to make it a newspaper for Alaskans and those who wish to learn of Alaska, its resources and its people, wherever they may be located.

Politically it will be strictly independent, reserving the right to honestly commend or fairly criticize any political party that may be in control of the federal or territorial administrations. The people of Alaska ask for and expect a square deal from the Congress and government of the United States. We believe they have seldom received it, but in the coming years conditions may change, and wrongs inflicted be redressed, with a more intimate and comprehensive knowledge of this territory and its needs, on the part of our national lawmakers.

Notwithstanding the many disabilities under which Alaska has labored for years past, partly due to politics and particularly due to ignorance, misinformation and misdirected zeal, on the part of the national school of ultra-conservationists, the growth and development of this great commonwealth—the last of the continental territories—has been greatly retarded, if not absolutely prohibited in important sections. A change of policy by the federal administration we believe to be indispensable to the end that the people of Alaska may be permitted to enjoy the fruits of their labors in developing its great latent natural resources. The land is the people’s and the fullness thereof; the treasures of the sea should be for the benefit of all, not a few.

The Empire received its name because of the fact that Alaska is an empire within itself, and as such this territory is fairly entitled to imperial treatment at the hands of the federal government.

In the development of Alaska’s magnificient natural resources there should be unanimity of purpose. There should be no room for sectional strife; factional differences produce nothing but a crop of dragon’s teeth.

This newspaper has been started as a legitimate business enterprise. Its proprietor has been closely identified with the territory for many years and in a small measure, at least, is acquainted with its history, the people of the various sections. Every honest effort, therefore, will be made to further every legitimate interest, and give the fullest publicity to the progress being made in the development of its resources.

Southeastern Alaska is especially rich in minerals, in fish and lumber. It is believed that this section is on the eve of a wonderful development, which will result in a vast increase in its mineral output and a consequent large increase in its permanent population and substantial growth in its trade and commerce. The Empire desires to bear a modest part in the upbuilding of Alaska and in the betterment of the conditions which environ its people. It will always be found to have the courage of its convictions on all matters of public moment. Patriotism and civic pride, harmony and unity of purpose are prime essentials in the upbuilding of country or community. For all these The Empire will consistently labor.”

Featured Content: Batch I: The First 10,000

The first batch of Alaskan historical newspaper pages will become available to the public in Fall 2017!  Batch I will include three titles, The Alaska Daily Empire, Douglas Island News, and The Thlinget.

Batch I Details:

  1. The Alaska daily empire, Juneau, AK, 1912-1917
  2. Douglas Island news, Douglas City, AK, 1898-1907
  3. The Thlinget, Sitka, AK, 1908-1912

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