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!

 

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The first batch of Alaskan historical newspapers is live on Chronicling America – FREE for you to search.     CLICK HERE!

AlaskaDailyEmpire_1915DevelopmentIssue_ChronAm_Mill_Search_screenshot

The 1915 Development Number issue of The Alaska Daily Empire, shown in Chronicling America. Highlighted text represents a search for the term “mill”.

NOW AVAILABLE:

1,206 issues of The Alaska Daily Empire (1912-1918), 448 issues of the Douglas Island News (1898-1907), and 47 issues of The Thlinget (1908-1912).

These digitized newspaper pages are TEXT SEARCHABLE.  For tips on searching check out our previous post, Searching Chronicling America, or visit the Help page.

To start exploring Alaskan papers in Chronicling America CLICK HERE or visit Chronicling America and use the dropdown menu to select “Alaska”.

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Happy Searching!

What is the National Digital Newspaper Program?

Part II

Why devote national resources to something that was not originally intended to be kept longer than the time it took to print the next issue?

In his 1999 response to an award granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the purpose of digitizing U.K. newspapers, Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, had this to say:

“Newspapers have been called history’s first draft. The conservation of our stock of local newspapers, much of it suffering from acidity and thus difficult to handle, is incredibly important because it forms a considerable part of our nation’s archives.”¹

As one of the first mass produced means of communication, historical newspapers offer a wealth of information and insight into past events valuable to researchers across fields.  Local papers, especially those of small communities, are records of political, social, cultural, and economic development and decline.  Following are just a few examples of the types of information found in newspapers:

  • Advertisements of goods and services offered by local businesses
  • Political commentary of legislation, political figures, and elections
  • Detailed accounts of events, e.g. disasters, social gatherings and celebrations
  • Letters to the editor: what concerns were people having at that time
  • Public notices, e.g. unclaimed mail, emergency notification and instruction, and delinquent taxes
  • Obituaries: often the only source of detailed information on a person’s life in those times

*A note on what historical newspapers do not do: provide a full record of the human experience by largely ignoring or selectively representing minority populations, often in an unfavorable light.

The concept behind Chronicling America is access.  To have this wealth of information preserved is only one aspect of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).  The webpage Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.lov.gov), run by the Library of Congress, ensures that the public will be able to access the fruit of the NDNP’s digital labor 24/7.  Currently there are over 12 million pages of U.S. historical newspapers digitized on Chronicling America ready to be used for everything from searching consumer and fashion trends, to tracking weather history and climate change, to inspiring projects like Freedom on the Move.²  By implementing optical character recognition (OCR), these digitized pages are text-searchable, making it an extremely useful resource for researchers and educators.

While newspapers may be considered the first draft, they are still an important source of unique historical information, a chorus of voices reflecting the concerns and opinions of communities, many of which have otherwise not survived the sands of time. Their preservation is in part the preservation of not only local, but national heritage and through this they can serve as tools of education and instruction for future generations.

 


¹ J. Secker, “Newspapers and historical research: a study of historians and custodians in Wales” (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Wales, 1999), 17.  http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/17693

 

² Freedom on the Move is a joint project between Cornell University, the University of New Orleans, and the University of Alabama focused on creating a database comprised of all runaway slave ads printed in historical newspapers throughout the South for the purpose of making this information accessible for analysis and education.  For more on this project visit http://freedomonthemove.org/


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For Part I of this post visit What is the National Digital Newspaper Program (Part I)

What is the National Digital Newspaper Program?

Part I

There are two main principles behind the National Digital Newspaper Program which are also cornerstones of library and archival science, ACCESS and PRESERVATION.

Newsprint, especially in older titles, is rapidly deteriorating. Newspapers were not printed with the intention of perpetuation, instead they were a means to distribute current information to a large audience and discard as the newest issues and information became available.  In 1982 a joint effort between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress created the U.S. Newspaper Program  (USNP).  This program recognized the exigent need to preserve the nation’s historical newspapers through microfilming and worked with each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to inventory and film their state and local newspapers.

The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) is a continuation of the earlier USNP, which ended in 2011. The focus of NDNP is to provide greater access to the nation’s newspapers by digitizing the (mostly) already microfilmed titles.  The key feature of this new program is the introduction of Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).  Each of the states participating in NDNP send their data and digital images of the digitized newspaper reels to the Library of Congress, who then upload the content into Chronicling America, a text-searchable web-based database, where the public can search and read the now digitized newspapers for FREE.

In addition to sending digital data, each state is also responsible for providing Library of Congress with silver negative copies of the digitized microfilm reels, which are housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in perpetuity as an added preservation measure.

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Stay tuned for Part II – an explanation of the historical significance and need for preservation of our nation’s newspapers!