October 31, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

A future for front page? It’s all in the magic

Each day, streams of people pause along Pennsylvania Avenue to gaze at newspaper front pages displayed outside the Newseum.

They read. They laugh; they frown. They nod in agreement; they shake their heads in disbelief. They share; they connect.

But mostly, they linger.

Circulation is declining, and free content on the Internet is booming. But yet, few things can be as personal as a newspaper front page. “Where’s my page?” we’re often asked.

Sometimes the front page is predictable. Often it’s overly gloomy. And in too many cases, it’s inconsistent.

But every day it has an opportunity to touch people by:

Sharing what people are talking about: “They never thought they’d see the day,” the Detroit Free Press said today about African-Americans’ feelings about Barack Obama’s run for the White House. And the Los Angeles Times looks at “One more role for the cellphone: matchmaker.”

Seeing the big picture: With its state in an economic crisis and its governor in a scandal, the Las Vegas Sun examined the state of the state: “Nevada Turns 144, But What’s To Celebrate?” But not forgetting important details: The San Francisco Chronicle pursued police documents that showed “Missed opportunities hours before slaying” of the editor of the Oakland Post.

Looking beyond the headlines: In a different kind of election story, The Denver Post reported on “A risky conversation.” Said the Post: “Politics naturally divides people, but this election cycle has highlighted the divide. Now, simply talking about the presidential candidates seems like a wedge issue.”

Providing news that readers can’t get anywhere else: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., noted that late Wednesday night its city matched its record for the number of homicides in a year. And owning what they know: “Shuttle set for Nov. 14 liftoff,” said Florida Today in Melbourne, which swamps the space beat.

Writing good headlines: “We Shopped Till We Dropped,” the Star Tribune of Minneapolis said in summarizing GDP data. “Plumb Job,” said the New York Post with a photo of Joe the Plumber on the campaign trail. And in writing a label headline that actually works, the Houston Chronicle described the path of a high school football team: “From Cream Puff to Cinderella.”

Presenting good stories and images: In an eye-catching “To Catch a Cyber-Thief” presentation, the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash., said: “A Bainbridge Island couple recovered a stolen $2,700 bicycle through sting tactics — online and with police.”

Taking a different look: Halloween stories are everywhere today, but The Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis., breathed new life into a stale story with Rob Kaiser’s “Houdini works his magic” column about “Legendary artist offers lesson on escaping troubles.” Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton, died on Halloween 1926.

What will the future hold for the front page? Will it escape its troubles? To editors, I’d say: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, but don’t stop thinking about print.

Make me laugh. Make me cry. Move me to share my opinion. Move me to take action. Make me want to pick up tomorrow’s front page.

Kate Kennedy is front-pages editor at the Newseum.

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