Field Notes: A1 and Covers
February 3, 2014
The California daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, is a broadsheet newspaper measuring roughly 14 by 23 inches. It appears that the paper uses a 12-column grid, as A1 often consists of six columns of text. On the seldom occasion it displays just five columns, which it does in one of six issues I reviewed, the grid may be tweaked to have fewer columns on the grid so that columns of text can be wider. In deciphering the type of layout the Los Angeles Times uses, it took a moment; it’s a non-modular layout that fits multiple stories onto A1 (typically five stories run on the front page). At first glace it appeared to be modular because the stories are boxy and fit together nicely, but upon a more careful look, the stories never line up perfectly and don’t form perfect rectangles, as Harrower explains. There are sometimes two long one-column stories and the varying headlines stagger due to the uneven placement of stories and their locations on the page. I like this style of design for a newspaper; it makes A1 more interesting. We know standard newspaper design is simple to foster efficient storytelling, but this is one way newspapers can spice things up a bit without abandoning the traditional layout too much.
The purpose of the front page here is to deliver the news simply and efficiently. It’s not a design heavy publication; it exists as a true newspaper that doesn’t deviate from what history shows newspaper should be. A1 provides large headlines, a couple photos, and occasionally an infographic; it feels “all business,” if you will, and looks similar to inside pages. The inside pages are often black and white and portray fewer stories than A1, but the overall design style is very similar. In terms of design elements, there are a few. The front page uses a drop cap in a special section titled, “Column One.” This sticks out because A1 is so straightforward; a bold design element sticks out quite a bit. An advertisement (many of which use reverse type) is displayed on the bottom eight of the page. Teasers and promos are a common element of A1 as well. Whether a baseball game or a TV show, teasers are a regular occurrence of the front page (which doesn’t surprise me on a LA newspaper, a city boasting so much entertainment). Finally, rules are used to separate information like deks, bylines, photographs, and entire story packages.
Information is organized well, in my opinion, though hierarchy isn’t completely clear. It’s not always obvious which story you should begin reading first, but the information is laid out in comprehensive boxes with clear headlines and photo association. There’s usually a story with a large photo and larger headline in the middle of the page. This seems like the cover story as the more dominant size of elements indicate, yet it’s not overwhelmingly bigger or more prominent. The design elements attached to it don’t set it apart so much that it’s an easy answer. There are often two one-column stories on both sides of the page while another one or two stories toward the bottom of the page. These bottom stories break up the grid a bit; the columns are either wider and shorter in length or as narrow as the above stories but much more concise (using jump lines to continue the story). This front page certainly feels newsy. There isn’t much that leads you to believe you’re going to read an out-of-the-ordinary publication but it does induce a feeling of trust and seriousness, though sometimes the photos are fun and light hearted, if the story allows for it. If we’re “judging a book by its cover,” and I think we are, there’s no mistaking this is a strong newspaper that delivers accurate, well-told stories.
Consistency is a great strength of this paper. From day to day, A1 delivers the same general format, grid system, and tone. The only deliberate difference is Sunday’s nameplate; the word “Sunday” is placed above the nameplate, indicating it’s the Sunday edition. Otherwise the layout is a bit different day to day, with story shapes fitting together differently, but without the nameplate a regular reader would know this was the Los Angeles Times, which is a great thing for newspapers. People want to trust their news sources without questioning the legitimacy, even if that questioning comes from skepticism in the news’ layout. Hard news publications exist to deliver news fast and efficient. I think a publication staff has made a long-time reader if one can name the publication without seeing its title and I’d be willing to bet the Los Angeles Times’ readers feel that way more often than not.