Field Notes – Mother Jones’ Covers

Mother Jones is an 8 x 11 in., bi-monthly news magazine publication. Unlike daily newspapers, the magazine is printed on glossy paper. Each cover has one large picture or illustration to accompany the title of the featured story. Depending on the issues, the cover will highlight solely the main article or also include teases (only with headlines) for what else is inside.

The nameplate is always the same size, in the same location across the top of the cover. The same typography is used for the nameplate in each issue, but the folio moves around depending on the headlines & pictures. “Smart, fearless journalism,” the publication’s website and the date of the issue are sometimes together, sometimes broken up, on the right side or the left side of the cover. This is done to aesthetically suit the general layout of all the other elements on the page.

The magazine does not use a grid format; text is aligned based on the graphics used. Typefaces for headlines are not uniform throughout issues; they depend on the message trying to be conveyed through the illustrations and overall theme of the story. The color of the nameplate changes according to this as well. As a result of the lack of a standard grid, the publication’s design is non-modular.

Mother Jones’ front cover serves to draw the reader in, to have the audience pick it up from a newsstand and attract their attention. Usually, the covers have bright colors and eye-catching typography to convey the feeling of their cover story. The illustrations implemented are bold and there are no qualms as to what they are trying to tell the reader, whether it is controversial or different. Its purpose is to let the audience know with one glance what they are about, which is providing an alternative perspective to big stories with their investigative journalism. The cover certainly portrays the publication’s personality.

A few back issues of Mother Jones use a specific, solitary image as a teaser or promo in the right, top most corner of the cover. In terms of consistency, the magazine is inconsistent in using teasers. Sometimes there will be headlines for other stories at the top, above the nameplate, other times they are seen alongside the image or surrounding it. At times, the heads above the nameplate are separated by rules, other times they have stars, depending on the theme. The contents of the folio are also separated by rules at times. It is interesting to see how they change the structure of their page to fit the message they want to portray, or simply because of the overall layout.

Information is organized for the reader with the main cover story front and center. Secondary stories are placed above the nameplate or after the main headline. Secondary heads are smaller or distinguished by a different color or typeface. Large, bold visuals always balance the text.