The Los Angeles Times: Field Notes on Organization

In the Jan., 27 edition of The Los Angeles Times, the front page features one main story: the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant. The purpose of this front page is to reflect his death as the most important story of the day. There’s a vertical image of Bryant with a rail of text on either side. This gives space for both the news account of his death and the obituary, with greater emphasis on the obituary. This design is effective because the headline, “Kobe Bryant dies in crash” is about as large as The Los Angeles Times’ nameplate above it. On a regular day of news, as seen in the Jan. 26 edition, The Los Angeles Times tends to pack in several stories on the front page. The Jan. 25 edition has a poor sense of hierarchy, with a left rail that juts into the feature photo/top story package already happening on the left side of the page. Even though each of these three papers have very different front pages, but there’s consistency in the style. Consistency is conveyed through the grid, typeface choices and image placement.

I’m now going to focus on the Jan. 27 issue, as there’s a lot to unpack with the Kobe Bryant story presentation. The table of contents for this issue includes the usual sections (front page, news, the world, the nation, Monday business, opinion, California, city & state, sports, calendar and comics) plus a special tribute section to Kobe Bryant. Readers can find these different sections by looking at the front page teases, but not all the sections have teases. The special section is teased to with a line of text under the A1 dominant image that reads: “SPECIAL SECTION INSIDE: Looking back at the legendary Kobe Bryant, whose life, and tragic death, captivated this city.” While every major news outlet has reported on Kobe Bryant’s death, The Los Angeles Times’ coverage has a local component that honors Kobe Bryant’s legacy with the Lakers. This special section (labeled section V) is 12 pages long, with large images of Bryant and his daughter, who also died in the crash. The organization of images across the different spreads helps chronicle Bryant’s life with respect and sensitivity, making for a meaningful tribute that will live on forever in print. The tone of this insert (and the front page) is solemn and dignified through powerful images and a variety of powerful text. There are more than a dozen stories in today’s paper related to Bryant’s death, with cross-section content about reactions to his death in the arts and sports sections, particularly within the Grammy Awards coverage. This establishes a consistent thruline of how the news of Bryant’s death affected other stories in today’s paper, too.