Expect changes in design when news breaks
KAREN PETERSON; executive editor
Putting together a front page is more art than science, but the truth is that we and most newspapers have a formula for doing it.
Wednesday’s front page presented challenges to our formula, prompted discussions among editors and might serve to shake up the look of your front page.
All day Tuesday, big local news kept breaking. Before noon, we learned that local investors were trying to buy the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team. Then we found out about plans for a long-sought-after grocery store in downtown Tacoma. That afternoon we learned that two more county employees had filed claims seeking $2.3 million in damages for alleged mistreatment by Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam.
On a normal news day, any one of those stories would play as a big headline across the top of the page. As the news gods would have it, we got all three at once.
Our front-page formula typically includes four stories. (On Sundays, it’s three.)
The “lead” story runs near the top of the page with a headline in our boldest font. One of the stories is a “centerpiece,” which means it comes with a photograph and runs near the center of the page. Lesser stories – those that affect fewer people, have been covered elsewhere or are more interesting than important – run lower on the page with lighter headlines.
Our formula calls for three “teasers” to stories inside the paper that run above the “flag,” or the newspaper’s nameplate. We also have a “rail” of more teasers that usually runs down the left-hand column.
Wednesday’s conundrum was how to give appropriate play to our windfall of news. How could we build a page with three lead stories?
First, we threw out the teasers at the top of the page to make more room for headlines. Next, we settled on the Washam story as the leader among lead stories. It was the freshest news, having broken latest in the day. Plus, if the claimants prevail, every county taxpayer will have to pay.
Then our assistant managing editor for visuals, David Montesino, decided to try something unconventional – at least for us. Rather than run the flag at the top of the page and stack the three stories beneath it, he put the Washam story above the flag and the other two stories beneath the flag. Separating the headlines from one another with the flag prevented them from getting lost in a stack, he believed. (That’s his draft front page on the left.)
While he achieved what he intended, the result gave the Washam story too much prominence, other editors decided.
We retreated to a more conventional stacking of headlines. (The front page on the right is the one we published.)
The in-house reviews were split. But here is where we agreed:
• Story play ought to be based more on the news of the day than on a formula.
• We’re likely more concerned about adhering to conventions than readers are.
• We plan to mix it up more from here on out.
News judgment will continue to drive how and where we play stories.
But we’ll look for another day when the layout on the left works with the news of the day.
We’ll get more just-plain-interesting stories above the fold where they’ll tempt you to pick up the paper. And we’ll tease as many stories as we think merit teasing rather than always filling in a certain number of blanks.
Formulas are boring. Change is interesting. Stay tuned.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434