|Of newspapers, their mastheads|
|Wednesday, 11 April 2012 00:00|
In many ways, a newspaper masthead is no different from a logo design. The masthead, typically occupying the top part of a newspaper predominantly introduces the name of the paper and includes vital information. The information includes dates, year of establishment, price, a barcode and teasers informing potential customers about important or interesting pieces of information in the part of the product. Such information is not immediately visible when it is displayed.
Like a logo, a newspaper masthead accentuates the corporate profile and image of the company and its visual presentation is associated with the perceptions the public my have on the organisation as a brand.
Additionally, both communicate through the multiple uses of text and imagery.
Both are created for a visual illusion that can be digested or at the very least understood within a short period of time. To a member of public passing by a vendor displaying newspapers, he may have time only equivalent to three or for steps to view contents of the masthead, the headline(s) and the main photograph.
Similar to logos, mastheads should be simple enough to present minimal information, and direct and eloquent enough to be understood within a short period of time. Mastheads and logos are also deliberately dominated by one colour, or a set of colours such that the tones presented are automatically linked and associated with whatever the organisation may stand for.
But while a logo only represents the organisation in textual and visual form, a masthead’s objective is a lot more than that. Most of the older newspapers would include the year of their establishment.
This is largely seen as an advantage over newer competitors as it speaks volumes about the paper’s stamina in surviving through natural and aberrant obstacles along the way. But more importantly, old age is a testament of experience and a reflection of maturity that any newspaper would be proud of as evidence of the building of trust and tradition between itself and the general public, consisting of many generations.
The main objective of a masthead is to market the newspaper. Therefore, most newspapers dedicate large amount of time to arranging information on the masthead so that every bit is as clear, legible and meaningful as possible. A big challenge comes with the presentation of pictures for the teasers. Space on the masthead is limited and whatever is included on it has to add towards the collective objective.
Problems arise in the insertion of teasers. A picture may be worth a thousand words on the page it is printed on, but if it is to be used as part of a front page teaser, it may be worth around the same or even more if a part of it is highlighted and accompanied with a few words. The biggest problem with the pictures arises from the fact that because space is limited, a certain level of skill is required for a decision to be made on what has to be excluded. Most newspapers prefer to highlight one figure and in the process do away with whatever forms the picture’s background.
This is logical as the majority of the background, almost always including trees, the sky, buildings, people or some form of landscape may well be part of the story but may not be central to the meaning of the piece of news. In Zimbabwean newspapers, the teaser pictures are in the more frequent cases not well handled.
The process of singling out a part of a photograph and removing the background is presumably handled with such urgency that parts are chopped off and some parts that would not have been included are finding their way onto the masthead via the edges of the selected image.
Particular problems relate to the “cutting” of hair or spiky clothing apparel. The masthead design that allows images to appear as though they are “emerging” out of the paper, where typically human figures are “extracted’ from compositions and places within the design is created to give the illusion of a stage, where characters appear one day and are linked to stories, then get replaced by other personalities the next day.
Many newspapers, however, find it fit to cut of parts of the characters such as shoulders and hands, and in the process devaluing the design by removing the illusion of a presentation stage and replacing it with a platform where pictures are simply chopped and placed on top of an existing design.
The picture teasers too need to be properly arranged within the masthead. One Zimbabwean newspaper has about a third of its main teaser picture obstructed by a “D” which form part of its name. The letter almost always blocks of the mouth of whoever is pictured and readers have to guess if the character is smiling or crying. And how many pictures should be on a masthead? The bigger newspapers have more sections inside them and would perhaps want to tell bits about every section. But too many pictures my make the front page untidy and difficult to comprehend.
The size of the paper and the position of the picture teasers may be crucial too. If the paper is tabloid sized, then a balance between size and number of teasers may have to be struck. One other Zimbabwean daily uses three teasers with two pictures across a thin trip at the top. As a result, the teaser pictures are small and it is difficult for a reader to make out if it is Alick Macheso or Energy Mutodi pictured.
Mastheads are the newspapers’ faces that are first to greet a potential reader and neglecting them means the customers are short-changed. Mastheads should show results of thorough research and careful planning and organisation so that the organisations they stand for are well represented and whatever they think readers will find to be interesting or important should be well and clearly expressed.