It explained that a newspaper’s success rides on the readability of its typography. It designated photojournalism as the bedrock of news design. It stressed that editorial color must be used functionally. It said the format of the newspaper should match its personality. It stressed the importance of improving newspaper content.
It may have been more a crystal ball than a textbook.
Edmund Arnold’s 1969 “Modern Newspaper Design” landed on my desk compliments of Carol Oukrop, one of my colleagues. Carol, who taught editing to dozens of Kansas State students in her 33 years on campus, is preparing to retire next year. When I asked my colleagues to share any older design books they had, Carol quickly responded.
“You’re going to like this one,” she said.
She was right.
Published by Harper and Row, the ‘69 book succeeded Arnold’s “Functional Newspaper Design” of 1956. At that point in his 60-year career, Arnold was chairman of Syracuse University’s graphic-arts department and editor of Linotype News.
I expected his book to be a snapshot of newspaper design in the 1960s and 1970s. I wasn’t disappointed.
For certain, the book applied some techniques I don’t teach my students today. Arnold instructed us to design newspapers just as we read them – from upper left to the bottom right. He told us to anchor the corners of the page, “so they don’t evaporate into the atmosphere.” He warned of tombstoned headlines that expose readers to “conflicting persuasions at the same time.”
Today, I use some of the same principles, but with a different execution.
Like Arnold, I stress the importance of planning and building content. I challenge students to tell the story the best way – in text, in photos and in informational graphics. The latter was enabled with the arrival of desktop publishing in the 1980s.
Unlike Arnold, I preach that a dominant visual element should introduce your most important content. I extol the need to package related content. I talk about how white space has become even more important as American newspapers have shrunk their pages.
Speaking of format, Arnold devotes a chapter to it, giving us two pages of comparisons between broadsheets (he calls them “full formats”) and tabloids (he calls them “compacts”).
Arnold was both realistic and idealistic.
“The format must be attractive,” he said, “to maintain and increase circulation in the face of increased competition.”
The final factor? “The format must reflect the personality of the paper,” Arnold said.
He encouraged newspaper publishers fearful of design changes to learn some lessons from the automobile industry, “which exists almost on change alone.”
“And,” he said, “no physician refuses to use a new miracle drug because he hadn’t used it 25 years ago.”
One chapter, “The Newspaper of the Future,” was eerily prophetic.
“For several decades, soothsayers have predicted electronic devices that would produce a newspaper right in the reader’s home,” Arnold said. He noted the Wall Street Journal of 1969 had perfected a facsimile process and routinely used it on the West Coast.
Arnold, though, was undaunted.
“The basic advantages of the newspaper remain constant,” he said.
“The greatest advantage of a written or printed medium is the convenience of time and place. You can read a newspaper when and where you want to, not receive news only when a broadcaster decides to transmit it or where a receiver is available.”
Arnold then went back to the basics. He stressed improvement in content.
“We must improve our techniques of reporting. We must re-examine our fealty to ‘objective reporting,’ for we have found that old criterion of ‘nothing but the truth’ is often inadequate for conveying ‘the truth, the whole truth.’
“We must improve photojournalism. We must improve typesetting and printing, especially of process color.
“And there must be some feasible news ink that won’t rub off and make newspaper reading a dirtier job than digging bituminous coal.”
Perhaps we’re closer to 1969 than we care to admit.
Ron Johnson advises student journalists who produce the Kansas State Collegian daily newspaper. He teaches editing and design, and he’s the Society of News Design’s education co-director.