An Introduction to Newspaper Design

Datha Hopkins
Young Journalists Mentoring Program
Shreveport, Louisiana

A unit on design principles that will tweak the technical knowledge students have regarding desktop publishing skills. This unit will be taught in one week, which consists of five 90-minute blocks.

Generative topic
Design Principles: Understanding the rules behind creating a visually attractive publication

Generative objects

  • Copies of the front pages of the New York Daily Times, (March 7, 1857) and other newspapers from 1690 to 1965. A current copy of USA TODAY.
  • Copies of the front pages of a well designed high school newspaper and one that is not well designed.
  • Large numbers of high school and college newspapers reflecting both good and poor design
  • Overhead transparencies of examples of the elements of design from The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook
  • Glue sticks, folder with blank paper, plenty of magazines and newspapers, especially teen magazines.

Understanding goals

  • Essential questions
    • Why is it necessary to create a visually appealing publication today?
    • What are the elements of good design?
    • How has newspaper design changed over time?
    • What are the current trends by which we may establish criteria to evaluate an attractive newspaper?
  • Critical engagement questions
    • How can we improve our current publication?
    • How can we create a quality design unique to our staff by which we will strive to measure ourselves?


Activity 1

  • Hang the front pages an 1857 copy of the New York Daily Times (or other newspaper) and a current copy of a current USA TODAY.
  • Ask students to identify which one they would rather read. Discuss why and list their reasons in two columns on the board.
  • Discuss three elements of design and compare how each are used for “readability” in the papers: text; visuals; white space.
  • Show examples of current high school publications with good design and discuss how each uses the three elements.
  • Lastly, show examples of newspapers over 20 years old. Discuss what changes have occurred in regard to the three elements over the years.
  • Discuss the impact of radio, TV, and the Internet have had in causing publications to need visual appeal to maintain readership.
  • Have them do research in the library and on the Internet to locate three newspaper pages, one dated anywhere from the 1920s to the 1940s and one dated from the 1950s to 1970s, and the front page of their local community newspaper. By using a chart with columns headed text, visuals, and white space, compare the three papers.

Activity 2

  • Teach a lesson on the elements of good design.
  • Give students a copy of terms and definitions with examples from “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook.”
  • Discuss the following terms:
    • balance
    • dominant story and photo
    • type faces and samples of styles
    • justification
    • screens
    • modular design and samples.
  • Also discuss:
    • the use of rule lines
    • interesting design samples for bylines, logos, infographics, folios, standing heads, captions, pull-out quotes
    • sample photo essays
    • and sample dummy pages for good modular design.
  • Give students a well-designed high school or college newspaper. Have them take a marker and identify elements of design and terms above.

Activity 3

  • Put students in groups of four. Give them several sample high school newspapers, including samples of good and poor design. Give them the newspaper design critique below. Have them evaluate several newspapers.


A plus (+) is good. An (x) is not.

Title of Newspaper: _________________

( ) 1. Balance of visuals on front page?

( ) 2. Balance of visuals on rest of pages?

( ) 3. Dominant photo on front page?

( ) 4. Dominant photo laid out with balance on rest of pages?

( ) 5. Consistent headline type throughout?

( ) 6. Appropriate/pleasing body type and face throughout?

( ) 7. Use of interesting graphics?

( ) 8. Use of cartoons?

( ) 9. Pleasing modular design with good use of rules? (Not cluttered)

( ) 10. White space works pleasingly and is not “trapped”?


1= Super; 5 = Poor; 0 = Not Found

( ) 1. Nameplate

( ) 2. Bylines design

( ) 3. Caption/Cutline treatment

( ) 4. Folio line

( ) 5. Pull-out quote treatment

( ) 6. Use of rules

( ) 7. Interesting design for infographics

( ) 8. Interesting masthead design

( ) 9. Screens

( )10. Logo

( )11. Standing head identifying the page or section of paper

Activity 4

  • Have students bring a folder with plenty of blank paper and glue sticks. Place plenty of newspapers and magazines noted for graphic elements, such as current teen magazines on a table. Have students create a graphics notebook by labeling five sections:
    • Type Styles
    • Modular Designs
    • Elements of a Page (bylines; folio lines, and standing heads)
    • Photo Essays
    • Nameplates/Logos/Mastheads
  • Have them cut and paste interesting graphic designs. Meet in groups of four and share ideas.

Activity 5

  • Have students research current design trends by consulting five resources and making a list of trends in type styles, page design, the elements of a page, and photos.
  • Pick two “trendy” magazines, one newspaper, the Web sites from the Society of News Design and the article “Color in Newspapers: Four Case Studies” from the Poynter Institute.
  • Select good examples from “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook.” Share ideas with the staff.
  • As a staff, collaborate and decide on a “redesign” of your publication’s graphic elements by using the Page Design Evaluation.
  • Vote on using the most interesting trends that can be created by your school’s software.
  • Create you newspaper’s stylebook reflecting the new look of your school’s publication.

Have the students select a page from a poorly designed high school newspaper and “redesign” it using desktop publishing software. The new design must adhere to the stylebook created by the class.


  • Harrower, Tim. “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook.” (Blacklick, Ohio: McGraw-Hill).
  • Ferguson, Donald L, Patten, Jim, and Wilson, Bradley. “Journalism Today 5th ed.,” (Chicago: National Textbook Company, 1998) with accompanying ER (Educational Resources) workbook.
  • Emery, Edwin, ed. “The Story of America as Reported in its Newspapers from 1690 to 1965.” ( New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965)