Nelson Mandela makes the front page (a million different ways)

Every now and then something happens that affects people from all different parts of the world. These events inevitably make the front page of most major publications. Today I have looked through’s archive of coverage for Nelson Mandela’s death.

These Page 1 designs came from papers which can usually be picked up on Lindenwood University’s campus: The New York Times, USA Today and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


The play:

Each of the three papers made different decisions about how big to play the story of Mandela’s death. The publication type and circulation has a lot of influence in this decision, as does the amount of other news stories that are ready for print.

Because the New York Times is widely regarded for its international news, the story of Mandela’s death got approximately half a page of coverage, with a jump to a significant portion of the story on the inside.

USA Today’s issue had a column reserved for teasers, but the rest of the front page went to Mandela coverage. There are even five teasers to stories inside about Mandela. While the content is definitely of interest to readers across the nation, I think it’s safe to speculate that this was an otherwise slow news day for USA Today. It’s not very easy to dedicate so much of one issue to a single event, no matter its importance.

Meanwhile, the local paper, the Post, dedicated approximately 2/5 of Page 1 to Mandela. This paper recognizes that it was a story worth covering, but not the only thing people wanted to read in the local paper.

The tone:

The key to successful page design is making sure the message of the story can be conveyed in the headline and the photo, if there is one.

The headline for the New York Times’s main story reads, “South Africa’s Conqueror of Apartheid As Fighter, Pioneer, President and Symbol.” If someone had no idea what had happened or what this story was about, the headline would tell them right away that they are about to learn the story of a hero. The photo, an image of Mandela’s face surrounded by darkness, suggests tragedy. When paired with this image, the headline now tells the reader this is the story of a hero that was.

USA Today, on the other hand, focused more on Mandela’s lasting power than the fact that he is gone. The headline, “Death of a giant,” immediately states the death of some superior being. The bright image of a man’s smiling face creates a sense of glory, which partners with the headline’s claim that he is a giant.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch took it in a very different direction. This design cast Mandela in a much more humbling light. The editors of the Post used a photo with relatively flat lighting, which looks more realistic, and a simple headline, “A legacy of peace, healing.” With this, they were able to convey that he does have a legacy that survives him, but also that he was just another human being like any one of us.

These are three very different stories, portrayed by visuals in three very different ways. But each story is equally true as the other two. That is the beauty of designing a newspaper.


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