Date of Award

5-2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Communication

Major Professor

Robert Heller

Committee Members

Benjamin Bates, William Robinson

Abstract

This study observed the news coverage of three historically significant and especially emotional national tragedies – the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – specifically regarding front page design, an increasingly important yet underrepresented facet of journalism research. Past research regarding newspaper page design on typical news days and research regarding the atypical, emotional coverage of the three tragedies fueled the researcher’s hypotheses that type, photographs, and layout on front pages covering the tragedies would be significantly different than those on typical news days. In an examination of 436 front pages covering the three national tragedies, the study measured headline word count, headline capitalization, photo count, article count, and the area occupied by photographs, headlines, and text relative to either the entire page or the areas above and below the fold. The study found that headlines tended to be more brief than usual, and 9/11 headlines tended to be fully capitalized, suggesting that headlines were powerful on front pages by being “briefly spoken, yet echoing loudly.” Headlines and photos were not buried on the front page, as they tended to occupy more space above the fold, and news articles, while fewer in number, tended to occupy more space below the fold, suggesting that the dramatic headlines and photos “introduced” readers to the page and led them to read the articles. Future research should examine the front page design of other historically significant events, as well as the front page design of newspapers covering typical news days. Future research also should investigate front page layout as a concept of page design (instead of being considered synonymous with design) and layout’s linking function among other design elements.

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