Editors explain front page rationale

Editors of two of the United Kingdom’s most influential newspapers have shared with The Newspaper Works the rationale behind their front pages as Scotland went to vote for independence last week.

Editors of two of the United Kingdom’s most influential newspapers have shared with The Newspaper Works the rationale behind their front pages as Scotland went to vote for independence last week.

With more than 90 per cent of the Scottish population turning out to have their say, the vote was a significant historical moment for many, with front pages across the UK reflecting the passion from both sides of the debate.

On the Thursday, polling day, Glasgow’s The Herald used a vast image of a walker silhouetted atop a Highland mountain with the headline ‘Scotland’s Day of Reckoning’, to impart “a sense of history and place”, editor Magnus Llewellin said.

“The Herald is a broadsheet so we made the decision to make the most of the format by using big, bold photos and headlines on page one.”

On Friday, The Herald put out two editions before the result was known, and two afterwards. The first edition again used a large photo, of Yes voters in the centre of Glasgow, with the headline ‘Scotland Makes History’.


The Herald’s first edition on Friday, 19th September

For the third edition, with the result now clear, this was updated to a large photo of a dejected Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond leaving his home with the headline: ‘Scotland says No but changes UK for good’.

“The thinking behind the ambiguous headline was to tell the story, but also to make it positive in more ways than one,” Mr Llewellin explained. “Despite Salmond’s loss, the UK constitutional settlement will now have to change and this is a positive thing.”

The same headline was retained for the Herald’s last edition at 8.30am which featured a new photo and words of Mr Salmond addressing his SNP party.

The Herald used similar (although not identical) layouts during the Commonwealth Games.

“The thinking behind this is to ensure we jump off the newsstands,” Mr Llewellin explained, “and during both the Games and the referendum this seems to have worked, with our circulation rising sharply.”

The Guardian took a marked diversion from its usual approach with a bold satellite image of Scotland covering its front page on Thursday, with the headline ‘Day of Destiny’.

“Normally the Guardian has 2-4 stories on the front,” G1 editor Will Woodward explained. “It is very rare for us not to have any actual reporting text on the front.”

“However, I had been thinking for some time about how the day of voting in Scotland needed to be grander to reflect the significance of the moment – make it one to remember.

“Our head of photography, Roger Tooth, came up with the satellite image idea, a brilliant one I think, and then it was a question of refining the scale and the words around it.

The Guardian, Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Guardian, Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Along with being beautiful it conveyed the importance of the day without being loaded to either the yes or no side; our editorial line in the leader was supporting no but we have striven to be fair to both sides in our reporting.”

Friday’s paper, with the headline ‘Scotland’s history-makers’, was difficult without results. Even for the later editions it was clear the “no” side was ahead, “but by our final deadline, we couldn’t quite call it,” Mr Woodward said. The image changed for last edition to show cheering “no” campaigners.

“For most editions we had a picture of young people voting, because one of the striking things about the day was that 16- and 17-year-olds could vote for the first time,” Mr Woodward said.

“The front page story was a long pull together of reports around Scotland, attempting to tell the story of the voting day, if not the actual result.”

Mr Woodward noted that social media had enabled print to travel further than ever before.

“It is interesting how the web and Twitter in particular has given a new audience for the front [page],” he said. “It can be seen within seconds of being completed as a Guardian take by people around the world, many of whom will never have seen an actual printed copy of the paper.”

To see a gallery with more front pages from the Referendum, click here.

For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.

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