How to Design a Newspaper

By Shawn M. Tomlinson ; Updated September 15, 2017
This is a sample broadsheet newspaper front page.

Newspapers have been around for hundreds of years and for most of that time, design wasn't an important consideration. The truth was that most people were so eager for news that it didn't matter what the newspaper looked like. As competition evolved, newspapers began using first engravings, then photographs to make their pages more visually appealing. The real revolution came, however, with the launch of USA Today. It was the first newspaper to incorporate the use of graphics and images with shorter stories. Here are some tips to design your own newspaper

QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop are essential for newspaper design and they should be used on an Apple Macintosh computer for best results. Photoshop not only will allow you to tone and size photos for your newspapers, it will allow you to design such things as special headlines and graphics. While Adobe InDesign can be used for pagination, QuarkXPress is the standard. So, unless you already are more familiar with InDesign, go with Quark.

Decide what stories you want on the front page. Some newspapers have national and international news on the front and reserve the local stories for inside pages, but this trend is fading. Most state, national and international stories can easily be found on the Internet, while most local stories cannot. Small newspapers compromise and lead with local stories on the top half of the front page, or above the fold, while the best of the national and international stories fill the bottom, or below the fold.

Look at the newspaper's front page like a set of advertisements in the sense that what is on the front page will sell the newspaper. You want to make certain, whether you are designing a broadsheet or tabloid, that you have many points of entry. This is what each element on the page is called because each one can attract a different type of reader. You can use the top of the front page---above or below the newspaper's name---to place teasers of what's inside. Two are three headlines might tease to sports, features, business or local news inside. These are often accompanied by photos.

Choose your format. For the larger broadsheet, there are several basic designs. You can have your strongest story across the top, down along the left side or the right side. The headline for the lead story should be no smaller than 42 points. If you choose the lead story for the left or right, that story should have a bigger and bolder headline than the story at the top which, in this case, is called an off-lead story. It should have a non-bold headline. In any of these cases, the next item is dominant art. Each newspaper page should have one piece of dominant art, usually a photo. The photo can be connected to a story or it can be a stand-alone. It must be visible above the fold and it should be a quick read for the person strolling by the newspaper rack.

Place at least three stories and at least one photo so they are visible above the fold. The front page should, generally, not have more than five or six stories and three to four photos. You also should use "pull boxes" wherever possible. These can be graphics such as maps or information boxes. In a story about a school budget, a good pull box would be a breakdown of the tax rates for each community affected by the budget.

Keep stories produced by wire services below the fold if you don't have enough newsworthy local stories to fill the page, or if you choose this as your standard design. The headlines should be smaller and you can include head shots---photos of someone referenced in the story---or smaller photos. Anything below the fold will be seen only after the reader buys the newspaper, so the stories do not take up prime real estate.

Use the dollar bill test. With a full-size print out of the page, lay a dollar across it in a variety of places. The dollar bill should touch a graphic element no matter how you lay it. Long stories without photos, graphics or pull boxes appear gray and overwhelming to the reader and, chances are, he will not finish the story or may not even start reading.


Look at as many newspapers as possible to get ideas for design.

About the Author

Shawn M. Tomlinson has been a newspaper and magazine writer for more than 28 years. He has written for a variety of publications, from "MacWEEK" and "Macintosh-Aided Design" to "Boys' Life," "Antique Week" and numerous websites. He attended several colleges, majoring in English, writing and theater, and has taught college classes about writing.