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Ransom note front page

Regarding cartoonist Daryl Cagle's description of the Times front page as resembling a ransom note...

 I donít want to challenge Daryl Cagleís unhappiness with the L.A. Times, but Iím not sure I entirely agree with his assessment of the use of type on its front page.

While itís true, there are a large number of Ďfontsí on the page, it doesnít necessarily follow that there are too many typefaces. He differentiates between fonts as if the paper is using a too-large number of typefaces. Though the terms have become synonymous in recent years, as typography has become de-specialized, a font has generally been understood as a division within a typeface. Some of the counting that he is doing is counting the italic or bold version of a roman face as two different fonts. Fine, but they still belong to the same family, so to speak. Thatís not an unheard-of use of type. And from what I can tell, the italic headline in the Ďcolumn oneí story is the same as the large drop cap, but he counts it as two fonts. Further, he makes the same sort of error in counting bylines and text as separate fonts. The bylines are simply cap- and small-cap versions of the paperís basic text face. Technically heís right. You could say they are different fonts, but again, thatís a pretty standard way to differentiate elements typographically.

Iím in general agreement with him on some of the Timesí choices; I donít think Iíd use two different san-serif faces in my editorial library (the face on the headline of the article on the far right versus the face used for the read-ins on the captions, although I canít say authoritatively that one is not a highly condensed light version of the other), but thatís just me; and there does seem to be a bit of dissonance caused by their main serif headline typeface when matched with the basic text face; but on the whole I really would say the type usage is pretty tasteful.

Frankly I wouldnít look for a lot of discriminating type design on a front page anyway. They are hard to design; a lot of news has to be wedged into a small place, on a tight deadline. The editors are the ones holding the hammer.

Finally, many of the Timesí entertainment and lifestyle pages have excellent type layouts; those tend to be places where designers have much more leeway, and it shows. Iíll say this: Iím new to town, so maybe I donít know what everyone is bemoaning about the Timesí decline. But I donít necessarily agree with criticisms of the paperís design.

Robert Landry
Design Director
Los Angeles Business Journal

 Strangely enough, you have now cited two completely independent observations that the L.A. Times front page looks like a ransom note. The other was a column I wrote in September, 2005, where you quoted me as saying Times designers should be less imaginative.

Since this naive amateur and that graphic arts professional (Cagle) came to the same conclusion, perhaps there is some truth to the observation. Sadly enough for me, I find that my sparkling prose wasn't as original as I thought. Upon googling "ransom note," I find that not only is it a well-worn cliche, but you can even find computer programs to simulate the ransom note style. Still, it's nice to see my thoughts up in lights again, even if somebody else wrote them. Link

Bob Gelfand

 Somehow I doubt readers are obsessing about fonts and typefaces and the differences between the two.

It's yet another example of how out of touch the design crowd is. They never have been and never will be part of a solution,
even if it's not too late for newspapers to right the ship.

Robert Knilands

March 20, 2007 11:51 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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