Books -- Seeing the Newspaper by Kevin Barnhurst

Article excerpt

* Barnhurst, Kevin. (1994). Seeing the Newspaper. New York: St. Martin's Press. 222 pp. Paperback.

Kevin Barnhurst of Syracuse University takes a fascinating look at the graphic elements of the newspaper and at how they uniquely reflect changing American values. His book is an unusual mix of personal narrative, history, essays, and exercises designed to help readers critically see the photographs, charts, and other elements of newspaper design.

This book is not a hands-on textbook to teach students how to choose type size, scale pictures, or plan layout. Rather, it is a supplement that discusses the messages conveyed by choice of type, pictures, and layout. For example, Barnhurst suggests that by shifting to a larger print, newspapers favor leisure and older readers. Large type becomes a structural barrier to diversity. The look of the newspaper may actually drive younger readers away, instead of attracting them.

Although the author is an avid newspaper fan, he is critical of the trend toward the packaged, beautiful paper. He wonders if the newspaper serves readers as well as it serves artists and designers now that it features fewer stories on a smaller front page. Barnhurst argues that the paper lost its roots in an earlier, cruder time and that editors have forgotten that people do not read a newspaper like they read a book or magazine.

Barnhurst is just as critical of his own field of graphic design, examining and questioning common assumptions, such as the addition of space and scale at the price of content--open space may mean pages are less open in content. …