Front Pages of Taiwan Daily Newspapers 1952-1996: How Ending Martial Law Influenced Publication Design

By Lo, Ven-hwei; Paddon, Anna et al. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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Front Pages of Taiwan Daily Newspapers 1952-1996: How Ending Martial Law Influenced Publication Design


Lo, Ven-hwei, Paddon, Anna, Wu, Hsiaomei, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The number of Taiwanese daily newspapers increased tenfold after martial law was lifted in 1988. Increased competition and new technology influenced the adoption of design innovations. This study examined three Taiwanese daily newspapers' use of color, graphics, headline styles, modular design, and number of stories before and after the lifting of martial law.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the appearance of newspapers evolved from vertical, gray pages cluttered with rules and typographical decoration to open, modular, horizontal, and topically organized publications.1 Publication designers, who introduced these changes, sought to showcase major stories on the front page, grab readers' attention, facilitate organization, and create visual appeal.2

Although international examples of elegant and functional redesigned newspapers have been featured in design collections and textbooks 3 little attention has been paid to changes in design of newspapers printed with Chinese characters. Some experiments evaluating the effectiveness of design elements have been reported by researchers in Taiwan,4 but no research has examined the evolution of design characteristics of Taiwan newspaper front pages.

Research findings from U.S. literature indicate that new technology, competition among media, the rise of professionalism, and a growing sophistication among news people about design have all influenced the design trends,5 and understanding of such change can be only surmised from the examination of the newspapers themselves. Based upon Chinese literature, the most likely salient forces for Taiwan newspapers' design revolution are the lifting of martial law and new technology.6 While professionalism and sophistication among news people are considered two other variables, no research has yet pinpointed their significance.

The purpose of this study is to discover the extent to which the largest daily newspapers in Taiwan have adopted modern graphic techniques. The study also explores influences, like new technology and the lifting of martial law, that influenced design changes. Using content analysis, the researchers have identified the design characteristics of a sample of the front pages from three Taiwan dailies published from 1952 to 1996. The forty-five years under study span an era from just three years after the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan, until the present. The three newspapers are the United Daily News, the China Times, and the Central Daily News. All are broadsheets, and all circulate throughout Taiwan.

Taiwan Newspapers

Some of the changes that characterize the change from traditional to contemporary design in Western newspapers are irrelevant in Chinese printing. For example, lowercase headline styles and ragged right line justification found in contemporary Western design are irrelevant in Chinese newspapers because characters have no capitalized forms and each character in a specific typographic style takes up exactly the same horizontal and vertical space. Also, stories never jump from the front page.

Because of Chinese literary tradition, Taiwan newspapers typically flow story text vertically and thus use rows, rather than columns. Body text is separated by horizontal, not vertical, gutters. Moreover, Taiwan newspapers arrange headlines both vertically and horizontally, and the majority of headlines contain multiple decks. The largest type sizes are main headlines. Smaller type to the right of a main headline functions like a kicker in English text. Smaller type to the left of or underneath a larger main headline is comparable to a deck.

In spite of these contrasts, it seems that designers of Taiwan newspapers have changed the appearance of their publications as much as Western designers have. Nameplate redesign, fewer stories on the front page, color, use of photographs, organizing devices like indexes and logotypes all have appeared in contemporary Taiwan newspapers.

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