Newspapers

Bowie tribute issues – how the quality press covered his death

Above: The Guardian front page 12.1.16. Design by Guardian Design. Photo by Lord Snowden 1978


Notebook: 18 January | NEWSPAPERS


The news of David Bowie’s death broke a week ago at about 7am on Monday 11 January 2016. This gave the newspapers a good 12 hours to prepare special tribute issues which hit the streets the following morning. Soon after the Monday morning announcement, the full weight of the newspapers’ editorial teams – journalists, picture researchers and designers – would have swung into action to produce their special editions – and by the end of the day they were ready to press the button and see their specials come rolling off the presses. This is where printed newspapers can excel against digital – it would be impossible to provide a reader with a souvenir edition with an online version alone.

Many of the papers ran with full front page tribute pictures of Bowie and all other news was relegated to the inside pages. Understandably it’s not often that a newspaper will do this but when they do, and if their picture is strong, the resulting front page can be very powerful – as these two old examples from 9/11 (The Guardian) and the UK solar eclipse in 1999 (The Sun!) show.

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Last Tuesday 12 January I made an early visit to the newsagent and came away with all the quality national newspapers. I was eager to see their coverage of Bowie’s death, and life, and to find out which of them had produced the most successful tribute issue. Here’s my review:

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THE GUARDIAN

I’d already seen The Guardian‘s front page doing the rounds on twitter with its beautiful black and white photo of Bowie and elegant typography. When I picked up the paper I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a stunning design – a front page poster – that I’m sure will end up being taped to many fans’ walls. What makes it so successful alongside the other papers is that The Guardian have selected a lesser known image of Bowie (photographed by Lord Snowdon in 1978) where he has a real sense of both mystery and sadness in his eyes, and then they’ve cropped it especially tight on the right-hand side which all adds to its impact. A simple headline in pale blue and green has been carefully placed to line up with, and help focus on, his eyes. For me The Guardian front page is a real tour-de-force – but how does the rest of the paper stack up? They have a 12-page supplement based on David Bowie’s ’50 defining moments’ and as you would expect from The Guardian, the layout is excellent with loads of delicious pictures and splashes of white space to help it all breathe. The main paper carries a further four pages of news and a two-page obituary but as a reader, I would have preferred all the Bowie content in one place.

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THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

The broadsheet size allowed the Telegraph to splash with the well known Aladdin Sane picture tightly cropped to slot in above the fold, but still carry the story of the doctors’ strike, below the fold. On pages 2-6 they ran their five-page tribute which included a striking still of Bowie from his last music video Lazarus where he is pictured on his ‘death bed’. I particularly liked the Bowie timeline than ran across the top of all five pages and helped put his life into context. A one page obituary was also included at the back end of the paper.

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THE TIMES

The Times opted for a wraparound four-page cover that included printing the lyrics of his best known songs. I was puzzled by their bland choice of Bowie photo with cigarette in hand. Like the Guardian, they ran four pages in the main paper plus a two-page obituary at the back, plus another seven pages in their Times 2 pull-out section. All a bit confusing for the reader, but nicely laid out in their usual ballsy style with a great selection of pictures.

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THE INDEPENDENT

A striking and more recent black and white picture of Bowie sits on The Independent‘s front page but it fights for attention against the masthead and the advert and so loses its impact. Maybe they should have cropped it a bit tighter or dropped the advert? There are two pages of news in the main section plus a three-page obituary towards the back. They too have a pull-out section – a hefty 16 pages with clean, elegant typography, big pictures and carefully engineered white space. The supplement’s back page, titled ‘Cover Story: A life in albums’, carries a picture of every Bowie album cover which helps remind the reader what album came when and helps put his career into context.

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The Independent‘s sister paper i understandably re-hashes the content from the Independent‘s 16-page supplement but they dress it up with different fonts and pictures. The i front page (above left) is the least successful of all the quality newspapers. They’ve chosen an odd nondescript portrait of Bowie with little emotion or style and this has to then unfortunately fight for attention against a bright orange Easy Jet banner advert splashed across the bottom of the page.

My favourite? The Guardian for its powerful front page alone.

Thank goodness that printed newspapers still exist (for the moment…) and enable us to have these very good tribute editions that we can hang on to.

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Finally, I also have a copy of the French daily Libération from Tuesday 12 January that demonstrates the impact that David Bowie’s life, death and work has had across the globe. They have a wraparound cover and then a massive 32 pages devoted to Bowie with just 16 pages of regular news tucked away inside!