Everybody hates a slow news day. And the day after Christmas is typically one of the slowest. But many of today's front page editors had the story of James Brown's death to deal with, and some handled it better than others.
With so few compelling stories to choose from, it's surprising how few papers went big with the news of Brown's death. James Brown was a cultural icon if ever there was one. Coverage of his death should have a been a celebration of his life – and made one helluva story to add to the mix.
A slow news day seems like the perfect time to "blow out" the front page. But few papers took advantage of the opportunity. Brown was known for his bold, brash persona. So it was ironic to see his death announced in such timid terms on the front of America's newspapers.
Among the papers that ran a photo at all, there was little variation in their choice. Many papers used the same photo: Brown on stage in a red jacket clutching a microphone. An adequate photo, but nothing that said 'JAMES BROWN." And many papers played the story and photo below the fold. Pity.
Not so The State in Columbia, SC. They played up Brown's death big time, and unlike almost every other paper, they chose a photo with all the exuberance of the man himself. And they didn't stop at the big stuff, following through on the details as well. Note the use of the respectful black bar beneath the nameplate containing the years of Brown's birth and death. Virtually all the color typically found on the front page was removed to project a funereal tone. Then The State offered "5 reasons why James Brown will go down in history" – an excellent use of short form. Who wouldn't read that?
Room for improvement:
It's tough to find a weak photo of James Brown, but strong headlines to complement these photos were conspicuous by their absence. Most newspapers missed the chance for a powerful headline-photo combination. Instead, they shot these headlines with a dull gun.
The Baltimore Sun offered "Godfather of soul was a showman, visonary." The Boston Globe went with "Godfather of Soul James Brown dies." After such a long career, surely one of Brown's song titles or lyrics could have provided a more meaningful sendoff. Copydesks needed to bring in 'da noise, bring in 'da funk.
James Brown deserved a headline worthy of the man – a headline that would have made him say, "I feel good." (This might have been a challenge under the circumstances, but you know what I mean.)
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