The homepage and section homepages of the Huffington post have an interesting format for a digital publication. It’s closer to that of a print newspaper’s front page: a bold headline over a large attention grabbing photo. What’s different and intriguing is that many of them lack any sort of lead-in or explanatory text. Just bold juxtapositions of word and image that are sometimes quite oblique. A recent favorite.
Even the NYPost’s digital edition, arguably the paper that owns “front pages” from a cultural conversation perspective doesn’t go as far. They have a cascading heirarchy of images with headline overlays. One primary and two secondary stories share the prime real estate followed by four tertiary stories that flow into smaller groupings of articles down the page.
There is something very modernist and non-digtal about The Huffington Post format. The big type image combo feels like paste-up, collages, or like old print ads.
The mechanics at work on The Huffington Post’s front pages are actually similar to those behind the classic VW ads created by Doyle Dane Bernbach in the 60s. The genius behind those ads was that they presented the viewer with a headline and an image that were at odds with one another, that didn’t quite fit together, that created a tension that could only be resolved by the participation of the readers mind.
Decades ago, newspapers quite literally brought the news to people’s doorsteps. We now live in an age where the news streams in at a constant flow of bits a packets. We have a level of familiarity and context with most stories before we arrive at any news site. That’s what makes The Huffington Post word/image constructs so interesting and revealing of their function. Unlike the DDB ads that drove its readers to a clever, persuasive point, The Huffington Post covers act as emotional sounding boards, eliciting an emotional response and stirring all the preconceptions and biases you have about the hinted material. You are emotionally engaged and telling yourself your own story about the news even before you have a chance to click and read a single word of the text.
It was René Magritte that most famously pitted word against image in his work “The Treachery of Images”. The painting, of a pipe, included the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (“This is not a pipe”). The painting’s paradox, like the juxtapositions in the ads of Doyle Dane Bernbach and the home pages of The Huffington Post shift the point of meaning creation and reconciliation for the page (or canvas) to the viewers mind.