There is nothing on a front page any more that we have not seen on the web. The French say:"A la une!" meaning: it is important, it is front-page stuff. It is still true, that if there is a big scandal or a national disaster, people buy more newspapers. This has made journalists believe that the front page is what readers are interested in, that it is what sells. Movies have re-enforced this theory, from Bogart to Robert Redford and Denzel Washington. And generations of TV anchors think that their job is to milk the death of Michael Jackson or the last terrorist threat. They call it "investigative journalism". Hmmm. This generation is not like the Nixon generation, people nowadays want excitement, they have no patience for information.
But of course, the front-page is just another myth that contributes to killing journalism. What I see around me, what I have seen since the 1950s, is that people take a cursory glance at the front page and turn immediately to the local weather and the obituaries. These topics are the true bread and wine of the readers.
It is specially true around the new year, when we remember the people we lost, some real friends, and some imaginary ones: actors, artists, musicians who were important to us. My heart misses a beat when I think of Patrick McGoohan, of the Prisoner's fame, or Maurice Jarre, not only for the music of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but also for all the beautiful work he did for the theater before he came to the US. And then, caricaturist David Levine, brilliantly described by Bruce Weber in the New York Times.
Newspapers could be saved by less romanticism and a more honest look at their readers. Let obituary writers run the front page: it will remind the readers why they still want to buy newspapers.