Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies

The fiction: Bates Motel, season one episode eight – “A Boy and His Dog”. Broadcast May 6, 2013. Director: Ed Bianchi. Props master: Terry Weaver.

The newspaper: White Pine Bay Current

It’s the Psycho prequel nobody asked for and only a few people watch! But those who do are probably tuning in to see such scenes as this one, where Vera Farmiga – as Norman Bates’s infamous mother – goes spectacularly off the rails at a local council meeting in this scene from season two, episode one.

She’s upset (and then some) because the council want to build a bypass which will mean nobody uses the road by which her motel stands. It’s an understandable concern; without that traffic she won’t get as many people staying at the motel – especially given that she’s stopped a human trafficking ring from using the premises (it’s just that sort of show) – and who knows what homicidal urges that will incite in grown-up Charlie Bucket himself, her son Norman?

Mrs Norma Bates came across the news of the bypass by checking her local paper, which is just the sort of thing these publications are designed for. The glory of the fourth estate has blazed into action once more, saving dedicated readers the trouble of scouring local council documents by distilling the most important things into snappy headlines. It’s a fairly thankless task of journalism, reporting on local council affairs, but it’s one absolute worth doing.

bates motel 108

Quite how she noticed the news is unclear, given that the White Pine Bay Current employs the single biggest masthead known to mankind. The International Space Station could see that logo on a clear day because it is ridiculously large. Especially for a tabloid-size newspaper, where it takes up over half of the above the fold space.

And Christ on a bike isn’t an atrocious logo? You think they’d keep that small and quiet so nobody would notice what sort of ramshackle organisation was delivering the news to White Pine Bay. Where to begin?

A picture of Mr Norman Bates and one of his brilliant jumpers, just to break up the design disasters
A picture of Mr Norman Bates and one of his brilliant jumpers, just to break up the design disasters

There’s nothing wrong with blue as a masthead colour, I suppose, but the fonts look a bit amateur hour. “White Pine Bay” looks like a slightly elongated Times New Roman (a classic newspaper font, devised for The Times). Then “Current” is where things really go south: it’s in Impact, which as a sans serif font connotes less seriousness than its pedigree companion above. Then there’s the dual colour wave which looks like WordArt and serves only to underline what the pun being made. They’ve even got some whitespace round the edges just to make sure it really stands out.

Perhaps Norma is right to despise these locals. Because somehow things actually get even worse when you move onto the next part of the paper.

The main story’s headline is certainly not Times New Roman and it’s not even Impact. It’s a subtler sans serif and, to my eye, looks a lot like Franklin Gothic Demi Condensed – which, by coincidence, is my favourite of the Franklin stable and a reliable sans serif for headline writing. I used it myself for that purpose in a university assessment. What I also did was write the headlines in either CAPITALS or in “sentence case”. That is to say, I didn’t start Every Word With A Capital Letter Like The White Pine Bay Current Does, Because That Just Looks Silly.

So we’ve already got three fonts on this cluttered front page, and the subhead looks like a fourth – less narrow than the headline, though it could conceivably be another of the Franklin family. The picture they’ve chosen looks like any old road, but I’m just being harsh – it could easily be an artist’s impression of the council’s exciting new project.

Or is it a new project? The headline says “new” which could be a touch tautological, given that this is a construction we’re talking about – old things are already constructed, after all. But the subhead says the community has had “patience”, which suggests the whole bypass plan has been in the works for some time, meaning the idea of it isn’t at all new.

The sidebar of trails for stories inside the paper seems perfectly acceptable, and it’s the only part that is. So why is White Pine Bay’s local newspaper so inept, at least from a design standpoint? It’s hard to say, but the town is so full of dodgy dealings and criminal elements that having an inept newspaper is probably the only way to retain them (that’s a good thing, by the way, since the trade contributes loads to the local economy).

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2 thoughts on “Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies

    • I can’t think of any that I have read – there’s Terry Pratchett’s “The Truth”, about newspapers in Discworld, but that may not qualify as “classic”. Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop” might be the sort of thing you’re looking for, from what I know of it.

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