Minority Reporting

The fiction: Minority Report, released 2002. Director: Steven Spielberg. Props master: Jerry Moss.

The newspaper: USA Today

With its wave-your-hands gesture controls, intrusive biometric advertising and driverless cars, people love to talk up Minority Report‘s vision of the future. They usually overlook the jetpacks when calling it a serious and studious extrapolation of existing technology. Convincing or not, it’s all the same to this blog — so let’s have a look at how the press is doing in this fictional future.

The introduction of bald fortune tellers is probably the last thing the news wants, given that murders make up a healthy portion of any newspaper. But the precogs are only operating on a (relatively) small patch, so there’s probably enough murderous misery in other parts of the world to fill the pages.

But what are the pages made of? When we run into a newspaper it is the future newspaper of choice, USA Today. And it’s a far cry from both the version in Back to the Future Part II and the real-life one. Just take a look at it:

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That’s a pretty special newspaper — it’s got all the tactility of paper but with the animated auto-updating of a phone app, an incredible synthesis of two entirely separate technologies’ strengths. Frankly, it’s an enchanting vision of the future of print news, even if it does raise questions: is this a disposable newspaper? If so, how expensive is it, is it recyclable or biodegradable?

These are questions I can’t easily answer, but we could speculate that instead of literally being sheets of dead trees, USA Today is being manufactured on thin sheets of plastic that use colour e-ink. As you can see, it certainly looks thin when we see a different angle.

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Indeed, that shot makes it look as if the paper is one big sheet (of whatever material), folded down the middle. There may be a touch-sensitive pad on the ‘inside’ which would bring up fresh content and stories for you to read when you’re done, in another impressive meshing of old and new technologies. If that is how the paper operates, it’s essentially the same technology as current ebook readers like Amazon’s Kindle. It certainly seems to have that easier-to-read duller ‘screen’ quality, rather than the bright and backlit iPhone screen.

Current e-ink leaves a noticeable gap while it fades away before reforming itself into the next page, and there’s still a hint of that in this paper: the way it fades onto the page rather than appearing quickly, and how the old story still appears even when the BREAKING NEWS banner flashes on.

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As for the design of the this future USA Today… well, it runs into some of the same problems as Back to the Future Part II. It has retained the old-style USA Today logo, rather than the recently-adopted modern style:


This slicker look for the USA Today front page seems designed, along with a circle that’s a different colour in different sections, to make reading the print edition quite similar to using the company’s news app or website. It’s a lot less cluttered than the design seen in Minority Report and would probably work even better as an animated e-ink single sheet, should the technology ever come to pass.

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Neither of the main fonts on display here — the sans serif for the headline and the serif for the sub-headline — seem to be standard USA Today fonts. It is not hard to imagine that in crafting the paper for an adjusted medium that the designers swapped over to some new typography to improve the look of things in a digital and print context.

If that’s the case, they haven’t exactly given it much imagination. To my eye the sub-headline looks to be written in Palatino, a tremendously common font that you often find in books (pull The Da Vinci Code off your shelf and have a look).

This is Palatino Linotype, compare for yourself
This is Palatino Linotype, compare for yourself

It’s a very traditional font, breaking no boundaries, but I do have a fondness for it. It looks great in books, even if the words are Dan Brown’s, and I have a soft spot for those sleek commas without a large, knobbly round bit. That’s just personal preference, but the font has been around since 1948 and you don’t stick around that long without some appreciable “calligraphic grace”.

As for the headline, well it’s a bit of an odd one, capitalisation-wise. Take another look:
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It doesn’t feel right to me that “its” doesn’t have a capital I when all the words around it do, and that exclamation mark is a bit of a maverick, wacky move for a very serious headline. Breaking news doesn’t usually need extra emphasis by its nature, but perhaps they’re trying to distract from the fact that John Anderton’s head doesn’t look like it quite belongs on the body.

Anyway, the font being used for the headline reminds me a lot of the sans serif font of choice for Britain’s Daily Mail, a virulently right-wing rag that continues to hire a columnist whose unkind words were followed by their subject’s suicide.

I believe the Mail uses a proprietary font called DM Truth (careful not to let your irony meter explode), but it’s clearly based on Truth FB — itself a slight modification of a standard Apple font called Charcoal.

This is Truth FB and it certainly looks similar
This is Truth FB and it certainly looks similar

Its long and continued use in the Daily Mail is evidence that it’s actually a great choice for USA Today. If you’d like to use it yourself, buy it or download a free rip-off here.

And that’s about all there is to say about USA Today in Minority Report, except…

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…they’re still using Fahrenheit for the temperature. Get a grip, future-America.