Typography as destiny

Don’t get La Cieca wrong: the whole “Opera and Technology” panel last Friday was fascinating. But probably the most interesting bit of information shared all night was done after the formalities were ended. Anne Midgette got to talking with JJ and a few others about the layout style of the New York Times Arts section, and La Cieca has to admit she never realized just how intricate the whole thing is.

Basically there are two kinds of pieces that run in the Arts section: reporting and opinion. “Opinion” includes both reviews and what back in my sob sister days we used to call “think” pieces. It turns out the Times style decrees a number of differences in how these two types of writing are set up.

“Reporting” pieces (like the one on the left, below) have a plain serif headline, a traditional byline directly below the hed, then a series of paragraphs with an even right margin. “Opinion” pieces (right) feature an italic headline, an inset byline without the word “by” and subhead “Music Review.” Paragraphs have a ragged right margin.

The meaning of all this? Maybe the Times is saying, “This review is only someone’s opinion, so it doesn’t need justification.”

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