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Masthead definition

Newspaper masthead. (© Franz Pflügl -

Newspaper masthead. (© Franz Pflügl -

Before the internet came along, the term masthead was mostly used in the marine world. It was a simple definition – the top, or head, of a mast. But now there are around a dozen different definitions for the term masthead, referring to elements within the digital world. However, periodicals also laid claim to the term prior to the internet age. We’ll take a look at the newspaper masthead in this article.

The Newspaper Masthead

In the United Kingdom, the masthead refers to

  • the name of a periodical publication,
  • although sometimes it can refer to a logo or other symbol.
  • You can look at any periodical and see what the masthead is – it is simply the name of the publication as printed on the cover.

In the United States, the masthead refers to the box somewhere inside the newspaper (usually near the contents) that list

  • the newspaper,
  • publisher,
  • editor
  • and any other important names.

Other Uses for the Term

You’re going to see the term “masthead” around the internet as well.

For example, the masthead in web design is basically the header of the page,

  • identifying the name of the website
  • or the name of the page,
  • and often incorporating images,
  • logos
  • and even navigational menus into it.
openPR tip: YouTube also uses the term masthead to refer to a specific type of advertising banner that they offer. The website masthead is probably the most well-known out of all of the uses for the term today, due to the fact that there are over a billion websites and designers, marketers and all manner of internet users discuss them regularly on the web. If you were to do a search for the term masthead, by itself, the website definition would be the one that comes up most of the time.

Online and Print Publication Mastheads

As we've already discussed, the masthead is a term that is used for several different things. But when it comes to newspaper mastheads, both print publications and digital publications often use them. In the United States, newspapers do not generally have mastheads on the front cover. They're usually somewhere inside.

Some publications still do print the masthead on the outside; usually putting it near what it's called the name plate. In the United States, the title of the publication is called the name plate. It is usually at the top of the publication with the title in extremely large letters along with the date, issue number and other such information.

Newspapers, particularly newsletters, are good examples of publications that put the masthead on the outside of the paper. In fact, some newsletters used two mastheads - one on the front cover and then another on the inside with slightly different content.

When a publication is set up like this, the mastheads are often differentiated by numbering. Most of the time,

  • masthead 1 is the one found on the inside of the paper, usually on the second page, which list the information above.
  • masthead 2 is the additional one that is listed on the cover. However, this is not standard at all and these two numbered terms are used interchangeably.

In fact, because print publication has been overtaken by digital so much, the term masthead 1, masthead 2 and nameplate maybe used interchangeably as well. The way that the term is used will depend upon the particular publisher, as well as the format of the periodical. Older, more established newspapers will often stick to the traditional way of identifying publication elements, while newer publications do not necessarily see them as relevant.

The Components of a Masthead

However, what is most important is what is actually in the masthead rather than what it is called or where in the paper it is located. The masthead has some pretty specific information, particularly for print publications that have wide circulations and high-revenue ad programs. Here are the elements that should be present on a publication’s masthead.

  • The names and titles of some or all of the staff that contributed to, published, designed or edited the newspaper or newsletter. Smaller publications may list their entire staff while larger publications will generally just list the publisher and the managing editor
  • The name, address, phone number, fax number and other contact information such as web address and email of the publication
  • The date, issue number and volume number may be listed within the masthead, although this information is usually included with the name plate. Some publications list it with both areas
  • Contribution or submission information may be listed with in the masthead if the publication accepts outside submissions
  • Information on how you can get a subscription, what the current subscription prices are, how to obtain additional copies, how to cancel a subscription and who to contact with subscription questions
  • The contact number, email or other information regarding the advertising department. Sometimes the ad rates themselves may be listed here
  • Details like credits on photos that are used and the font that the newspaper is published in
  • National copyright notices, local notices required by law and postal codes or mass-mailing stamp IDs

Digital Publications

You don't often see mastheads with digital publications. Even with larger organizations that have all of the elements of a print publication, that information is usually listed elsewhere. Blogs and other informal online publications almost never use the masthead format.


The masthead has a historic tradition in the newspaper industry, and those that have been involved with traditional print publications such as newspapers and magazines will know the term proudly. Unfortunately, print newspapers, magazines, newsletters and even books are becoming less and less relevant as people turn to mobile devices to get information. This is a double-edged sword because while newspaper can make more money because they don't have to pay for print costs, it also allows anyone with internet access and $10 for a domain name to start their own publication. But the respected publications with extended histories will likely be relevant for a long time to come

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