A masthead is a list of information about a newspaper or magazine which is typically printed near the editorial page or inside cover. This information is included in every issue, making it easy for people to see who is involved with the publication and where it is published. The term “masthead” is also sometimes used to describe the title or banner of a newspaper; this usage is actually incorrect, as a newspaper's banner is better known as a nameplate. You may also see the term “masthead” used in online publishing to describe the pages which provide information about the site's owners.
As you might expect, this term is nautical in origin. It refers to the tradition of attaching a brass plate with information about the owner to the mainmast of a ship. Nautical mastheads might also include the home port of the ship, and the year that the ship was built.
In some regions, the content of a masthead is mandated by law, to ensure that it will be easy for people to contact the staff and owners of a publication. You can always find the owner's name and contact information, sometimes care of the paper, along with the editor's name. The masthead also may include a list of regular newspaper staff and their positions, along with information about the paper's location and general contact information. Some newspaper policies may also be listed on the masthead, such as policies about letters to the editor and unsolicited submissions.
In addition, a masthead contains information about circulation, typically indicating how many papers or newspapers have been printed, and sometimes indicating the number of subscribers as well. The masthead also lists information about subscription and advertising rates, along with contact information for these departments to make it easy for potential advertisers or subscribers to reach the paper. You may also see a newspaper's slogan printed on its masthead, as well as on the nameplate.
You may skip over the masthead when you see it, but it actually contains some rather interesting information, and it can provide clues to the history of the publication, along with information about the light in which information may be presented. For example, if a newspaper is owned by a prominent conservative company, you should not expect liberal journalism, while a local paper which is owned by an out-of-town conglomerate may not have as much interesting local information as a local alternative paper.