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In Publishing, what is a Masthead?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Nopixies — On Oct 17, 2012

Some sources refer to the masthead as the flag, banner or the name of a newspaper or periodical, its proprietors, staff, etc., printed in large type at the top of the front page -- note *front" page.

Today some periodicals contain as many as three required boxes: Masthead - Postal regulation and legal ownership; Masthead - Referring to the ownership of the publication, publisher and the senior editorial staff responsible for its copyright information; Masthead - Staff Box, referring to Masthead (ownership) and diluted to include all personnel of that publication.

To be clear, the original term refers to the front of the publication more so than the inside masthead/staffbox (which over time has become an ego statement rather than the original intent). The term was to declare financial ownership and responsibility for the content exactly as it was for shipowners and builders.

The publishing term has become so blurred, due to copyright laws, that the janitor may need to be included in the masthead/staffbox.

By popcorn — On Jun 12, 2011

If you are interested in writing to a publication for more information on a section or if you have a concern the first place you should look for contact information is the masthead. Not only does it usually have a list of all the department/section heads, it also almost always provides a mailing address and number so you can contact the publication and appropriate person directly.

Never be shy about contacting those who work at your favorite publications. While the letters to the editor and opinion feedback writers often get feedback, it is something special for the other writers to hear from readers.

By letshearit — On Jun 09, 2011

For those who are starting out in journalism getting on the masthead of a publication is a big step for many new comers to the field of print media. Showing up on a masthead shows your contribution to a paper and often works as a central piece in your portfolio.

While the articles you have written offer you a great byline to show future employers, a spot on the masthead is a permanent record of your role at a publication and whom you worked with. While you may not remember all the details of the places you have worked, a masthead covers all of that, making it a vital thing to keep.

By MissDaphne — On Jun 09, 2011

@dfoster - You're right about the importance of checking! Unfortunately, there's no one right way to judge who publishes a website. As an English teacher who does research papers with my students, though, here are some tips I give them:

The name of the publisher often appears at the bottom of the page. The page will generally have a nameplate at the top, and many will have the equivalent of a masthead in an "about us" section.

You can search for information about a website in Google by using this format: www.thesite.com -site:thesite.com. The "-site:" tells Google that you want to look everywhere *but* the site itself.

As an aside, there was a mention to Facebook's "masthead" in the movie The Social Network. I think they were actually talking about something more like the nameplate, though.

By dfoster85 — On Jun 09, 2011

Do websites have an equivalent of a masthead? Finding publication and authorship information is even more important on the Internet! I mean, if an organization has enough money publish a magazine or newspaper, you know it has at least a few followers! (Not that you shouldn't still read with caution, of course!)

But just about anyone can put up a professional-looking website quite cheaply. How do you know?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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