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Monday, September 25, 2006

Looking to get a story on the front page of the NY Times?

The NY Times ran an interesting article from the assistant manager of news, Richard Berke. Readers were invited to send in questions about the newspaper's news coverage and the selection of articles for the front page. Good read. (free subscription required). It is always nice to get an insider's view. They have columns from other editors as well.

Some excerpts:
On RSS: " In the "My Times" and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) era when individuals are starting to build their own media feeds, how much influence will the "front page" continue to exercise in modern life?
-- Jeff Atwood, Larchmont, N.Y.
A. Ask me in five or 10 years and I'll have a better idea. With the advent of the Internet, the world of journalism and communications is changing so rapidly that it's hard to know how much people will value the front page in the years to come. As I've said this week, we take our front page decisions quite seriously. One gauge of the enduring impact is that you can easily trace how stories on our front page that play a big role in setting the agenda of what the television networks cover on their news programs.
My gut is that even with 24-hour news flashes everywhere, people still will want to look to us to make some sense out of the news of the past 24 hours. Already we have taken steps to make sure that our front page has much more added value than stories you've seen on the Web all day. I, for one, can't imagine a world without a Page One, either on paper or electronically."

On blogging:
"I'd love to know how come the NYTimes follows all rules of style in the print edition but consistently fails to do so on the website. I am talking about the use of prime marks (inches & feet) for quotes and apostrophes. It is appalling to me that you do so; soon people will think that because the Times uses these on their site it is OK. Perhaps it is accepted style now?
And why do you feel the need to have so many blogs? I read the paper for news. If I want opinion I read the op-ed pages. I feel that you clutter the website with the blogs. Perhaps if they were slugged as such, but often I see a headline that looks interesting to me, only to find it a blog.
-- Debby Dichter
A. I farmed out your question to Rich Meislin, associate managing editor for Internet publishing, to give you the scoop. Here's what he says:
"Actually, the use of inch and foot marks for quotes is far more common on the Web than the use of real typographical quotation marks. There are a couple of reasons for this: not all Web browsers handle typographic quotes well, they're harder to generate, and many of our outside suppliers of information don't use them. We do use them where we can, including in most staff-generated articles. (By the way, a quick check indicates you won't find typographic quotes on, or
"Regarding blogs: We're experimenting with a lot of new forms on the Web, blogs among them. They've given us an opportunity to try different ways of informing and entertaining our readers, and equally important, they give our readers an opportunity to talk back. For example, we discovered that a surprising number of our readers were passionate about World Cup Soccer. Blogs gave us an opportunity to offer them, and later fans of the U.S. Open, minute-by-minute coverage with an intensity that might have seemed like overkill amid our general coverage. Our goal is to do exactly the opposite of cluttering the site -- the blogs help us move deeper coverage of a particular area into one well focused place.
"The same smart, engaging people who provide the news, culture and style coverage are writing our blogs. They're using them to get into greater depth or report with greater speed than they can in the printed paper. So if a headline looks interesting and leads to a blog, give it a try. You might find you like it."

On the process of choosing stories for the front page:
"The process begins at noon, when a dozen or so department heads or their deputies assemble around a conference table (the Washington bureau is piped in by phone, as is the International Herald Tribune in Paris) and run down the stories that they think may be candidates for Page One and let us in on how our Web site is covering the breaking news of the day. In promoting stories, editors do not tear down other offerings, but simply try to make a case for their own pieces.
Day after day, it's an impressive show: some of the smartest people in the business offering a bounty of wonderful stories from around the globe. (If I want to remind reporters why they are lucky to work for this newspaper, I invite them to the meeting.)
We make some preliminary decisions after that meeting, when it is usually possible to sort out which features or investigative stories should be readied for the front page. But everyone comes back around the table at 4:30, when what we call "frontings'' memos are distributed with several paragraphs of each department's final offerings for Page One. Then, one after another, the hard sells are made. There's no single best way to pitch stories. Some department heads try humor; others are more serious. Some of the presentations are tight and snappy; others need to be tight and snappy.
At the end of the meeting, Bill Keller, the executive editor, seeks input from everyone around the table and picks the lede, the most important story in the paper. (The spelling of "lede" comes from the days when it was necessary to distinguish it from the "lead" that was melted to make the type for the printing press.) The lede usually goes in the upper right-hand corner. (For Tuesday's paper, he decided to put a picture there.)
Then the photo editors treat us to a slide show of the best photographs. Finally, a smaller group of editors stay behind and pick the other stories for the front, the photographs on the page, and the "reefers,'' the stories inside the paper that will be highlighted in the "Inside" box below the fold.
The bottom line is that we are looking for the most important news of the day. But we also seek what we call the "right mix of stories.'' For instance, we don't want to load the front page with too many lighter features, too many long investigative pieces, or too many foreign stories.
The lobbying doesn't always end with the meeting. Sometimes, editors are so passionate that they try putting the squeeze on us after the meeting. And of course, if a story is not up to snuff when it comes in, or if news breaks in the evening, the leaders of our night crew will sometimes remake the page."

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