July 23, 2008

The Sun Also Rises…at The Times?

Print More

Amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Times Square stands a 52-story building that houses what many would consider to be the nation’s bastion of journalistic excellence: The New York Times. Though the new home to The New York Times has since made headlines for its Modernist structure that beckoned a few dare devils to scale its façade of ceramic rods, the building’s architecture pales in comparison to what brews inside its glass walls.

Fortunately, some of us Sunnies got an exclusive peek inside this high-security fortress of journalism. This past Monday, I joined fellow News Editor Jasmine [img_assist|nid=30851|title=The Times|desc=The Times building as seen from 8th Avenue in New York.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Marcus ’10, Leigha Kemmett ’10, Eclipse editor, G. Scott Russ ’10, senior editor, and Michael Morisy ’07, former managing editor, on a tour lead by The Sun’s web editor, Chris Barnes ’09, who currently interns at The Times in the interactive news department. During our two hours inside one of the most renowned newsrooms in the world, we got the chance to sit in on a daily page one budget meeting, learn about The Times’ traditional style of news coverage and get advice from professionals about where the future of journalism is headed.

Page One

Every afternoon at 4 p.m., the top news editors at The Times meet in a conference room called “Page One,” a name that precisely describes what the 20 or so editors meet there to discuss. The meeting is simple: editors go around in a circle and read their “Noonlist” — a compilation of article ledes for the next day’s stories — to Executive Editor Bill Keller and Managing Editors Jill Abramson and John M. Geddes, who select approximately six stories for the front page.

There are a number of factors that contribute to making a news story a contender for coveted front-page placement, some of which include timeliness, relevance, public interest and balance. As Abramson reviewed the day’s top stories as reporters began submitting their ledes, she commented that one story read as if it could have been written two days ago. The story would have to be revised and rewritten, she said, before being showcased on page one.

At The Sun, editors complete a similar ritual at daily budget meetings where a news editor, a sports editor, a photography editor and a designer meet and discuss article placement, visuals for the print edition, and page flow.

Anyone who has worked on a daily newspaper can attest to the fact that there is no such thing as a “typical” evening putting out a paper. Of course, news is always percolating and what is considered a top story at 5 p.m. may only turn into a short brief by 12 a.m. Additionally, all stories are thoroughly edited before printed. At The Times, a typical story for the print edition is seen by a minimum of four editors, while front page stories can be edited by up to eight or nine sets of eyes throughout the course of an evening.

Groove to the beat

A beat is a journalist’s niche — his or her specific topic of news coverage. Sports, news and arts reporters are often assigned to beats, allowing them to become familiar with a particular area of coverage while establishing relationships with contacts.

As the editors pointed out to us, The Times has a beat system similar in many ways to The Sun’s. Some of the beats include politics, national, metro, foreign, education and financial news. Nancy Sharkey, senior editor of newsroom recruitment, informed us that The Times’ thematic, as opposed to geographic, beat system is a byproduct of today’s fast-paced information age. As the Internet is used to break news, the print edition covers more in-depth stories relating to broader national and international issues.

What makes The Times, well, The Times

Every newspaper follows a specific style: a series of syntactic consistencies that fill the pages daily. At a paper as large as The Times, there are myriad stipulations that differentiate it from any other publication. For instance, in the upper left-hand corner of the front page lies the volume number in roman numerals, as well as the issue number. On the day we visited, The Times published its 54,378th issue of the paper since its inception in 1851.

While this box may seem obvious to loyal Times readers, few notice the series of dots that separate the volume and issue numbers, something I commonly mistook for an ellipsis. These dots signify the edition of that day’s paper, according to Sharkey. The earliest edition of the paper will have four dots while the next edition will have three, and so on. On nights with late-breaking news, when there are more than four editions, The Times resorts to using dashes. Sharkey informed us that the greatest number of editions ever printed was the night of the 2000 presidential election when The Times printed four dashes!

The Times they are a changin’

About 1,135 people are currently employed at The Times, a paper that is quickly transitioning to keep pace with the digitalization of the news. The average reporter at The Times writes about 90 stories per year and their starting salary is $90,000. However, current job availability at The Times directly reflects the changing face of journalism. As Sharkey noted, there are currently about four job openings for the print, or self-professed “dead tree” edition, while there are upwards of 27 openings on the digital side.

Today, print journalism faces many obstacles such as high costs of printing and decreasing print readership. The Times is adapting by incorporating new media content such as podcasts, video and web logs. Some of their 60+ reputable blogs can be seen on the site’s front page beside the top stories from the print edition. Blogs are even used to break news on the web throughout the day. According to Sharkey, a blog post unfolding the story of former governor Eliot Spitzer’s ties to a prostitution ring is The Times’ most popular blog entry. Trailing behind is the blog documenting the death of actor Heath Ledger. While both of these stories later developed into traditional news stories for the print edition, the news was first published as a developing story on a blog as the stories unfolded. Today, as Sharkey explained, blogs are particularly used to present breaking stories that do not stem from existing ledes, while other emergent stories are presented as traditional news.

When the sun set on our day at The Times, we thanked Sharkey for her time and enthusiasm, to which she replied, “Anyone who works for a college daily really deserves this.” We left the building with added knowledge to bring back to The Sun, only to return to the streets of the square named for The Times over a century ago.

Emily Cohn is one of The Sun’s news editors