How the sausage is made

In today’s print edition of the New York Times they had an interesting bit on what happens in the newsroom when a crazy story breaks after they have selected the day’s front page stories. I have been in newsrooms when a news event, sometimes a huge fire, unexpected sporting event result, sudden death of a celebrity, or abrupt political change happens. There is a real rush of excitement and adrenaline as you scramble to remake the pages, stories, headlines and photos to reflect the changed news story.

What I like most about the NY Times story is how they described the process behind and ideas behind the changes.

As the news quickly filtered through the newspaper’s office, the people in charge of making up the front page realized they had to completely redo the page to reflect the amazing developments in Washington. At first the person responsible for the layout, Tom Bodkin, the Times’ creative director, thought they would use a nice portrait of former FBI Director Comey, but when another editor showed him the actual letter from Trump to Comey, “I realized that including the letter itself was a much better solution than simply showing a photograph of Comey. It helped tell a story in a way that was much more explicit.”

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The main photo is a copy from the print edition of the Times this morning. The green pages are photos of the same layouts from the web site. I love the old-time traditions that still live on at various newspapers, like the page layouts being handwritten on green pages. It is possible to skip this step and design the pages directly on a layout computer, but the human element of handwritten notes like this make these pages really special to me. I so appreciate the Times publishing them.

The web site for the Times and all the other newspapers in the world update throughout the day as the news changes. And, websites are invaluable sources of information in a quickly changing media environment, but there is something to the static completeness of a printed newspaper or magazine page, that gives a more authoritative voice to the information (well for me anyway).

Because I have worked with newspapers my entire professional career, been in many editorial meetings where such decisions are being made, and studied newspaper design while at school and a bit beyond, I have a pretty good sense of the thought process of making up a newspaper page under deadline is like. And, on days like yesterday, I really miss it. There were days working at a newspaper that were a huge pain in the ass, nothing was going right, everyone was a jerk, and don’t get me started on the low pay. That was quickly forgotten when a huge story broke, when you have the amazing opportunity to be a witness to history, and share that first draft of history with the world.


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