A Day at a Great Metropolitan Newspaper
The daily newspaper industry is unique among manufacturers in that it creates a new product every day, 365 days a year. Although the format of the newspaper, whether it is a broadsheet or a tabloid, stays the same - and many sections and features are constant - the actual editorial and advertising content and layout of the newspaper, sections, and features change daily.
Daily Planet Note: The Daily Planet is a broadsheet, normally having 5 or 6 columns on the front page (this appears to vary) and 6 columns inside (a typical modern broadsheet layout.) The Daily Planet's front page is printed in color.
Newspaper editors monitor events within their communities and advertising managers stay on top of market trends and advertising demand. No one can predict tomorrow's headlines or the amount and type of classified and display advertising that will appear in next Tuesday's edition.
Newspapers work under deadline pressure and are subject to the vagaries of the day's events, not only within their circulation areas, but across the country and around the world. A breaking news story - such as an earthquake, airplane crash, or civil unrest - can change the entire news plan for a day. The sudden merger of two rival supermarket chains or the closing of a major department store can have a major impact on the amount of advertising space sold and the normal operations of an advertising department.
Because news can happen at any time most newspapers have editorial staffers working almost around the clock or on call for major news events. Because circulation sales efforts, especially telemarketing, must take place when potential subscribers are at home, sales personnel often work in the evenings. Because retail advertising sales visits target businessmen and women, they normally must take place during conventional business hours. The ways that newspapers structure their work days must take into account all of these factors.
The primary factor in the production cycle for newspapers is whether the paper is a morning or evening paper. Morning papers typically close their editorial operating cycle about 11 p.m. and evening papers typically close their editorial operating cycle about 11 a.m. The needs of morning and evening distribution create significantly different operating cycles for each type of paper. The most immediately visible difference is that morning papers tend to need employees and managers in their facilities twenty-four hours a day, whereas afternoon papers are able to have a four to eight hour downtime period for most employees and managers overnight.
Even if a newspaper only officially offers one edition a day, if a late-breaking story comes in that is newsworthy - ie. presidential assassination, Superman saving the space shuttle - it is possible to make a second edition. There is only a slight change to the edition number. Generally, the older, non-special edition is delivered to homes and businesses as usual while the special edition goes to newsstands and newspaper machines. In this way, the newest edition is available for commuters. Needless to say, due to the expense and possible logistical complications of printing a special edition (in some cities the morning and evening newspapers share the expense of a single set of presses) this doesn't happen often but there is a system in place in case it's needed.
Most reporters and editors working for morning papers will typically depart before midnight, but it is not unusual for a few reporters to be at their desks after midnight at an afternoon newspaper because they are completing stories about meetings of governmental bodies - such as city councils or school boards - that meet at night, or writing stories about the night's police or fire activities for the next day's paper. Because of the differences in cycles, afternoon newspapers have some advantages over morning counterparts in covering city councils, school boards, and other evening events with more depth, especially in smaller towns and suburbs where elected officials typically work at other jobs during the day and schedule governmental meetings at night.
Although the content of the newspaper changes daily, the most important local, state, national, and international news are traditionally published or highlighted on the front page to gain reader interest and promote single-copy sales. Although the days of children hawking newspapers on street corners are over, editors still display the most prominent articles with big, bold headlines above the fold to boost sales in circulation racks.
Depending on the size of the newspaper, the rest of the day's news and features is parceled out in sections. In mid- to large-size newspapers, one section usually contains the front page and state, national, and local news. The second section often contains metropolitan or local news, editorial pages, and obituaries; a third section will contain human interest articles, columns, social events, and comic pages: a fourth section will contain sports, giving a complete account of local prep, high school, and college sports, as well as professional athletics. Larger papers may have additional sections for business and entertainment news, and almost every paper has a weekly food section to help support supermarket advertising. Special advertising supplements, as well as special sections focusing on specific news events, such as fires, floods, or visits by the president, may occur throughout the year.
Preparation of the various elements of a newspaper goes on constantly. Work on special sections is usually assigned weeks and months in advance and is accomplished along with daily activities, during lulls in the preparation of materials for the next day's paper. Sunday papers, which often have significant sections devoted to non-breaking news - such as travel sections, special entertainment and book sections, and enlarged opinion sections - will have those sections produced during the week, often with Thursday or Friday deadlines. Work in various departments, including advertising sales, business activities, circulation, editorial, and production takes place simultaneously, with all the efforts converging to meet the final deadlines. In order to even the flow of work and make it possible to adjust for unexpected events, different functions and preparation of different newspaper sections have different deadlines throughout the day. Advertising production, feature sections, business, and other materials that don't require writing and editing late in the cycle are prepared earlier.
The publication time, the size of the paper, the size of the community, production and printing equipment used, and a variety of other technical and financial factors influence the exact time events take place in the cycles of specific papers, but the events in the daily cycle are comparable for most papers. To illustrate the sequence, we will look at a day in the life of a morning newspaper.
A Morning Paper's Daily Cycle
The cycle of newspaper production is continuous and most newspaper facilities are never completely empty or closed as different activities must take place throughout the day and night. A number of major time periods of activity exist and, for a morning paper, the cycle includes work that can be divided into morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, early evening, mid-evening, midnight, and early morning activities.
Although completing the next day's edition is the primary goal every day, personnel from all the paper's departments simultaneously carry out work that is necessary to produce editions for the day-after-tomorrow, next week, next month, and even as much as three months ahead.
The earliest staff to arrive are typically editorial employees, who begin arriving after dawn, bleary-eyed, to read through material provided by news services to determine what has occurred throughout the world overnight and to begin checking police and other emergency agencies for overnight activities. These initial morning news reviews and contacts, usually completed between 6 am and 8 am, are made to catch up on events and to plan activities that will be needed during the day to follow up on the important ones.
Because newspapers have traditionally placed a heavy emphasis on crime and emergency coverage, reporters may call or visit police departments as much as half a dozen times during a twenty-four-hour period. Like the initial morning contacts with police departments, reporters also use the time to contact fire departments, hospitals, the coroner's office, the district attorney's office, and other relevant agencies such as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, FBI, and state police for information on events that have occurred since the last contact.
The newsroom really comes to life between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. as more reporters and editors arrive. Editors begin creating a news budget - a list of stories to be prepared by staff reporters as well as stories available from news services that may be used in the next issue. Reporters begin checking their beats for more tips and stories and general assignment reporters are given assignments by editors.
Most newspapers assign reporters to cover specific topics or beats such as cities, county government, courts, education, business, police, politics, religion, or science/health. Newspapers also tailor beats to meet the demands of news coverage and the needs of subscribers. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, for example, cover the automobile industry in detail. The Los Angeles Times has beats covering the entertainment industries. Papers located adjacent to major military bases may have a military affairs beat. Newspapers in areas with large immigrant populations may have immigration beats, and metropolitan newspapers with large inner cities may have specialists on minority affairs. The Orange County Register, in suburban Southern California, won notoriety for assigning a reporter to cover shopping malls.
When a journalist finds a story on his or her beat, the reporter writes a short note to his or her editor summarizing the story and identifying it with a key word or short slug line. These one-paragraph summaries or budget notes are placed on a master news budget list that is tracked by editors throughout the day.
Newspapers keep some reporters for general assignment, that is, to cover stories not related to specific beats or to be shifted to assist a particular beat if an unusual number of stories or stories requiring extensive work arise on a particular day. These reporters take their assignments directly from editors but are also encouraged to suggest news and feature stories on which they might work.
Daily Planet Note: Lois Lane and Clark Kent would both be general assignment reporters.
As traditional office hours begin, business, advertising, and circulation offices begin operations and continue throughout the usual eight-hour work day. Classified advertising sales representatives begin answering telephone calls from customers wishing to place classified advertisements for employment, used cars, personals, and other categories. After a brief meeting - which can be either informal or formal depending on the size of the paper and the preferences of the advertising director - to coordinate activities, announce upcoming special sections, issues, or promotions, and to discuss problems, salespersons for display advertising begin contacting customers to whom they have been assigned, as well as soliciting new business in their territories. At the same time, clerks in the circulation department accept orders and update subscription and distribution lists. Accountants and clerks in the business offices order supplies, send and pay bills, and prepare the payroll.
By mid-morning reporters begin leaving the newsroom to conduct interviews, gather materials, and cover news events taking place during the day. Editors meet to discuss what the next issue of the paper will look like.
This meeting often takes place around 11 a.m., with senior editors and section editors conferring about events that are shaping the day and which stories they believe should appear in the next paper. The editor and managing editor usually sit behind their desks or at the head of a conference table and listen as the business editor, city editor, features editor, photo editor, and wire editor present their individual news budgets and pitch stories for inclusion on the front page. There is much give and take at these meetings as decisions are made about the placement of stories and the amount of space that will be devoted to them. Also present is an air of uncertainty. Suggestions, sidebar stories, and new angles or different approaches to stories are raised and discussed. Everyone knows that the thrust of a story can change within minutes: A hostage situation can end peacefully or in a hail of bullets; a winning team can smother its opponent or be crushed in an upset; a surprise announcement from the White House can preempt space for a local story. A small wire story about an increase in interest rates in Japan may turn into a big local story if it has a major effect on a local manufacturer.
The meeting ends with a general plan for the next issue in place, and the bulk of that plan will normally be seen in the following day's paper, subject to sudden changes for breaking news or the success or failure of journalists in producing the assigned and expected stories.
The editorial department begins moving into a deadline pace by early afternoon. Pressure mounts first on those producing the feature, food, entertainment, and other sections that are less constrained by time and will be the first to go into production. Line editors review story drafts with reporters, request additions or revisions, and then pass on the completed stories to the copy desk where they are edited, given a headline, and laid out on the page.
By afternoon the classified advertising section for the following day is also passed on to production, and any new advertisements obtained later during the day will not be included until subsequent issues.
By mid-afternoon the newsroom begins buzzing with activity as reporters return from assignments, begin banging out their stories on word processors, grab phones to find more information, and pace beside their desks searching for the right word or phrase. Unexpected stories that have developed suddenly during the day are thrust on reporters, who must rapidly develop information and find time in their schedules to write the story. Although some anticipated stories fizzle or must be postponed, most stories included in the news budget are developing or being completed by mid-afternoon.
Advertising sales personnel begin returning to write sales reports and to begin preparing advertising copy for future issues.
Concurrently, a basic plan for the paper to be printed two days later is completed. This plan includes the number of pages scheduled by the publisher or general manager, and is passed on to the advertising department, which creates page dummies indicating the positions of all scheduled advertising.
Production personnel then complete creation of specific ads and begin laying them out on the pages in preparation for the next day's activities. This process continues throughout the afternoon and evening as schedules and the time needed to produce the following day's paper permit.
About 5 pm, senior editors meet again to finalize the news budget. The wire editor outlines the top international, national, and state stories available from news services. The city editor pitches the best local stories. The photo editor presents proofs of the day's best shots. The managing editor and editor then weigh each story in terms of its impact and art. At newspapers with art directors, potential layouts, graphics, and story packages with photographs and illustrations are discussed.
Soon four to eight stories are selected for the front page, for the cover of the local or metro section, and for other sections that have yet to be completed. As the evening progresses, each section will be completed and sent to production in ascending order of importance, with the front page being delivered last.
Because many of the newspaper's customers and potential customers are away from home during the day, circulation offices often stay open in the evening to accept orders, to handle customer complaints, and to solicit subscribers with telemarketing.
Throughout the evening materials and layouts for the remaining sections of the paper are completed in the newsroom and sent to production, with a few pages withheld for breaking news and sports (because of night games). Although production personnel can rapidly remake a page for a late-breaking story, the bulk of the sections and pages must be completed and ready for placement on presses at least an hour before printing time.
Beginning in the late evening hours and lasting long after midnight. Janitorial personnel begin moving throughout various newspaper departments, timing their appearance to coincide with the end of the work day in those offices so that their activities do not interfere with ongoing work.
Press operators typically begin rolling the presses at midnight and, depending on the circulation and capacity of the presses, will finish their printing by 4 am. As papers come off the press line, they are bundled and placed in trucks for delivery to homes and news racks. If the paper delivers to a large geographic area, trucks will begin departing shortly after midnight, as soon as they are filled. If the paper is delivered to a smaller area, they may not depart until later in the morning hours.
Very Early Morning
Trucks deliver bundles of papers to news racks or delivery points where they are picked up by circulation personnel who make home deliveries.
Nationwide, circulation managers strive to have the paper in driveways and on doorsteps before 6:30 am., in time for subscribers to peruse the papers at breakfast and before they go to work. Prompt and punctual as letter carriers used to be, delivery personnel must be prepared to deliver newspapers in rain, snow, sleet, and other inclement weather.
Material above taken or adapted from: The Newspaper Publishing Industry by Robert G. Picard and Jeffy H. Brody ©1997 by Allen & Bacon
Many thanks to Elizabeth at FoLC for her input.