My journalism class went to check out the fronting meeting at the NY Times today. It is where the editors from each of the major sections (Foreign, National, Business, Culture, Metro, Sports, etc.) get together to pitch their top stories or whatever they have that they think might be good for the next day’s front page. Usually six stories make it to the front, with several more as “refers” where the story is mentioned on the front, but the actual text runs inside. After they hammer out what stories are going to be on the front page (which could change if a big story breaks after the meeting– they can change the content up until around midnight), they have a slide show of the best images of the day and decide which of those will go on the front page.
Sometimes there is a little bit of debate about what goes on the front–not usually, just sometimes. Today, for instance, there was a story they were planning to run about Mitt Romney and his connection to the Salt Lake Olympics. It is sort of part of a series about each of the Presidential contenders and the moment he (or she) became a national figure. The story about Mr. Romney, however, wasn’t written exactly up to front page standards so they were going to put it somewhere else. The National editor didn’t think this was fair because the other nominees have had front page stories and he didn’t see why Mr. Romney’s piece shouldn’t be on the front page, too. They talked about it a bit and finally decided that it needed to be written for the front page, or that it needed to be revised and edited until it was front page material and it needed to be done by the end of the day. If it wasn’t, they might hold it for the next day.
The slide show was very cool as well. They had some great images, but some of their best images didn’t have a front page story to go with it. There were two images of some Palestinian schoolgirls whose school was right by where there was some gunfire between Palestinians and Israelis. One of the images showed the girls lined up in a hallway, some covering their faces, some screaming, and another showed two girls huddled under some desks. They were really great photos, but the story that went with them wasn’t a front page story. The editors discussed having a “floater” and just putting one of the pictures on the front and then referring to the story inside, or just running one of them in black on white on the inside, but they didn’t reach a final conclusion–it would be left for the front page editor to make an executive decision on. They also debated putting two archival shots on the front page–one of Mr. Giuliani being sworn in as mayor for a story about his friendship with some other guy, and another of some Nazis at Auschwitz having a grand old time (there was one of a guy lighting candles on a Christmas tree and another of a bunch of SS men and women crossing a bridge, looking like they were having a grand time–one was even playing an accordion) for an inside story about the National Holocaust Museum, but they wanted to avoid having two black and white pictures on the front page.
Other than that, we learned a little about the layout of the paper, the typefaces, how they decide what goes where and how many pages each section gets, and what would happen if Rev. Billy Graham died tonight. Interesting, but not as cool as sitting in on the fronting meeting. It was by far the coolest school-related event I have been to. Probably ever. There was just something almost tingly about hearing these people decide what the nation is going to learn about first when they pick up a copy of The Times tomorrow.
My favorite quote from the outing: “A newsroom is really just a Kindergarten.” More about school later . . . .
The picture is from my cell phone, so it isn’t great. Sorry! It is of the lobby of the Times building. The walls by the elevators are a really cool orange, and some of the walls in the newsroom are bright red, like the security turn-stalls.