I think the editors down at 18th and Grand are starting to wise up.
I’m seeing increasing signs of The Star serving up a broader menu of stories — primarily more national stories — than the steady diet of local stories, which reflected the off-kilter philosophy that has drained many major metropolitan dailies of their breadth during the past five to 10 years.
When I was an assistant metro editor at The Star, I constantly lobbied at news meetings for big, national stories to run on the front page. Sometimes it happened, but often it didn’t. The editors were convinced that to stop the downward spiral of circulation, they needed a hyper-local product.
With that mind-set, they were simply following the lead of other major metropolitan dailies…and they all went over the cliff together. (Not to say that was the only reason that newspapers have lost their impact with many people.)
That’s the way it was in the newspaper business way too long: When a few papers decided it was time for a “state-or-the-art redesign” or more feature stories on the front page — or whatever — everybody jumped in for fear of missing the boat.
I always thought we needed to give the readers a good balance of stories on the front page and, especially, to give serious consideration to whatever stories The New York Times planned to run on its front page the next day. Late every afternoon, after its own news meeting, The Times sends to papers that subscribe to its news service a list of the stories it intends to run “out front,” as we say.
In my opinion, if a news editor follows the Times’ lead, it’s hard to go too far off course. The Times has the best reporters, the best editors, the best photographers, the best columnists in the country, so why wouldn’t you want to take its recommendations.
While The Star continues to beat the local drum on the front page, it is watching The Times more closely, and, in so doing, giving the readers more of what they need (like far-reaching stories with significant implications) instead of what they say they want (like entertainment news and stories about animals).
For years, while the bottom lines of major dailies have plummeted, newspapers have been chasing the holy grail of “what the readers want.” Hasn’t worked, and the pursuit should have been given up long ago.
In each of the last three days, The Star has run on its front page a major story that The Times ran on its front page, too. (The Times also generated each story.)
On Tuesday, it was a story about the growing wealth gap between members of Congress and their constituents. (It ran at the bottom of The Star’s front page and at the top of The Times’ front page).
On Wednesday, it was the widespread failure of all-metal, artificial hips. (Again, it ran at the bottom of page in The Star and at the top of the page in The Times.)
Today, it was the increasing number of women leaving the workplace and continuing their educations. (The story ran at the top of the page in both The Star and The Times. Hooray!)
Now, you might be asking yourself, “What’s so magical about The New York Times’ front-page story selection?”
Well, in this day of an endless and continuous avalanche of news and information coming at us electronically, all of us can use a compass that helps point us toward what is really important.
In an interview yesterday with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” David Carr, media writer for The Times (and a budding celebrity because he has risen to great heights after beating back the twin demons of alcohol and drugs), explained the importance of perspective.
Trying to assess each day’s torrent of information “whizzing past me,” he said, it’s difficult for him to determine what is important and what isn’t.
He used to think it was “silly,” he said, that editors at The Times spent so much time “organizing the hierarchy of the six or seven most important stories in Western civilization.”
“Meanwhile,” Carr said, “the Web is above them, pivoting and alighting, and all these stories are morphing and changing. And I thought: Well, how silly is this?
“But you know what? I came to want that resting place, where someone yelled stop and decided, look, this is stuff you need to know about going forward.”
Like Carr, I find great satisfaction in that resting place, where experts — having sifted through the day’s news — have done their best to let the rest of us know what we “need to know” in this increasingly complex and maddening world.