Friday, February 1, 2008

Inside The Hatchet - What Makes a Front Page

In an apparent attempt to connect more GW students to school news via the internet, The Hatchet has a new series of blogs covering everything from the school's sports teams to students studying abroad.

Perhaps the most interesting of their six new blogs is 2140 G: Inside The Hatchet, which, according to the paper's web description, gives students "a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the best college newspapers in the nation."

Already, The Hatchet's staff is making good on this blog's promise. In a post from yesterday, editor in chief Jake Sherman explains the process for selecting cover stories, using the Jan. 31 edition of The Hatchet as an example:

At about 6 p.m. each Wednesday night, we have our front-page meeting. Jess Calefati (senior news editor), one photo editor, our production staff and I meet to discuss which stories are worthy of the newspaper’s prime real estate. By that time, I have hopefully read all the stories, placed them down on our server and we can have a discussion about newsworthiness of each piece.

Each of us comes with ideas about stories, the production folks visualize layout and photo staff let us know about art.

It seems to be a reasonable and fair way to decide on the front page of the paper. But, as Sherman continues, we find out that the plan can be overruled:

After the front and inside pages were largely done, I got word from Joanna Shapes and Ben Solomon at Smith Center that they thought the men’s basketball game was front-page worthy. So we had to bump the GW Votes to the inside pages. Joanna had a nice narrative of the game so at
about 10:30, we switched the front page

While some have raised the issue of the newsworthiness of a basketball game, as one student did in a letter to the editor published in yesterday's Hatchet, I question how the spur-of-the-moment opinion of one or two staff members can outweigh an entire meeting's worth of planning. Is this a process that the Hatchet regularly uses? Has there ever been a disagreement over this practice? Does it require more work to redesign the front page because of two opinions? Is this the best way of presenting news to the students?

I hope that Jake Sherman and the other Hatchet staff will continue to talk about this issue and answer these questions in future blog posts. Until then, I hope The Hatchet continues to reveal the inner workings of the paper and how news is covered and reported at GW.


Kyle Stoneman said...

I graduated from GW in '06, and had the pleasure of working at the Hatchet, managing the production and design process for a few years. I can tell you from inside experience that, yes, replacing a story on the front page (especially at 10:30p) does involve quite a bit of work for the production department, at least. It also involves more work for section editors and the copy editor as well, as each time a major change is made to a page, it reverts back to the beginning of its editing cycle.

While I wasn't involved at all with this discussion mentioned in this blog post, I think you're probably misinterpreting the Jake's comments when he says that the front page was changed because a couple people suggested it.

The newsroom (at least when I was there) is a very contentious environment. People disagree all the time and most things are fought over, especially when they involve changing something that's already been decided. Again, I don't know if this was the case in this particular instance, but speaking from my experience, often times the editor of the section whose story is going to be bumped will fight hard to keep that from happening.

I'm confident in saying that there had to be broader buy-in to the decision than just a few people. Also, I think it's worth pointing out that just a few people made the initial decision for front page news in the first place: news editor, editor in chief, photo editor, and production.

Of course they have to maintain the flexibility to change the front page. From a new SA scandal to gas leaks, I've been called back in at 3 or 4 am, sometimes even later, to make changes to the front page as a story developed or broke. I don't think you're arguing that everything should be set in stone once a decision has been made. But the deadline driven nature of news means that decisions have to be made.

Anonymous said...

It's a newspaper, when news happens things change this is true of every paper in the country.

The Post and Times have front page meetings several times a day and the pages change as the news changes. At some point they do lock the front page and it won't change unless something shocking happens or the front may change with different editions.

Since the Hatchet is small and does not have to worry about strict times for an edition to be on newsstands or satellite printing locations they have more freedom to change things and delay them or redo.