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Is there too much "soft news" on A1?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dick Whitman, Feb 21, 2013.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Every day, I make it a point, first thing, to read every story on the NYT's A1. Like someone noted here at some point, the paper is the assigning editor for America. If you want to be a really informed citizen, this seems like almost a must.

    The problem:

    About half the stories, on a given day, are more like news features.

    And, further, it's difficult to tell what is hard, need-to-know-now news, and what is more of a slice-of-life feature. Today, there is a story on embattled New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, which is more a recap of recent events, a story on the Obama administration's new strategy to court GOP votes on the C.I.A. director's confirmation, which is the epitome of hard news, and a lengthy piece on red tape in New Orleans post-Katrina home repair (so much bureacracy!) that could have easily run in the National Review. It was interesting enough, but didn't seem to be required, pre-8 a.m. reading.

    Anyway, it's even more difficult to differentiate hard news from trend pieces from features on the Kindle, where I read it all. At least the Wall Street Journal includes word counts at the top of each piece. The Times does not.

    The broad questions: Do newspapers need to shift back to using A1 for more hard news, in today's world? And when they don't, do they need to label stories better, both inside and out, both in print and in tablets and their Web site? And, do you feel compelled to read A1 in its entirety? Or the sports front in its entirety? Or do you pick and choose? In other words, even if the NYT did label better as a solution, rather than tweaking its A1 content, should I still be making A1 priority No. 1? Should the NYT gatekeepers guide my news consumption?

    I used the NYT as an example because it's the morning paper I read, but apply it to any paper you'd like, or the industry as a whole.

    The bottom line is that I have about an hour each morning to read the newspaper, and I want to do so as efficiently as possible. Should said newspaper be doing more to help me out in that goal?
  2. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    We usually look for a "reader" for A1, to balance off the "broccoli" stories.

    Not my call, but it's how we do it.

    One is better than half.
  3. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    And everyone does that now, pretty much. It's become the industry standard. I'm wondering if that needs to be re-examined, for any reason, in this era. Has anything changed in our consumption habits that would counsel changing that philosophy?

    Again: I'm not sure. But I do think that, without question, labeling should be better on A1. Sometimes you have to read so far in before figuring out whether a piece is breaking news, trend story, or feature. It's aggravating, particularly on a tablet where the design doesn't hint one way or the other for you.
  4. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    On a slow news day, which yesterday sure as hell was, the Times has a reservoir of more general stories it can run on A1. That New Orleans story has probably been in the can for some time. The amount of news changes, but A1 space never does.
  5. ringer

    ringer Member

    I fully agree that the NYT has gotten incredibly soft when it comes to news value on A1... and the ads at the bottom below the fold seem to be creeping up higher and higher. Like you, I don't have all day to read the paper, so I just read whatever story's in the upper right corner of A1. That one's still reliable as being hard news.

    The sports section is getting ridiculous, too. It's only about 6 pages and the photos are so enormous that there's very little to read. The worst is when they run huge black and white photos... talk about obsolete...and inky -- for those of us who can't stand staring at a screen one minute longer than we're required to for working/writing.
  6. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Wow. Remarkably, the ombudsman wrote about this precise subject this week. Clearly I'm not the only one who has been noticing.


    Essentially, the managing editor in charge of the choices, Dean Baquet, says that the paper favors Times exclusives over the actual news of the day.

    “It’s not a move away from hard news, but more about something that is ‘only in The New York Times,’” he said. “It has more to do with what we think will interest a sophisticated reader. You can’t get away with giving that reader something they’re already aware of, unless you bring analysis or a different approach.”

    This makes me question my commitment to The Times as my first source. Perhaps the Wall Street Journal or USA Today would make a better choice.

    From a marketing standpoint, I understand why The Times is approaching story placement the way it is. But this philosophy does undercut its position as the national paper of record, no?

    How frustrating.
  7. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    The WSJ runs a soft news piece every day on 1A, but the way they the design the front makes it super easy to find and it is almost always a good read, but you know from the placement that it isn't part of the hard news and business stories that they run.

    The LA Times used to run one soft news story on 1A and to set it off, it ran with a red drop cap.

    My paper does something similar but the NYT, 1A everything just runs together. You can't just skim the headline to figure out what kind of story it is.
  8. jackfinarelli

    jackfinarelli Member

    The Washington Post only reaches 50% "hard news" on A1 once in a while.

    On Sundays, it is rare for anything on A1 to be much more than "current events" because much of what is on A1 on Sunday could just as easily have been published three days before or six days later with no degradation in its information value.

    The two other things that the Post has started doing far too frequently on A1 are:

    1. Running LARGE photos that take up way too much real estate on A1 where there might actually be the words of an article reporting on news.

    2. Running sports stuff on A1 articularly about the Redskins and RGIII. Yes, both the Skins and RGIII are very popular in the DC Metro area, but an article for example about his surgery should not be an A1 story.
  9. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Hey, I like broccoli. My broccoli-and-cheddar casserole is the best thing I cook.

  10. Azrael

    Azrael Active Member

    Are we talking about the paper paper?

    If so, aren't we now operating on the assumption that real newshounds are already up to speed on the breaking stuff thanks to the internet?

    And that the online "paper" is pretty rich "on the front" with hard news?
  11. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    That's obviously the approach the Times is taking, right? So the print edition is quickly becoming the New York Times Daily Magazine. I understand why. At the same time, I would enjoy freeing myself from having to follow breaking news all day long. Labeling stories better seems like a good compromise. That way, if I didn't want to spend time reading 50 inches on a priest being fired for drug trafficking, I'd know going into the story that this is a human interest piece about a priest being fired for drug trafficking.

    And, like I mentioned earlier, I like the WSJ's word counts on the Kindle edition.
  12. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    Pretty sure that was me.
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