I had a very nice lunch with a fellow newspaper editor yesterday. It was good to talk shop, and it was surprisingly good for me to talk to someone about the woes and challenges of managing a daily newspaper.
You see, for the past five-plus years, I’ve been a one-person newsroom, making all the assignments (I still called them assignments, even if it was just me assigning something to myself), writing all the stories, shooting all the photos, editing all the copy, designing all the pages, writing all the headlines.
Before then, I had been an assistant metro editor, city editor, managing editor and night news supervisor. Those jobs always entailed juggling reporters, assignments, photographers and handling copy, photos and layout in order to make deadline.
I guess what I hadn’t realized until yesterday is just how much I miss the logistical element of being an editor. Without a doubt, it’s the most frustrating aspect of being an editor, when you don’t have enough reporters to cover a breaking story or you have to send a photographer clear across the other side of the county for a new assignment, but in many ways it makes the job the most gratifying when you finally put the paper to bed and look at all the pieces to the puzzle and think back to everything you had to do to make it happen.
Of course, when you pick up the paper the next morning, it just looks like it was all meant to be the way it turned out, but what many people don’t fully understand is that the front page was blank 24 or even just 12 hours earlier. Most newsrooms have their news meeting at 2 or 3 p.m., at which the editors decide what’s going to go on the front page, which photo is going to be “the centerpiece,” which story will be “the lede,” whether it will be stripped across the top or a “soft lede” over two columns on the side. Many times, an idea will come out of that meeting that means all of your well-laid plans are thrown out and you have to make new assignments and new plans at the last minute.
I remember talking to Terry Winckler, my executive editor at the San Mateo County Times, about our coverage of a certain story. Terry was always the big thinker, “if you’re going to fail, fail big,” who would usually see the forest but not the trees. I was talking to him about contingency plans for the front page in case we didn’t get a certain story in time for deadline (we were publishing three editions per day, an overnight, a morning edition and an afternoon edition, every day — talk about being a logistical editor). Terry told me, “Scott, quit looking for problems.” I replied, “I kind of feel like it’s my job to see problems before they happen and fix them.”
I certainly cut my teeth as managing editor at the San Mateo County Times, assigning eight to 12 reporters, three photographers and managing two shifts of copy editors.