Planning future editions in today’s newsrooms

The struggle between web and print for weekly papers.

I’ve been working in a newsroom for almost five years.

I wouldn’t say the environment has changed drastically, but things are different.

I am now the editor of three papers — two weeklies and one monthly. I started out as a reporter and in a relatively short amount of time, I was promoted to assistant editor and now to my current position.

I not only oversee the newspapers themselves but I also manage two staff members — our reporters Haley and Kayse.

Each week and month, I work closely with them to best plan print and online stories for our three papers.

Granted, I haven’t been in the newspaper industry long enough to know what it was like to have numerous editors, reporters, photographers and other staff members and I have never worked for a daily… But I do know how to plan out the next edition of the papers I oversee.

It can be tricky because each week the size of our paper changes and honestly, we don’t know the size of each edition until the day before we are due to send pages to the press.

At times, this causes stress — either in a good way or a bad way. If a paper is larger than expected, it makes me have to search around for content to run that my readers (or at least what I think my readers) will want to read.

On the flip side, if a paper is smaller than usual, it becomes a different type of struggle — I have to decide what runs in paper and what either goes online only or can wait and run in paper next week.

These are both good problems to have. And they don’t take much to solve, I just have to look at the big picture and make, what I think, is the best decision.

A reader recently wrote in and asked why the Reporter hasn’t been covering accidents, especially those with fatalities.

I was intrigued by this question and I am always happy to answer reader questions.

I want to preface this by saying, our newsrooms do not have the staff to provide coverage the way some community members imagine.

This is not an excuse. This is a fact. We can not be every where at once.

The weeklies and monthly I oversee have 1.5 staff members each. I do a lot more of the behind the scene things while my reporters are busy gathering ideas, taking photos, interviewing sources, writing stories for both print and online along with many other tasks they are asked to do throughout the week.

Times have changed a bit, I imagine, because my staff and I rely a lot more on the community to provide us with information.

This can be true, too for community members. The world is a digital place and if the community wants reports on accidents and other crime related information, it may worth subscribing to local police and fire departments on social media.

They are the first responders, they are the ones on the scene and they would be the ones we eventually get our information from. These local departments have officers that update social media as soon as they can, providing up-to-the-minute details many community members look for.

Back to what we can do: we can’t write stories if we don’t know about things that are happening in our cities. And that is true when it comes to accidents.

When we hear about accidents, we try to get something posted online as soon as we have enough information to do so. Sometimes all it takes is one tweet from the Renton Police Department to trigger us to calling their Public Information Officer for more information.

There are many reasons we would put information surrounding an accident online — one of the main reasons is for public safety. If an accident has closed roads, we want those who follow us on social media or read our website, to know which roads to avoid.

Or if there is a suspect on the loose, we would want to let people know to avoid the area where officers may be searching for them.

We do what we can with online posts but again, we can’t post information if we don’t have information.

The only reason, I can think of right now, for holding a story from our website (and print) regarding an accident or a crime is due to the accuracy of information. Especially those resulting in a death, I want to be sure their next of kin has been notified.

One of my main goals to live by, when it comes to my job, is something my former editor and mentor taught me — you don’t have to be first, just be right.

I don’t feel the need to get the story posted to the Reporter’s website first, I feel the need to inform the public with the correct and most accurate information. This is true with any story.

This now brings me to how I decide what runs in the print edition each week.

Every Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, my staff and I get together and go over what stories, photos and sporting events we have on our schedule for the upcoming week/edition.

As the week goes on, we add in stories or take out a story if something falls through.

Then we get to production day(s) — Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday morning. If something happens Tuesday evening and I decide it is important enough to run in print that week, I will try to work it into the paper.

If I can’t find the room for it or if it isn’t “big” enough to run in print, I’ll save it for the web.

This becomes a little trickier when it comes to accidents/crime stories.

Hypothetically: if a five car accident happens in downtown Renton on Wednesday, Aug. 29 and two people have died, I would get more information either from the police or fire department and get something posted online as soon I can.

By the time Tuesday, Sept. 4 rolls around, if there wasn’t any new information regarding the incident and I don’t have space in print — odds are I will not run that story in our Sept. 7 edition.

This isn’t because I don’t think it is important to the public, I do. But when it comes to weeklies, it is harder to have timely stories in our print editions.

Often with our website, I have to think about stories that are time sensitive. Say, I get information on an event the day before that event, I don’t have time to run it in print but I can get something posted online.

We can use our print edition to go more in depth with stories. We can explore more sides of each story and we can provide interesting articles to our readers.

The two — online and print — are connected but work quite differently from each other. It also takes a different way of thinking to approach what we run online versus in print.

Back to my hypothetical: if an accident happened a week prior to our production day and almost a week and a half before our next print edition — it is too “old” of a story to run in print.

I want readers to pick up a copy of our paper each Thursday or Friday and read fresh, new stories. I don’t want readers to read something they have already seen somewhere else or read a story that happened almost two weeks ago.

This is something I have to consider each week. It makes what we do interesting and it gives my reporters the chance to find different angles to stories they are researching and writing.

I welcome any and all readers to keep asking me questions. I like responding and I like updating you, the best way I can, with what goes on in our newsroom. Especially newsrooms of today.

Reach editor Sarah Brenden by email at sbrenden@soundpublishing.com or by phone at 425-336-4959.

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