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This article by Richard K. Rein was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Newspaper Logic

My fifth grader came home from Community Park School

in Princeton the other day with a math problem that went something

like this:

GERALD + DONALD = ROBERT

The letters in each name represent a different number, from

zero to nine. What numbers are represented by each letter so that

the mathematical equation works out?

As my 11-year-old quickly pointed out, T has to be an even number

because D+D is the same as D times 2 — always even. And G plus

D (and R by itself) have to be nine or less — otherwise the answer

would have an extra letter. This reasoning is similar to what you

go through figuring out how to create a more or less coherent issue

of a newspaper such as U.S. 1. But if you can’t follow the little

fifth grade math puzzle above, don’t worry. The logic needed to put

out this newspaper is not nearly so demanding.

For whatever reason — maybe the need to write my own emergency

contingency plans in case the terrorists strike and leave everything

in place except me — I have been trying to articulate exactly

what I do in my role as editor of this humble journal. Last week I

considered the elements of editing a single article. This week I am

trying to describe the process by which a single issue gets put together.

Let’s begin with the math. Every Friday morning ad sales people Diana

Joseph-Riley and Martha Moore run a preliminary total of the number

of column inches booked into the next week’s paper, as tabulated by

a data base designed to keep track of those ads. Kathleen McBride

Sisack and I refer to another data base that tracks each issue, how

many pages it was, and how many inches of ads it contained. From that

we guess at the number of pages the issue should contain.

For the issue you hold in your hands, the initial guess was 56 pages.

But then we realized we had a fairly substantial feature story we

wanted to use as a cover story, and that we were already pushing the

limit of how many ads would fit into a 56-page paper. So we increased

it to 60.

Then Sisack and I conferred with Preview editor Nicole Plett. Her

section goes together first and its size would determine the number

of pages left for the rest of the paper. The choice is typically between

24, 28, and 32 (turn to page 17 of this issue and note how it is physically

connected to page 44, the back cover, and you will realize why this

section always comes out in four-page increments). For this issue,

based on Plett’s needs for her stories, we carved out the space for

a 28-page Preview. That meant 32 pages were left for the front and

the back, making page 16 (half of 32) the last page before the Preview,

and page 45 the first page after the Preview.

So that’s how it stood on Friday, and Plett forged ahead with her

section, filling it with the day-by-day listings, and eight reviews

and features, including two written by herself.

Then came the dark cloud of that slightly less than fifth grade logic.

Just as a fifth grader might take a guess at the values for D and

T in the problem above, and then two or three places later discover

that they just don’t work out, so we at U.S. 1 have to consider a

mid-course correction in our layout. That 28-page section might work

for Plett, but will the Survival Guide section edited by Kathleen

McGinn Spring fit in its space? And what about the cover story and

Life in the Fast Lane section edited by Barbara Fox? It has those

pages in the back, minus the space taken up by the classified ads

and this column.

Those sections also need the right amount of space; otherwise the

balance of the paper is disrupted. Without the possibility of back

tracking, the Survival Guide section in the front could end up running

into the classified section in the back — not good.

On many a woeful occasion, we have discovered that the guess on Friday

didn’t work on Monday. That often means that our Sunday guy (me) has

to take apart some portion of what was all tied up on Friday (often

his very own handiwork), and either make the entire paper bigger or

smaller by four pages, or the Preview section bigger or smaller by

four pages.

But this past Sunday the sun broke through. Survival Guide fit neatly

in its space. Preview was good at 28 pages. The back half of the paper

was a challenge. The cover story on Universal Display Corporation

filled the paper up to page 50. But classifieds ran shorter than usual,

and we needed something to fill pages 51 to 55. Barbara Fox had a

story ready that would have quickly taken most of that space, but

it also would have confronted readers with one more long story dealing

with technological matters.

Instead Fox went back to the writing mode and got a dozen or so small

stories into print. We expanded the Between the Lines section to print

a backlog of letters, thereby tying page 2 of the paper to page 55.

Everything fits, with no silly space fillers at the bottom of news

columns. Now we can tear it all apart and start over. Perhaps the

fifth graders can help.


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