The mission has always been to be right, first
Published 2:29 pm Friday, December 20, 2019
Over the past few days, I and others on the staff have been looking back over the stories and photographs that served to document the events — both good and bad — of 2019.
While looking back, I have also spent time digging through the analytics of our website — vicksburgpost.com — to see what readers of our online product read the most and viewed social media data to see what those who follow our sites engaged with the most.
What is able to be tracked and calculated is interesting for someone who started in this industry long before the internet became a thing.
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Early in my career, much of the focus for a newspaper staff was the next day’s front page. We focused on what stories were worthy of the front page, the size and weight of a headline, the best photographs and the best place to position those items.
Much of that decision making came down to what would end up “above the fold” or “below the fold.”
Stories determined to have the most reader interest were placed “above the fold,” or the top half of the newspaper, so those purchasing newspapers out of a newspaper rack would see the headline, see the photograph and make their buying decision. Stories determined to be “below the fold,” were those still worthy of being on the front page, but were those that might not have captured the eye of the reader.
The bigger the story, the bigger the headline. The better the photograph, the bigger it would appear.
Think back at historic news events. Think of the newspapers the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
A copy of The Post from Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, is framed in our office and reflects the tragedy of that day’s events.
“Kennedy dies after blast from sniper,” was stretched across the newspaper in words as large as the staff could make them, running that headline in three lines.
Another framed copy is from The Post’s edition on Monday, May 7, 1945. In large, bold, black letters read the headline “Germans quit.” You can only imagine the feeling many had reading the newspaper that day.
Today, with the increase of readers reading stories and viewing photographs from their computer or mobile device, the days of “above the fold” or “below the fold” are far less important.
Instead, the news has gone from positioning to timing. It’s more important today to be first, when before it was best to be right first.
I do not look back on my early days in the industry and mourn what was. Instead, today’s newspaper and media industry is more fast-paced and the number of readers consuming content is far more than it ever has. The combined circulation of The Post’s products — both print and digitally — would astound you.
Today, when designing the print version of the newspaper, there are still plenty of decisions to be made, such as placement and what photo joins a story. But while the headline styles and pace of news might have changed, the importance of what we do has not.
Looking back at newspapers from the past year, and those from previous decades has only proved to be a reminder that what we do each day is tell stories, share important information, document the day’s events and do our best to be right, first.
Tim Reeves is editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.