Many reader emails I get are related to questions about why we run certain stories over others. Why don’t you run more news about religion? Or politics? Or housing? Or…
You get the idea.
The truthful (and somewhat smart aleck) answer is: All the news that fits, we print.
What we print, how much and where is almost exclusively a function of three things: “news hole,” our news content providers and time.
“News hole” is just a fancy way of referring to the blank spaces left on the news page after ads are placed there first. (After all, advertising does pay the bills!)
So if there is an abundance of advertising, we might have more pages of news hole to fill but if what we refer to as the “ad stack” – ads stacked atop one another on a page – are in short supply, the number of pages tighten up, which means we have less news hole. (There is a financial model of the ideal ad-to-news hole ratio that people way smarter than me understand.)
On those days when the “book” (newspaper) is “tight” (not lots of news hole), it means we are restricted in how many stories we can run and where because, in print, space is limited. Online, of course, space and length are not concerns (generally).
In these situations, we’re forced to be very selective and really weigh what runs in print, at what length and what we might need to hold for another day.
Since we are not rich enough to afford our own bureaus in Washington or Harrisburg, much less London or Moscow, we are entirely dependent on the wire services for news on a much bigger stage. We are largely beholden to the Associated Press as our main source of national, international, political and economic news. We have two supplementary news providers, NewsCore and MCT News Services, but they cannot match the firepower of AP.
Our news diet is dictated by what the wires are serving on a particular day. Some days the offerings are delectable, other days they are like Brussels sprouts. So you might have read or heard of a story somewhere else but if the wires did not “move it” (transmit it), then we are pretty much a up a creek without a notepad.
Last, time is our enemy. A little more than a year ago, we missed being able to put the death of Osama bin Laden on the front page by about 15 minutes. Confirmation of the biggest news story of the year came after our deadline. I was, um, not happy.
But that is the reality of print journalism. In the web world, you can live in a 24/7 news cycle, and post stories whenever it’s merited.
In print, you have to go with the best of what you’ve got by deadline, otherwise you’d never hear the satisfying sound of the rolled-up newspaper landing in your driveway in the morning.