'Making it fit' is very rewarding

September 02, 2002|by BILL KOHLER

Jerry Seinfeld, who needs to make a return to the limelight in some form soon, once opined, "Did you ever wonder how they get all those words to fit in the New York Times?

"Do they have some guy sitting around counting all the words and pages to make sure no words fall off the bottom?

"What's the deal with that?"

The deal, Jerry, is not quite so complicated, yet not so elementary, either.

At The Herald-Mail, as well as at hundreds of other daily newspapers and most weekly publications in the country, the process of "making it all fit" requires many elements, including communication, proper planning, organization, a little imagination and plenty of practice.

My job as Tri-State editor is great because I get to do a little of a lot. In other words, my job includes not just working with reporters, but also page design and assignments.


At bigger newspapers, making it fit is usually the job of the copy editor. At smaller papers, it can be handled by graphic artists or the actual front-line news and sports editors.

No matter who does it, it boils down to those five elements mentioned earlier.

It starts with communication. Editors talk to reporters who tell them the stories they will have for that day's paper. They discuss story lengths and sidebars and when the reporters will be filing the stories.

Next, the editor ascertains his art (very fancy wording for "making sure he or she has a picture.") This is where the proper planning and organization come in. Assignment editors like me need to make sure not only that stories are covered, but also that there will be photos to accompany the story.

Not only are photos a key component of newspapers and design, they are an integral part of "making it all fit." Our photo staff does a great job of supplying the editors with a variety of photo choices so we can better lay out the pages in a sharp and attractive manner.

Next comes the imagination part. When I tell other people about my job and designing pages, I tell them it's like putting together a big puzzle. The pieces are the stories, headlines, photos and captions. You move them around - using rules, style and guidelines established by the paper and the Associated Press - so they are attractive to the eye and with the most important stories closest to the top.

Now comes the hard part: Making it all fit, literally.

With a page of all local stories that do not continue to another page, it makes for a challenge to reporters and editors. The reporters know they must write concisely or the story will be returned to them for cutting. The Tri-State reporters write in the inverted pyramid style (best stuff at the top of the story and descending in importance from there) so that makes it easier for me to cut from the bottom, if needed.

The most important part in making this work is to make sure reporters and editors are clear on the size of the story (we talk in inches) and that both stick to it.

A challenging part comes when the page is already designed and a reporter comes in with a story chock-full of good stuff from a late meeting or spot news event. Then it is sometimes necessary to cut a few lines from other stories or have the reporter scale back the breaking news story to cut out any redundant quotes or phrases.

Again, it comes down to communication.

Oh, and I almost forgot. A little magic dust sprinkled on your keyboard doesn't hurt either. Managing Editor Linda Duffield has reminded me how sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It's an unspoken rule in this business (and the nature of it, in fact) that no matter how well you plan, things are bound to happen. And then it requires a little flexibility, quick thinking and, of course, a little luck.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of the Morning Herald. You can contact him at 1-800-626-6397, extension 2023, or by e-mail at

The Herald-Mail Articles