We speak a language of our own

December 15, 2003|by LIZ THOMPSON

We speak a different language in the newsroom.

Oh, it's English, but the definition of some of our words is not the definition you may be used to. In the newsroom, we have a "budget" that has nothing to do with money, we like "evergreens" and we "pitch" our stories.

To explain further, let me tell you about a typical day in the newsroom as we prepare to put out the next day's paper.

As city editor, it's my job to coordinate coverage of various stories and keep track of what reporters are working on throughout the day.


Each morning when I get to work, there already are some stories I know we'll be working on, meetings or events that we have planned to cover. Those meetings and events make up the beginnings of what we call "the budget" in the newsroom.

Our budget is all about stories.

The budget is a list of stories we're working on. It includes what the story is about, which reporter is working on it and whether it will have a photograph or graphic.

That list grows and changes throughout the day. A meeting may be canceled, which means that story comes off the list. Or, something that we determine is more important comes up, so we drop one story and add another.

Breaking news always comes first and stories that we consider "evergreens" may be bumped back a day or two to make room.

An evergreen story is one that is timeless. It is not about an event that has just taken place. It is about an issue or a person and not tied to a specific time frame. Evergreens are those stories which can be held and used just about any time.

At least twice during the day, the editors meet to review the budget. Our first meeting usually is at 11:30 a.m. At most of these meetings, we're looking at budgets for the news pages, the Lifestyle section and the Sunday newspaper. I develop the news budgets and other editors are responsible for the Lifestyle and Sunday budgets.

Editors will meet again at 5 p.m. to review the budget and decide where the stories will be placed in the newspaper.

In preparation for this meeting, the Tri-State editor and I prepare a second list - our Page 1 "pitches." These are the local stories we believe should be considered for the newspaper's front page.

Another editor then will "pitch" stories from the region - Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania - not written by our reporters. Finally, yet another editor will pitch stories from around the nation and the world.

We could have as few as six pitches or twice that many. It depends on what has happened in the area, the nation and the world that day.

The editors then vote on the stories we like best. The four or five stories with the most votes go on our front page.

It's an interesting process that has a language all of its own.

Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or e-mail at

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