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Many choices to consider

August 29, 2004|by LINDA DUFFIELD

Not long ago, I was standing in an aisle of a grocery store contemplating boxes of toothpaste.

My dilemma wasn't which brand I wanted - I knew that - but which subset of the brand, based on what the fronts of the boxes highlighted. Did I want to whiten my teeth, fight tartar or have anti-cavity control?

Too many choices, I thought, even as I wondered whether each of the subsets did all of the stuff anyway, but that packaging dictated a variety of boxes highlighting different attributes of the contents of the tube within.

As I continued to hesitate, an older gentleman who was studying the varieties of another product down the aisle looked over at me and commented that he missed the days when there weren't so many choices.

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Amen to that.

Making a selection in the supermarket has gotten harder: You can opt for aspirin or ibuprofen, tension or migraine control for pain relief; butterless, light butter, butter- or something-flavored if you have a hankering for popcorn; and scented or unscented, with or without bleach, and with something to protect the colors of your clothes when it comes time to buy laundry detergent.

Everything from cold capsules to ice cream to - good grief, chocolate - comes in so many varieties that a shopper can spend much too much time making a decision.

And so it is in the newsroom.

Almost everything we do requires making choices.

Reporters must decide what the thrusts of their stories are and write leads to reflect that.

Editors, when writing headlines, must try to choose the most appropriate words that best reflect a major point of the story, and do so in a limited amount of space.

Editors then must decide how hard to play each story, especially those that will run on A1.

Sometimes, the A1 placement is a no-brainer. Major breaking news or a story that covers new ground or contains startling information goes at the top of the page, above the fold.

Frequently, though, the decision isn't so easy, such as when each of the four or five stories geared for A1 have something to recommend their placement at the top of the page. In such cases, the deciding factor may be which has art, or which has that little something that will move it up on the page.

We ran into an interesting situation on Aug. 17 when trying to do the right thing with the story and photos of President Bush's visit that evening to Martinsburg, W.Va.

Right away, you know a story about the president of the United States coming to the area goes at the top of the page. But since Bush's visit was a campaign stop, and not a visit by a sitting president to, say, look over storm damage or announce a federal grant, we had to decide whether to pull the index that runs down the left-hand side of the front page.

After much debate - such decisions are not taken lightly here - we decided that since Bush's visit was a campaign stop, we'd give the story and pictures the top half of the page, but retain the index.

I'm sure some readers - depending on their political affiliation and/or interest in politics - thought we underplayed the story.

I'm sure some readers - depending on their political affiliation and/or interest in politics - thought we overplayed the story.

I'm also convinced that working in a newsroom is a bit like choosing a toothpaste. You check all the information and weigh the options.

Then you make a decision.




Linda Duffield is managing editor of The Morning Herald. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7591, or by e-mail at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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