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Slot editor wears many hats

March 07, 2009

On any particular day at The Herald-Mail, an editor has to be in charge of putting out the newspaper.

I am one of several of those people.

So what does the so-called slot editor do?

First and foremost, the slot editor often is the first to edit stories filed by reporters before those stories are placed on the page by other editors.

The slot editor needs to make sure everything in the story is accurate, is not libelous and does not put someone in an unnecessarily bad light.

There is a story budget that comes out every night -- often from the city editor -- that shows what stories go on what pages, so the story is assigned to the copy editor doing that page.

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But things always can change.

The nightly budget meetings usually are over by 5 p.m. and the deadline is 11:30 p.m., which means there are 6 1/2 hours where things can change.

What happens if there is a major breaking news story in the Tri-State area? What do we do if somebody famous dies?

At this point, decisions need to be made and plans must change.

A breaking news story needs to go on the front page. This means a story needs to move off of the front page and onto page A3. Then you need to move something off of A3 to somewhere else. And so on.

The slot editor needs to keep track of the changes and make sure that every story has its proper place in the newspaper.

But these days, the slot editor has more to worry about than just the newspaper.

There is a Web site to keep track of. If there is breaking news, we can send an e-alert to people who subscribe to our breaking news alerts. There also are videos to review.

The slot editor needs to know everything that is going on, or at least as much as humanly possible.

The editor needs to keep track of how the front page editor is laying out A1. The editor also needs to keep track of how reporters are coming along with their stories. Most of all, the slot editor needs to keep track of time and how much of it is left before deadline.

As the night goes on, the slot editor needs to proof pages done by the other editors to make sure they are done correctly. Do the headlines make sense? Are people in pictures correctly identified in captions? Is the TV grid on the Entertainment page for the correct day?

By the time all of the page negatives are checked to send to the press, hopefully we have made deadline.

Of course, the paper needs to be checked one last time once it comes off the press to ensure everything is OK.

The majority of the time, everything is OK. Sometimes, something is wrong that somehow got past the slot editor and everyone else.

We strive for perfection in this business. A mistake-free paper is expected.

Mistakes do happen and it's not easy the next day when you see an error in the newspaper. You consider what you could have done better. But you can't dwell on it because there is another paper to worry about. More decisions to make and another deadline to beat.

And hopefully, you can put another paper to bed and sleep easier when you get home.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at tims@herald-mail.com.

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