How to get a story on the front page: a reporter’s revelation

With news and headlines flickering instantaneously onto homepages before vanishing mysteriously, the front page has become a venerable forum for the best stories and the most compelling articles.

But getting a story on the front page of a newspaper is often a lesson in politics, a New York Times media reporter told me last week.

There are, of course, the leading national and international news stories — health care, New Jersey corruption rings, the moral collapse of the Republican Party — but there are also stories that could appear in any other section.

A story about an orchestra from Newark High School, a story ultimately about hope and class and limits. A story about New York’s plan to shut down part of Times Square so pedestrians can relax in plastic lawn chairs beneath neon advertisements and exhaust. A story about the economy’s toll on flower exhibitions.

These are the stories that may get an editor’s nod for reasons hidden from its readers, he said.

“Sometimes,” he said, “An article may get on the front page because the writer is due for a front page story.” And sometimes, reporters lobby their editors for a front page spot, e-mailing and corresponding to gain a favorable position. After all, he said, journalists want people to read their stories, especially stories that do not sensationalize or bear obvious magnitude, but are more personally compelling. It’s a political process, a cut-throat campaign where reporters seek approval for their written word. A lot of reporters don’t fight for a front page spot, but he does. Because he still believes in print, even as a new media reporter who ironically got his job at the Times because he started a highly successful media blog.

Often, he said, reporters fail no matter how persistent they are, their articles relegated to the front page of the business or the arts section. Inside the paper, out of sight, out of mind for people used to reading transient headlines online.

But sometimes, journalists do succeed in convincing their section editors that their story is front page material, pulling enough sway that their editors pitch the story to their own editors. Support snowballs, and the next morning, the article is one of the six most visible. And the front page, unlike the homepage, lasts all day. A front page byline today is as close to permanent as you get.

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