The new Page 1 Story

It’s that time of year again, when journalists all take their vacations, the B-teams take over to deal with any breaking news (like, say, an unscheduled mob shooting), and the news media fill the lack of news with retrospectives of the year gone by, the journalistic equivalent of a clip show.

The Gazette devotes a page a day over 10 days to the subject, looking back at both 2009 and the 2000s as a whole.

Dave Bist, a highly-respected senior news editor at The Gazette, wrote one of those year-in-retrospective stories for Sunday’s paper about the Michael Jackson story, and his decision not to tear up the front page to run with it.

His reasoning was that by the morning after, everyone would have known that Jackson was dead (including readers of, where the story was played up), and because The Gazette had nothing original to offer on the story (the original plan for A1 had a Gazette exclusive, albeit a small one). So instead, Jackson took over the skybox above the Page 1 flag, as well as a large part of the Arts section inside.

It’s a decision that makes sense, but wouldn’t have 15 years ago before the creation of the Internet. Though I worry a bit sometimes about newspapers being so desperate to “advance” a story that they neglect to mention what actually happened for the record (like, say, “Man walks moon“). People still pick up newspapers even if they know what the story is, just to see it on paper. Barack Obama’s election, the Alouettes’ Grey Cup win, or the next Canadiens Stanley Cup, which should come any time now. If I pick up the paper, I want to see “Canadiens win Cup”, not “RDS hurries to schedule parade coverage after NHL playoffs end early”, even if the latter advances the story.

And while the print world considers what to do about their front pages, the online world is still trying to figure out how to balance so-called “top stories”. Right now, the emphasis seems to be on time more than importance – big news websites are expected to change their top story on an almost hourly basis, unless the story is so important that it trumps all others. People complain when they see that the top story is about some recent traffic accident or something sports-related, but they’re applying the old newspaper Page 1 logic to the Internet.

I’m still conflicted about it. This blog is strictly chronological, so an important feature might be pushed down by some funny cat video I found online a few minutes later. That clearly doesn’t work for a large media organization that has so much content that nobody should be expected to read it all. But keeping the same story up for hours or even days at a time makes it boring and discourages people from coming back.

Ideally, we’d have a dual system, where you can check the top story on the homepage or see the stories posted chronologically, depending on your preference (the Toronto Star is trying something like that). And, of course, tagging, RSS feeds and topic pages means the homepage won’t be the point of entry for many visitors.

So maybe this whole discussion will become irrelevant.

2 thoughts on “The new Page 1 Story

  1. Mitch Joel - Twist Image

    I’d love to read The Gazette’s perspective on Michael Jackson’s death… and that’s the point. Yes, we saw the news on CNN, Fox, Twitter, Blogs, etc…, but people who live in Montreal want the Gazette’s perspective on global events (I hope they don’t forget that). And why not couple that with a local perspective? Ask local artists what this means to them. Have people who attended his concerts or Montreal’s biggest MJ fan speak their peace.

    From my side, a local paper focuses on the local issues (duh) but then adds the local perspective to the global ones.

    That seems unique and good enough to buy to me… the trick is in making the quality journalism money-worthy.

    That’s another discussion.

    (full disclosure: I write a column for the Montreal Gazette).

    1. Fagstein Post author

      But would The Gazette’s perspective on Michael Jackson’s death be that much different from that of the Ottawa Citizen or Vancouver Sun or New York Times? The point behind most wire services seems to suggest that local perspectives on non-local issues aren’t valuable enough to require a re-reporting of the news. That’s also why there are fewer reporters in Washington, Ottawa or other capitals – why have two people write the exact same story for different papers when you can have one write for both?

      As an editor, I know the value of local perspective. Wire stories are often edited to insert or enhance any local connection, though even that art is fading with the crunch of professional copy editors in the business.

      But I also know that there’s little use in trying to get a local reporter to write about Michael Jackson on deadline compared to taking a New York Times or Los Angeles Times report and republishing it.

      The local perspectives ended up being a second-day story. Things like an interview with a local mime who uses MJ moves, for example. That’s what local news can do well, and that’s what they did.


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