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LAT Memo: ‘We Will Have to Be More Selective About Which Stories Appear in Print’

No more zone local coverage says a memo sent out by David Lauter.

4. We no longer will zone local coverage. That means some stories that currently would run only in Orange County will now appear in the full run. We’re not going to back away from covering significant news from Orange County, which makes up roughly one-fifth of the population of our circulation area. But in a non-zoned section, we will have to be more selective about which stories appear in print. Already, we run some stories on the web only– from OC and from LA. That number likely will go up somewhat.

The memo in full is after the break:


From: Lauter, David
To: yyMetro
Cc: Crawford, Colin
Sent: Tue Feb 24 15:29:46 2009
Subject: Switching to the A section — an update
Greetings all,
Next week, our local, regional and state coverage will move into the A section six days a week. Here’s a rundown on what will happen, what I expect will change in our current coverage and what I hope will not change. Here are the main points you’ll want to know:

1. We will continue to have a California section in the Sunday paper. That’s a change from the original plans. The look and set up of the section will be almost identical to our current Sunday section altho the page numbering will be different. (It will be handled on the presses as the second half of the A section, so the page numbers will reflect that.)

2. Our columnists will run on page A-2 seven days a week. (The current quotes box will go away, and the For The Record box will move to A-4.)

3. The A section will expand to accommodate the California report. We’ll be taking the number of pages now in A plus the number in B and producing an A section with the combined page count. Our space will remain about the same as it currently is. But because the run of ads in the front of the A section differs from the run in B, the space will be configured differently. The California report will begin on A-3 (except on Sundays), and depending on how the ads fall in the section, it could run from A-3 to A-10 or 11. During the early part of the week, we can generally expect a fair amount of open space for display. Later in the week, the A section tends to have more ads, so the space will be more often broken up. Most days, we will not have color on A-3, but we will have color on some of the pages further inside.

4. We no longer will zone local coverage. That means some stories that currently would run only in Orange County will now appear in the full run. We’re not going to back away from covering significant news from Orange County, which makes up roughly one-fifth of the population of our circulation area. But in a non-zoned section, we will have to be more selective about which stories appear in print. Already, we run some stories on the web only– from OC and from LA. That number likely will go up somewhat.

What does this mean for all of you and how you do your jobs?
First, let’s talk about what will not change. We’re still going to have the same mission: to be Southern California’s best and most reliable source of news on the subjects of greatest importance to our state and region. And because we’re still going to have roughly the same space to carry out that mission, our basic story mix will not change hugely. It’s vitally important that as our section configuration changes, we not lose sight of our priorities for good coverage. I want people to stay focused on the significant stories, the ones that really have impact on the communities we cover. In unsettled times, it’s easy for people to react by keeping their heads down and sticking to the routine. But if you keep your head down, you’ll miss what’s really going on. Don’t let that happen.

Overall, the new configuration will nudge us toward slightly fewer features and somewhat higher number of news stories, but we’re still going to want both. Currently, we try to have a mix of news and features on B-1. In the new configuration, we’ll still have a mix of stories, but the mix will be through the entire section, not on one page.

A-3 should be primarily a place for news — both breaking news and enterprise. We want people to open the section and see coverage that gives a sense of urgency. We’ll generally want to put three news stories on A-3. The sort of features that we currently look for as B-1 centerpieces — softer stories with good photos that convey a sense of life in southern California — will still be in demand, but in order to provide decent display of the photos, we’ll generally want to put them on a page with color and good display space. That will often mean running them further back in the section. We’re working with our colleagues on the design staff to find ways to guide readers to those stories so that they don’t get lost in the section.

I know many reporters are worried that moving to the A section will mean that every story has to be shorter. Some stories will, but not every story. Right now, we usually have flexibility in the B section because we have relatively open space. By contrast, the front of the A section tends to have a significant number of ads. That’s a good thing, but it means stories often will have to fit specific spaces on a page and will have to run at a fixed length. If we want to have three stories on A-3 — and we do — one of those stories will have to be in the 12-15 inch range. If we have a page with a 20 inch hole on it, the story on that page will have come in at no more than 20. We’ll try to make page assignments early in the day so that reporters know how much room they have. In turn, tho, I’ll expect reporters and editors to pay attention to the lengths on the budget and deliver what’s promised.

On the other side of the ledger, there will be times when a strong piece of news enterprise runs on A-3 simply because A-1 is full. In a case like that, we’re not going to arbitrarily cut the story in half simply to make it fit. We will have some flexibility to jump stories from A-3. We can run a lower story count on A-3 when that’s needed, and as I noted above, we will have display space inside the section for good stories with strong photography.

In sum, the new lineup that arrives next week will require some changes in our daily routines, requiring earlier budgeting of stories, earlier decisions on lengths and some changes in our story mix. But those changes will be at the margins. The core of what we aspire to — delivering important, high-impact journalism that enlightens and fascinates our readers and enriches our community — won’t change unless we let it. As always, I’m available if anyone wants to discuss all this further.

Best,
David

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