Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An Evening at the PG Newsroom

Watching the work of Hugh Cutler, the international and national editor at Post-Gazette, is fun. You go through a plethora of news from around the world.

He starts his work from home. He wakes up at around 11 a.m. (having left the office at 11 p.m. the previous day, which seemed fair enough). As he prepares his breakfast, he listens to NPR, reads wire news in his computer and watches TV news.

At the office, the final budget meeting takes place at 4:30 p.m. By then, Frank Reeves, his colleague at the section, would have prepared a rough budget. “When I attend the evening budget, I have usually an inkling to the stories for the next day,” said Hugh. At around 5 p.m., he starts gleaning an array of news from around the world. He reads the lead of each story and goes further if it draws his attention.

His main worry however is the space he is allotted to in the newspaper. The international page (usually one page) has room for only about three to four news stories (and a picture) and five briefs of world news. He also looks after the national page, which has three pages with five news briefs.

By 6:30 p.m., he prepares a one-page budget (“I hate a budget that is more than one page”) which he circulates to his colleagues. Hugh, an ex-US Army who was a Japan correspondent of Stars and Stripes, a Pentagon mouthpiece, is waiting for his slice of pizza to arrive. Friday is a pizza day which makes work a bit of fun, he said.

As the evening surrenders to the night, the newsroom of Post-Gazette looks busy, middle aged editors hurrying to complete the job at hand and head home. Hugh relishes the 90s when newspapers were not shrinking (“those were our heydays”) and had enough space for news coming from outside America.

Post-Gazette which has a history of almost 200 years--is a local newspaper covering mainly Western Pennsylvania. But Hugh’s job is to provide the PG readers a window to the outside world. How does he give priority to/select the news? “I ask myself, why is this news important for American readers?” he answered.

As it clocks at 7 p.m., he starts editing the news provided by wire services: AP, McClatchy Newspapers, Washington Post, and LA Times, among others. On that Friday evening, the headlines were as follows: China’s earthquake (a day drill to relocate a million Chinese), Burma (junta forcing cyclone victims out of refugee camps), withdrawal of Fulbright grants from Palestine (it was published on that day's New York Times). These were the long stories Hugh selected from the wire services while Pakistan, Bolivia, Iran, Vatican made it to the brief news section.

At 8 p.m., I left the office. At that point, Hugh was in the middle of editing one of the stories, having the pizza. I was rushing home imagining a delicious Nepali meal I was going to have.

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