Living in the New York Times World

–SNIP– To illustrate: how could I, as a partisan newspaper editor and staff, guide the opinions and stance of my readers?

— I could ignore a story, which would convey a lack of relevance to the issue: if inquiries were made, I’d note that there are many newsworthy events in our city, nation and world but we have woefully limited space.

— I could kill a story without explanation: it’s my prerogative.

— Every story can have an infinite range of headlines and they act as both “eye-hooks” and summaries for readers. I can lead the same story with “Democrats find unity at meeting” or “Democrats struggle with divisive issues”: neither is correct or incorrect but they’ll attract and affect readers differently, and leave memory traces for later review at the water cooler. It matters little that I, as editor, write almost no stories or that those who pen the stories and headlines often have little contact with each other: essentially all of us, hired by like-minded superiors and continually nurtured and shaped in our makeshift groups, tend to have similar ways of looking at the world. Dissenters get a polite smile but don’t last long.

— I could finesse the affect — the emotional underpinning — of a story or headline, thereby managing the emotional response: “Republicans take tough but necessary stand on entitlements” versus “Republicans once again choose to deprive the needy of food”.

— I could shift a story’s location. It’s our job to know which page, what area of a page, what font, what color, etc., attracts a reader’s attention. I can move a story from the number one attention-getting spot to a spot in the teens: I have a rough idea about the decrescendo in the number of readers’ eyes as they move through the front section of a paper. I know that almost nobody under age 20 will make it to page 12. If I give a cohort of readers 10 minutes to peruse section one, I can pretty much guarantee, through story placement, headline choice, leading paragraphs, buried information, etc., that certain stories and data will be noticed and responded to in particular ways; others will be overlooked or will simply not exist for huge swaths of the population who rely on The Times and its cascade for reliable information.

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