Inside the LAT front page

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Campaign Desk, the Columbia Journalism Review's politics site, observes while L.A. Times deputy managing editor Leo Wolinsky builds the paper's front page.

At the appointed time, the editors pile in to the conference room just off the newsroom to discuss what should be on the front page. Unlike the morning meeting, this one is packed, with major section editors or their deputies seated around the table, Wolinksy at the head, and night deputy managing editor John Arthur seated across from Wolinsky at the far end of the table. Baquet sits to Wolinky's left, and the chair to Baquet's left, normally occupied by Carroll, remains empty. Lining the walls of the room are another twenty or so staff members, including the obituary and calendar editors, and a number of staff concerned with graphics, page count, the web site, and others who need to know what is going to be featured...

The consensus is that the procedural defeat of the gay marriage amendment deserves to be the paper's lead story tomorrow. From there, Wolinsky ticks off two others he wants on the front page: the story about PR firm Fleishman-Hillard's alleged overbilling of the city, and an article about Riggs Bank funneling payments to associates of the leader of Equatorial Guinea. Next, he brings up three stories -- a piece on Lord Butler's findings about pre-Iraq war British intelligence, a story about the Butler report supporting the White House's pre-war claims about Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from Africa, and a piece detailing information from a Senate report about Colin Powell's February 2003 speech to the U.N. The last two, he says "are interesting because one tends to knock down claims of the administration, and one tends to support them." He concludes, "I think we have room for one of those."

[fast forward]

Wolinsky concludes on a sardonic note, noting that "Unless the [Fleishman-Hillard] story is completely made up, in which case we go into the drink, they're sunk," and adding that if it isn't true "They'll own us -- we'll be the LA Times office of Fleishman-Hillard" -- the only time I saw him express any concern about the implications for the paper of a story.

What the story doesn't get into is how the front page decisions are made, which is only partly about the discussion at the meeting. But it's an interesting window into the scene. The New York Times front page meetings are, by most accounts, much more engaged and competitive. Link via Romenesko.


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