From us to you: how the news meets the paper


January 09, 1991|By PHILIP MOELLER

Dear Readers:

Bird cage liner or news you can use? You judge.

A year ago, I wrote about how the Business section of The Sun operates. Here's Volume II.

If you've tried to reach us during the past year, you probably know that our communications skills work lots better in print than over the telephone. We've worked hard at doing better, but the volume of frustrated callers who finally get through to me is large enough for me to know that we're not doing a great job.

(If you want to reach any of us, and it's not a time-related emergency, a personal letter remains a very effective means of getting our attention. Although we receive mounds of press materials each day, personal letters are less common.)

Other changes in the past year? Well, we've been hurt by the slowing economy, too. We have less space to display business news than we did a year ago, and we have a few staff vacancies that we haven't filled because of economic conditions. These aren't earthshaking developments, but they do affect how we gather the news and how we display it.

Otherwise, our jobs are much as they were a year ago. The business news department is responsible for gathering and editing the content of The Sun's daily and Sunday Business sections, the Sunday Real Estate section and Maryland Business Weekly, or MBW, our Monday section that will celebrate its second birthday this March. We also produce the Maryland Business Almanac, a 500-page book about Maryland commerce and companies.

Central to most of these tasks is the computerized text-editing system we use to produce the newspaper, which includes the video display terminal on which this column was written, and which can be linked by telephone to personal computers that are in many of our bureaus as well as in the homes of a growing number of writers and editors. All these workstations can be used to write stories, edit them and send electronic mail zinging around our editing system.

(Our use of Apple Macintosh computers to prepare artwork and tabular material has also grown and will likely expand further to handle page design and layout work as well.)

All of our stories either originate in the text-editing system or flow into it, including the numerous stories from wire services to which The Sun subscribes.

After I finish writing this column, I will electronically shift it from my own working space in the system to a more widely accessible "basket," as we call it, where an assistant business editor will read it to see if it makes sense.

From this "basket," the column will then zip to our copy desk, where a copy editor will read it. Questions of fact, points of grammatical style and spelling issues will be addressed and, I hope, resolved. The copy editor will then write a headline for the column, using the headline-type specifications and column width that have been indicated on the layout sheet -- a roughly 8 1/2 -by-11-inch piece of paper that is prepared on the business desk for every page in our sections that contains news.

The chief of the business copy desk will look at the column as well before it is sent electronically to the newspaper's typesetting machine in our composing room. There, it is set into type on glossy, white paper and transferred by a printer to a "board," or sturdy piece of very thick paper, which is the actual size of a news page and which should contain the news and ad content indicated on the layout sheets.

These pages are then turned into printing plates, the presses start to roll and, after the efforts of another thousand people or so, you get a newspaper delivered to your home, nearby newsstand or newspaper rack box.

On the business-news staff, the work described above is done by about three dozen people. Newsrooms have a relatively simple job structure, and our department's staffers occupy essentially four positions -- editorial assistants, reporters, editors and copy editors.

Editorial assistants are the lucky devils who get to answer some of the calls you place to our beleaguered phone system. They also type into our text-editing system a lot of the short stories and lists of information you see in the paper. Our editorial assistants are Tony Waytekunas and Audrey Haar, plus Chau Lam in our New York bureau.

Here are the reporters on the staff, their phone numbers and their areas of specialization, or "beats," as we call them. Despite having beats, writers pitch in from time to time on other stories or special projects. And some reporters are on "general assignment" status; they are purposely not assigned to a beat but report on whatever business news needs to be covered.

Graeme Browning, 332-6935, law and business services.

Leslie Cauley, 332-6672, technology, telecommunications, computers.

Kim Clark, 332-6400, manufacturing, basic industry, utilities.

David Conn, 332-6954, based in Annapolis, covers economic development and business issues involving state government and the Maryland General Assembly.

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