Sometimes producing a monthly (well, 10 times a year) news publication is like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle — but with someone swiping some pieces, then adding others.
At times, it seems an effort in controlled chaos.
We start planning weeks in advance with a staff meeting to identify potential articles for the upcoming issue. (Sometimes, we actually do think a few issues ahead.)
From those ideas, we aim for an issue with a mix of articles from different regions and on different subjects, with a blend of news, features and policy.
We strive to provide an overview of top-level issues, but also try to ensure there’s something for everyone — to the extent possible, anyway.
But what starts on the drawing board — actually in a multipage memo — sometimes doesn’t match what ultimately shows up in readers’ hands.
Some articles that we set out to do we find aren’t “ripe” for telling yet, or turn out not to be issues at all. And some of the articles we plan on may take longer to report than we thought, and get pushed to a future issue.
On top of that, we can’t predict the news. While we’re working on one set of articles, others develop. So, while we may “lose” articles, new ones get added for the issue.
And, increasingly, we’re also juggling into the mix new articles and blogs for the website. If an article goes online first, we often try to update it for the print edition, further complicating our planning attempts.
When articles are written, they need editing, which sometimes means rewriting and additional reporting. Then, they are edited again, copy edited for grammar and style, and given a headline and laid out on pages.
It’s difficult to predict, before an article is reported and written, how long it should be. That makes it a challenge to plan where they should go within a particular edition. Some fit on a single page, but some packages of related articles may need three or four adjoining pages. At that stage, putting the issue together really is akin to doing a jigsaw puzzle, as the articles often get moved around inside the issue as the deadline approaches to make everything fit.
After that, the pages are proofread — usually by at least three people. By that time, on the eve of going to press, the issue often has little resemblance to what we thought it would look like a few weeks earlier.
And sometimes things pop up without warning. That happened this month when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Exelon Corp. announced an agreement about the future of fish passage at Conowingo Dam, only about a day before we were to hit the “send” button to ship the issue to the printer.
That decision affects the movement of fish in the Bay’s largest tributary for the next half century, so it’s a big deal. We reported it first online, then with more detail put together a print version that hit more of the highlights of the agreement. We’ve put it where we could fit it at the last minute, on page 11, by holding something else. But this is such an important topic that we will be back to cover it in more detail in the future.
We’re not the New York Times’ (“all the news that’s fit to print”) but we’re not exactly Rolling Stone (“all the news that fits”) either. I like to think that most of the time, our controlled chaos yields a publication that helps our readers piece together what’s happening around the Bay — at least as space and time permit.