Clippings: Learning the ABCs of newspapers

A teacher from an area grade school called the other day and asked if she could bring her kids around to find out how a newspaper is made. I told her I’d be happy to share what I knew, and we talked about a day and time for the visit.
After I got off the phone I realized I didn’t know the ages of the kids who would be visiting. I knew they weren’t high schoolers. She might have said something about second grade. Good heavens, what would I have to say to children so young?
Unsure how to prepare, I decided to go for the lowest common denominator — kindergarteners. I read a lot of alphabet books when my kids were in kindergarten, so for the students who will come to visit I created an alphabet list of all the important things at a newspaper.
Here we go:
Ais for Advertising. This is arguably the most important part of the newspaper. Advertisements are a well-read part of the newspaper and a key way for businesses to reach their customers on a regular basis. In addition, in many cases much of the money that pays for the paper, the building and the salaries of the people who put together a newspaper comes from the sale of advertisements.
Bis for Broadsheet. That’s the size of a full-size newspaper — about 22 by 17 inches. Our Thursday edition is a broadsheet.
Cis for Cutline. This is the word we use for what the rest of the world calls a caption. Other important C words for newspapers are Circulation, Correspondent, Columnist and Cute kids and pets, which is what we put on the front of the broadsheet to sell papers.
Dis for Deadlines. Our world lives and dies by them — Daily.
Eis for Editor. The primary responsibility of this job is making sure the stories that reporters write make sense and have all the words spelled correctly. Then, in the afternoon, when his job is done, he goes and plays golf or cards.
Fis for Font. We actually have to make a decision about how the letters on the page look; different letters come in different families of fonts, or styles. You’re reading a font called Times New Roman; the headline is Arial. Other F words are Freelancer(a reporter who gets paid on a per-story basis) and Fish wrapper, which is all that some newspapers are good for.
Gis for “Gee, that’s interesting.” That’s the reader reaction a newspaperman aims for.
His for Headline. If this were a book we’d call it a title, but it’s not a book, so we call it a headline. Another important H word is Humor columnist; only the classiest papers have them.
Iis for Information. This is what we proffer. Some of this information comes from two other I words: Immense amounts of email in my Inbox.
Jis for Journalism, a highfaluting description for what reporters do when they write down what they hear at a meeting then make a phone call later to help understand what it all means.
Kis for Kicker. At the Independent we use this word to denote the two or three bold-italic words above a cutline that act as a sort of brief headline for a photo. In other shops they talk about the kicker as that wonderful quote or morsel of information at the end of the story that leaves the reader with a real zinger.
Lis for Lettersto the editor. This is where readers get to share their opinions on matters of public policy or of broad public interest. Letter writers should be courteous and respectful at the very least.
Mis for Murder. This is what the editor threatens to do to a young reporter when he gets close to blowing a deadline. Occasionally he actually carries out the threat (Did you hear that, Andrew?).
Nis for Names. At a community newspaper an important goal is to get lots of names in print; people want to know what their neighbors are up to and see themselves reflected in our pages, too. We also strive to spell the names accurately, though there’s room for improvement.
Ois for Op-ed. This is an opinion column by a non-staff expert that runs on the page opposite the editorial. We call these “Community Forums.”
Pis for Printer, without which we can’t create our newspaper. Another crucial P is Photographer, probably the second-most important part of a newspaper, behind the humor columnist, and the layout staff, and the ad reps and the cleaning crew and the delivery van driver.
Qis for Queen. The bookkeeper is queen at the Independent. This has nothing to do with the fact that she produces our paychecks and proofreads the Clippings columns.
Ris for Reporter. Do I have to explain this?
Sis for Story. Everyone tells stories; we are lucky enough to get paid to do it. If we come across an exciting story about an event that just happened we shout, “Stop the presses!” I’ve only known one editor who actually did that; he was at my college newspaper. After he stopped the presses he sort of lost his nerve and inserted the breaking story on page 6. True story.
Tis for Typo — ouch! Let’s make T stand for Tabloid, the size of paper that is around half the size of a broadsheet. Our Monday paper is a tabloid.
Uis for Underpants. Why Underpants? Because if you want to keep a group of kindergarteners with you through more than two dozen letters you have to throw in a little comic relief now and then; and what’s funnier to a five-year-old than underpants? Well, perhaps there is Poop, but we’ve already taken care of the P’s.
Vis for Vicki. Every office should have one. Among other things, the Independent’s Vicki answers the phone and greets people at the door in the most diplomatic fashion.
Wis for WWW, which some people say is where all our news will end up one day. I still like to hold paper in my hands.
Xis for eXtra(if you’re so smart, you come up with a word that begins with X and has anything to do with newspapers). In the Olde Days, before online publishing made it possible to update our stories 24/7, newspapers stuck to a very regular printing schedule; but if something really super important happened — like the Titanic sinking or the Red Sox winning the World Series — they would print an additional run of the paper called an “extra.”
Yis for Yak. This is what good reporters do best; it’s how they cultivate sources and get the news. Unfortunately, it’s also what bad reporters do best; they never get around to writing down the stories.
Zis for Zero, which is how many minutes we have left before I have to go meet today’s deadline. Thank you very much for coming. See you in the funny pages.

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