Newspapers go to great pains to tell readers about the barrier between the news and editorial sides. Readers don’t want to believe that the two departments exist on separate planes, however.
The recent stories about the U.S. government’s use of financial records in terrorism investigations have brought us back to the issue of news vs. editorial. The New York Times editorial defending the publication of the story took careful note of the fact that the editorial board was not part of the decision to publish the story. The Wall Street Journal followed suit, although there’s some indication that the news side isn’t happy with the way the editorial side handled the situation.
In my experience, news and editorial are discrete operations. In nearly five years leading the wire desk at The News & Observer in Raleigh, I exchanged pleasantries with members of the editorial board, and once in a while, I had to ask them whether they were planning to run “Doonesbury” when the strip was in the news for some reason. That was the extent of our contact.
But the separation isn’t absolute. I recall a time at the News & Record in Greensboro when the news copy desk breached the barrier. It happened when someone on the desk noticed this headline on an op-ed piece as the first edition of the paper rolled off the press: “A black priest pulls out.”
The headline produced snickers, and the copy editor who normally handled the editorial pages was gone for the day and couldn’t be found. So the news side went into the computer system, found the column, rewrote the headline and resent the page for later editions.
Our decision to sneak over the wall was worth saving the paper from the embarrassing double entendre.