The Atlanta Journal-Constitution front page of April 20, 2019.

Opinion: Bringing readers a ‘Daily Miracle’ of trusted journalism

It’s 8 a.m. on a typical morning. As Metro Atlanta slogs its way to work, a group of editors at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is taking part in one of its first news meetings of the day.

With that, the clock begins running.

In just 13½ hours, our printed newspaper goes “to bed.” By 9:30 p.m., we’ll send our last page to the pressroom so that the latest edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution can continue its journey from our newsroom, through a maze of massive machinery, and into the hands of our carriers before it reaches its ultimate destination.

All in time for your first cup of coffee.

Since 1990, I’ve worked in newsrooms around the country – from Trenton, N.J. to Seattle; from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Atlanta. Yet, after nearly 30 years, I remain amazed by what is known by journalists around the globe as “The Daily Miracle.”

Several weeks ago, I was reminded of that magic – and the special group of people that make it all come together – when The New York Times published a photographic essay, aptly titled “The Daily Miracle.”

The project showcased the people and the mind-boggling machines that produce the editions of The New York Times distributed around New York City. The printed newspaper, The Times wrote in its special section, “bows to no product in the modernity and total awesomeness of its production.”

That led me to think about our own version of “The Daily Miracle” – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – the same newspaper that has been serving metro Atlanta for 150 years.

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Have you ever wondered how the newspaper comes together, day after day after day?

Well, it all begins at that 8 a.m. meeting, where each editor in our newsroom outlines the important stories their teams are pursuing. By the start of that meeting, many of our reporters have already been hard at work, posting stories on AJC.com so that you know whether you’ll need an umbrella when you leave the house or just how long it’s going to take you to get to the office.

After that meeting, a team of print editors begins making decisions on which stories will appear in your printed newspaper – and where – paying careful attention to our reader research.

Based on that research, we know, for instance, that you come to the newspaper for our investigative and enterprise reporting; our intensely local coverage of your community; and the context and understanding only we can provide.

As the morning ends and the afternoon begins, it’s time for another meeting.

At our 1:30 p.m. news meeting, many of the editors who took part in the morning huddle reconvene, sharing information on where stories stand and providing updates on any new stories that have “broken” since we last met.

At this meeting, we try to finalize our A1 lineup – settling on the four or five best stories of the day that will appear on our front page.

Of course, there are often major developments throughout the day and into the night. It’s not unusual for us to scrap our plans and start over – no matter the hour.

With so many decisions to be made, and so many words to be edited, we aren’t always as perfect as we would like. We encourage readers to offer their feedback and their suggestions and to engage with our reporters and editors to learn more about our decision-making.

That feedback, after all, only helps us improve.

Throughout the day, our senior editor for visuals works closely with the journalists in her group to ensure that each story is accompanied by the most compelling photographs and video – both for digital and for print. Other editors work side-by-side with their reporters, crafting stories that are fair and balanced; that help you understand the complexities of important issues; that empower you to take action or make informed decisions.

As the afternoon unfolds, our print team closely follows the day’s national and international developments. Of these stories, which of them have the most impact on our readers? Which rise to the front page or appear on A2 and A3 – our other home for “Today’s Top News”? Which require local reporting so that we can bring the world home and reflect the Georgia angle?

At this step in the process, it’s time for our copy editors and designers to begin their work.

Copy editors edit stories before they are published, searching for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. They write headlines – some of the most important words on a page – and try to ensure stories meet our high standards.

As their name implies, our designers transform blank pages into works of art – settling on just the right ratio of words to photos. They, too, remain mindful of bias and balance and make sure each page strikes the appropriate hierarchy – by that, I mean that the most important stories are displayed in the most prominent positions.

The hours fly by, and it’s now 6 p.m.

As most of metro Atlanta heads home from work, our Braves writer has already spent most of the afternoon at the ball park.

Our County by County pages are nearly completed. So, too, is our daily Living section.

Reporters and editors are wrapping up their stories and pursuing others that have developed.

Over at the A1 desk, a group of editors continues looking at early designs and mock-ups of the front page.

Final deadline is just hours away.

And that’s when you begin to see it: Thousands upon thousands of words have formed paragraphs. Paragraphs have blossomed into stories. Pages of newsprint, once blank, have become permanent pieces of history that will live on forever.

At 9:30 p.m. the final pages are sent to the pressroom, where our four-story press begins churning out 800 newspapers per minute.

The next day, the entire process of assembling a newspaper begins again with another 8 a.m. meeting.

After all, there’s a new day that must be chronicled and documented. There are blank pages to be filled. New stories and headlines to be written.

The newspaper business is the only one in the world that creates an entirely new product day after day after day.

That’s why it’s called “The Daily Miracle.”

And our newsroom couldn’t imagine doing anything more exhilarating – or more important.

Mark Waligore is Senior Director and Managing Editor of the AJC.

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