“The definition of important news has pushed into new areas….The changes were often distressing to the old guard.”

From an “Inside the Times” story by Suzanne Daley headlined “A More Organic Front Page Process”:

The front-page meeting was a place where the newsroom’s best minds would choose the day’s most important stories. . . .

The types of stories that appear on the front page have changed mightily over the years. In the 1980s, government announcements, ceremonial meetings between world leaders and stories based on newly released reports often dominated the page, as did pictures of mayors and businessmen standing behind lecterns.

Since then, the definition of important news has pushed into new areas. Analysis, lifestyle and original reporting began to edge out yearly stories about the Macy’s parade and particularly hot or particularly cold days in New York.

The changes were often distressing to the old guard. When I was named National editor in 2005, a retired managing editor who had once taken an interest in my career took me out to lunch to celebrate. But he could not stop talking about what he saw happening at the paper.

How, he asked, could a story about how some parents in America were trying to mimic the toilet training habits used in foreign countries have made its way onto the front page? “That is a subject for the Style section!” he railed.

I couldn’t have disagreed more. Someplace in the world there is a 7-month-old baby who doesn’t need diapers at night? That has to interest just about anybody who has ever had a child. But trying to breach the boundaries was not necessarily a good thing for your career, either.

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, counts himself lucky to have survived his decision in 1997, when he was National editor, to offer a story for A1 about teenagers who, fearing AIDS, were engaging in more oral sex.

The room went silent, Mr. Baquet recalls. The assistant managing editor running the meeting that day slowly let his head drop until his forehead hit the table. The story did eventually make its way into the paper, but not onto the front page.

Today, Mr. Baquet notes, the story wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. “By today’s standards,” he says, “it reads like a science story.”

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