One of the not-so-funny jokes we denizens of newspaper copy desks had back in the semidark ages — when blue pens, galley type, hot wax, X-Acto knives and a unionized labor force did the work of a single computer program — involved the elastic page.
That’s the newspaper page that could stretch to add another story or a couple of additional photos. Just as important, it could contract when that basketball game went into overtime or the City Council spent three hours in closed session, leaving a big hole as deadline arrived.
In many ways, the web is that mythical elastic page. When you’re producing news online, you don’t have to worry about word counts or deadlines. You can post as many good photos as you’d like, and you can increase or decrease the number of stories based solely on how much news is happening.
Like other legacy media outlets, the Atlanta Jewish Times is trying to straddle two worlds, taking advantage of the flexibility and limitless capacity of the online world while operating within the unforgiving limits of the printed page.
With actual breaking news, from the good (Federation hiring Eric Robbins) to the tragic (the two young men who fell to their deaths in North Carolina), the combination works well. We get the news online as quickly as possible, then develop the story for the next print issue.
The complications come with feature stories and interviews, things that are valuable but not necessarily timely. With the AJT’s sales staff rolling and filling more pages with ads, space has gotten tight.
We don’t do fewer than 32 pages in an issue, so if we have 10 pages of ads, we have 22 pages of editorial space. But our target is a 50-50 split between ads and news. So if we have 14 pages of ads, we’ll still have a 32-page paper with only 18 pages for news. It’s only when we pass 16 pages of ads that we can make the paper bigger (eight pages at a time) and publish even more news.
All of which is a long introduction to the good and bad of this week’s newspaper.
On the positive side, the combination of graduation season and the primaries Tuesday, May 24, helped boost the ad count. As a result, we have a 48-page paper, one of the biggest issues we’ve had without the help of Passover, Rosh Hashanah or Chanukah.
The negative side: The end of the school year, the elections, and the observances around Israel’s 68th birthday have produced an even greater demand for that extra news space.
So we have a good newspaper this week, including photos from some of the Israel events, a look ahead to graduations and interesting interviews with congressional candidates in the competitive races around North Georgia.
But we should have done so much more. We weren’t able to cover Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations organized by Congregation Or Hadash and Young Israel of Toco Hills, and our election coverage is chock-full of unfortunate compromises. We didn’t talk to all the candidates in the 11th District, for example, taking an educated guess at who poses the strongest challenge to Rep. Barry Loudermilk, and despite sending questionnaires to all nine candidates for the open 3rd District seat, we received only one set of answers.
We didn’t have time or space for stories involving some interesting judicial races, and we haven’t yet asked state legislators such as Republican Tom Taylor of Dunwoody why they voted against the new law barring companies that boycott Israel from getting state contracts.
The bottom line is that I hope you’ll focus on all the good content in this 48-page paper while I worry about how to do it all better next time.