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Ed Thiede
Assistant Managing Editor, News Desk
Wednesday, March 22, 2006; 12:00 PM

This Week: Ed Thiede, assistant managing editor, News Desk, was online Wednesday, March 22, at noon ET to discuss the layout and design of the A Section, Metro and Financial, including recent changes in the design of the Metro section.

The transcript follows.

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Ed Thiede: Hi everyone. Welcome to today's chat. As AME for the News Desk, I help select stories and photos for Page One and oversee story and photo play and design inside the A-section, Metro and Business. I also keep in contact with designers in Sports and Style. This is the second day of a reorganization of the Metro section with new labeling and (I hope) better packaging of stories. I also helped oversee the redesign of the Federal Page and the new Page Two. Those changes started last month in the A section. I'm interested in your thoughts on any of these changes or general questions about The Post. Let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: The Metro section seems to be changing weekly. Something different all the time. What gives?

Ed Thiede: One thing readers do not appreciate is radical change in any section. That's why we rolled out the Metro redesign slowly. The key rail (replacing the columnists on the front) first. John Kelly and Federal Diary moves second. New labeling and the move of the lottery next. We have some more changes planned for the section. They'll be coming over the next few months.

What's next in Metro?

Don't tell anyone in Metro, but we are looking at better obit display, some new features for page three and maybe some standing features on Page Two.

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Clifton, Va.: Move Barr's column back to Metro were it belongs. Change for change sake is stupid.

Ed Thiede: Barr writes about Federal workers. Business is a section about the workforce. John Kelly has always been a Metro columnist, but his column ran in Style. We needed to move John to get room for more puzzles in Style, so it was a good time to move Barr, too.

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Washington, D.C.: How does a person submit a press release to The Washington Post?

Ed Thiede: You can fax it to the correct department. First determine whether it is a Business or Metro or National news story. Then call our newsroom and they can give you the correct fax number.

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Arlington, Va.: In my opinion, the paper crams too many stories on A1.

These are huge stories, yet because of the news traffic jam they run without any graphics or images to draw readers into them.

As a result, vital news can't get readers interest, meaning you haven't done your job of conveying the days news.

Would it be so bad to start a couple of them on A3 or A5, with intriguing visuals?

Or is there too much newsroom politics that certain stories MUST get on the front?

Ed Thiede: There were days, a few years ago when we "crammed" 8 stories on Page One. Now we limit ourselves to 6, and twice within the last week I believe we held it to 5. It's difficult. There are a lot of good stories in The Post.

I love the idea of more room for VISUALS. That's a necessity. But please compare today's A1 to an A1 from 4 or 5 years ago: We're taking steps to make The Post a much more visual paper.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you explain why the newsroom decided not to run the Moussaoui memo story on the front page? This is a story that could potentially explain the FBI's incompetence regarding 9/11 and demands the public attention. You decide to devote a story on Global Warming that included a quarter page picture. While I agree climate change is an important issue don't you think the memo story deserves more attention?!

Ed Thiede: Ahhh. For everyone who wants fewer stories on the front, there is another person who sees a story inside and wonders why. We have had the Moussaoui trial on the front -- did just the day before. Today's story follows on yesterdays a1 lead story nicely -- so your question is a good one. But the trial is continuing and I am sure there will be more chances to put it on A1

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Ohio: Bring back Ted Rall's comic.

Ed Thiede: I don't know what that is. Can someone help me?

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Washington, D.C.: I can't find today's Quote of the Day on Metro, p. 3. Did they do away with it? I hope not, I liked reading that everyday.

Also, what happened to Style's Animal Doctor? That used to be in the paper every Tuesday and it's not anymore. Is it gone too? Did I miss an announcement?

Ed Thiede: And yesterday's quote of the day (about a Virginia story) was in the Maryland briefs. Hmmm. Obviously we have some rethinking to do there. Seems page 3 would be a good place to anchor that.

As for Animal doctor, it is moving to the Extras (published tomorrow) but some of the Extras won't be getting it. Hope yours is one that has the column. It's not in my Extra, and I miss it, too.

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Glenn Dale, Md.: Our family is hosting an exchange student from Japan this week. He would like to become a journalist, and so I'm writing to ask whether you have suggestions for sites we can visit that may interest him. (Too bad the Newseum closed!)

Ed Thiede: The entire city is a journalist's haven. The museum was a good site, but just being in DC is inspiring for so many of us.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How many editions do you produce each night? And besides sports scores, how rare or common is it for the editions to change substantially over the course of a night? (I'll bet your biggest daily nightmare is the big story that breaks five minutes before deadline, right?)

Ed Thiede: We publish three editions. The second edition goes to most subscribers (Home edition) and the third edition goes to news racks and outlets. We rarely make many changes other than sports stories and scores after the second edition -- but we do go into quite a few pages to fix typos, fact errors, improve headlines, etc.

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Ed Thiede: My biggest nightmare is a day with nothing to lead the paper (a day with limited news). I love breaking news.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Just curious ... can you recall any time in your tenure at The Post that a front page story was contained on A1, that is, didn't jump inside? As someone who reads The Post on the Metro, I would welcome some non-jumping stories every once in a while.

Ed Thiede: Other than an announcement, I have never seen a story contain on Page One. I think fewer jumps is a great idea. Short stories that contain, and fewer stories on section fronts (as another chat participant suggested) cut down on jumps.

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Arlington, Va.: Mr. Thiede: If the choice had been up to you, would you have run the Danish cartoons in the Washington Post? If not, why not? Thanks.

Ed Thiede: If it were up to me, I would not.

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Arlington, Va.: "...to discuss the layout and design of the A Section, Metro and Financial"

You mean, on physical paper? I'm surprised the Washingtonpost.com even allowed your side of the business to chat here today, being that they keep stressing that they are separate from the actual paper.

Ed Thiede: What a mistake! Can I use this space to say BUY A NEWSPAPER!

They are separate, but we work together. And in many ways I see our web site as an edition of our newspaper (that would make 4-plus editions). I love going to it for updates in the morning and for repackaging of news as the day goes on. But I start my day with the newspaper. Even though I read hundreds of inches of material in the paper before I go home each night, there are still great surprises when I pick it up in the morning.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Your new design makes it much harder to find "In the Loop" on the politics page. I never know where it's going to be. Please put regular columns in the same spot all the time!

Ed Thiede: Sorry about that. We moved Kamen to the top. And we use art in his column almost every day (we did today). It is still on the Federal page (and has a great following from regular readers). We just wanted to make sure that casual readers discovered it, too.

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Washington, D.C.: I've enjoyed reading the Metro columns by Marc Fisher and Courtland Milloy, but as a newcomer to D.C., I don't know anything about either of them. Couldn't the Web site link to bios for them (or any of the opinion columnists, for that matter)?

Ed Thiede: Good idea. I will leave this to the editors at Washingtonpost.com to get on.

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Frederick, Md.: Though I am 55 years old I love to read the Kid's page in Sunday's post. Often the kid's page does not come properly folded and when you insert 1/4 page ad section I despise it. I have to remove added ad insert and it is so oddly shaped. I love the Flashback (History) section in the cartoon page. This is very educational and entertaining.

Ed Thiede: Sunday Kids page (and the daily and Sunday KidsPost) have a lot of fans over age 15. The Sunday comics are sacred territory for many -- including me. Your comment is good for us to keep in mind, but I believe we are merely trying to get the most out of the space we have on those pages.

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Madison, Wis.: Will there ever come a day when The Post will deliver across the country when subscribed to? I'm in Madison, Wis., and I miss it terribly ... although the online version works, I suppose.

Ed Thiede: Unlikely. We have a national weekly edition and we are selling quite a few Sunday papers in points across the country, but for delivery of our report we count on washingtonpost.com

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Potomac, Md.: What is The Post's policy on embargoed press releases?

Ed Thiede: We try to honor embargoes, but sometimes other news organizations break an embargo and we have to follow.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Is there one front page that you've produced that you hang on your wall and call your favorite...for visual appeal, mix of stories, design creativity, etc.?

Ed Thiede: Everyone is my favorite -- until the next day. On my wall I have seven front pages hanging from my tenure as leader of the News Desk. All were selected because they were big news days: Clinton Impeached, Jan. 1 2000, Bush-Gore, 9-11, Sniper arrests, Columbia lost, Baghdad falls. I have one for New Orleans but have not mounted it.

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Louisville, Ky.: Hi Ed. My two cents...skip the "visuals" and give us the stories. If we wanted dazzling visuals we would watch TV. Most newspaper readers are interested in the stories not the visuals. Please don't short change us on stories to make the paper more like TV. Sheesh.

Thanks.

Ed Thiede: I definitely don't want the paper to be more like TV, but it has to mix both long and short files and use photos and graphics (and headlines and quotes) to help tell the story. There is a lot of news on our pages. But you cannot digest just words without visuals, too.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey I know you're not responsible for advertising, but that weird two page ad you had a week or so ago, the one where the pages were 2/3 white space and your stories ran down the center... that was awful!!!

Ed Thiede: I work with the Advertising department on issues such as those ads, and the advertiser loved it, so there may be more coming.

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Fairfax, Va.: Should we assume The Post is trying to go the way of USA Today with all these inside boxes? Bad enough on the Metro front and the other fronts, but now it seems it's eating up a huge portion of the front page too. Don't dumb down The Post. If we wanted a newspaper with lots of boxes and briefs, we'd buy USA Today.

Ed Thiede: I do not think just adding navigation to the paper -- telling people about stories or sports scores that may be of interest to them quickly -- dumbs down the Post. And this is not USAToday on a lot of levels -- most importantly the quality of our reporting. That's all still there.

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Great Falls, Va.: Mr. Thiede,

You indicate that 5 to 6 stories are about the limit for the front page. I had always thought that the front page was for news, but for some time now at least half of the stories are what are described as analysis. I had always thought that opinion pieces, which is what I equate to analysis, were for the editorial pages. Why is it that half the front page is given over to opinion pieces? Thanks

Ed Thiede: Front page is for news. But also for analysis and for human interest features. We want a mix -- something local, some politics, interesting foreign reports you won't find anywhere else. Maybe something from Style or Sports. An analysis -- something you can find in The Post but nowhere else -- is often a good part of that mix

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Bethesda, Md.: Do you control the Sunday front page? Why are there so few stories on the Sunday front lately? Sometimes just five, sometimes even four stories there. If you're a reader and you're not interested in the few choices we're now offered, there's no other alternative to read anymore.

Ed Thiede: We work hard to get a good mix on the Sunday front, too. And the stories that would be on a 6-story or 7-story Sunday front are still in the paper. They are just on the Metro front, on A3 or A4 or on the World front.

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Washington: I agree with Arlington about those ads surrounding stories. It looked awful and was confusing to the eye about what was journalism and what was advertising.

Ed Thiede: we labeled the ads. But you make a good point. We don't need a lot of this.

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Arlington, Va.: Second the motion on improving the obituaries. Sometimes a lot of space is give to an obit for an obscure movie feature player, professor at a distant university or a former cabinet member from the 50's in Lower Slovenia. This leaves little room for local obits (Full disclosure: Post did not run an obit last year for my husband but managed to find space around the same time for a lot of folks of limited interest to the general public. My spouse was a relatively young person with a lot of community ties -work and community activities- so I am puzzled why his obit could not appear. Yes, I did run a notice -- don't get me started on the high cost!)

Ed Thiede: I have no idea why the obit did not appear. I am sorry you had to endure that. But our obit desk works hard to get in every obit they receive.

The death notices, though, are Advertising's venue.

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Vienna, Va.: But the news on those weird ad pages looked awful. Like there was some big mistake. Does that concern you?

Ed Thiede: It does.

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Alexandria, Va.: What is the Washington Post philosophy behind selecting headlines? I recall that in the recent past, one couldn't open The Post without reading some cutesy wordplay headline rather than a straightforward advertisement of the text. The paper seems to have returned to a "straight" line when picking headlines which is, in my opinion, an improvement. Thanks!

Ed Thiede: Copy editors (who also have to write captions for photos and edit the stories) write the headlines. Sometimes a reporter or designer or news editor has an idea, too. I, too, hate the puns -- unless it is one I came up with.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I think I remember reading once that you exchange front pages with the NY Times each night before you go to print. Is that true? If so, why?

Ed Thiede: Yes. But we exchange pages AFTER we go to print. This started long before I took over the desk, but since the material is now available on-line on both web sites at the time of the exchange, doesn't seem like any big deal.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: I disconnected my cable TV because I found the TV news to be very sensationalistic, exaggerated and heart-burning. I began reading quality papers like the Washington Post. However now I am feeling that newspapers have also started going the sensationalist route, addicted to scandal, crisis, controversy, opposition...just negativity in general. Please note that newspaper readers enjoy depth in their stories and have the whole day to read their paper or visit the Web site and newspapers should NOT be like broadcast news.

Ed Thiede: So noted. And I could not agree more.

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Loudoun, Va.: Are you really going to take stocks out of the paper?

Ed Thiede: Many newspapers are cutting stock tables. I believe New York Times begins cutting early next month. I am sure the Post will be monitoring the Times as well as action at The LA Times and Chicago Tribune and many other newspapers, but there are no plans right now to toss the stock tables in The Post. I think newspapers are right in wondering whether the stock tables are useful. But newspapers need to move carefully here and I believe the Post is doing just that. I don't use the stock tables. But I work in front of a computer all day and use one at home quite regularly when I am not here. I don't think I am a typical newspaper reader (though part of my job is to THINK LIKE a typical newspaper reader).

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Ed Thiede: Time for one or two more...

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Arlington, Tex.: Mr Thiede, Sobre, calm and in-depth reporting is becoming rare in American journalism. Wash Post is one of the few remaining publications that still practices it. Why do you think that is? I don't like 24/7 addicted to negativity journalism that is currently dominant.

Ed Thiede:

A lot of it has to do with resources. The Post (and NYT and LAT) can devote more resources to gathering and presenting the news, so they have better, in-depth reports.

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Washington, D.C.: As a DC resident, I feel frustrated by how many Virginia and Maryland stories end up on the cover of the D.C. Metro section. Are there so few reporters covering D.C. that you can't possibly at least fill the front page of the local section with local stories? One day, the only DC-related story on the cover of the Metro section was about the National Zoo and that was more about the Front Royal property.

Ed Thiede: We have three Metro jurisdictions that we cover, but the news comes in waves -- some days there is an abundance of Maryland news, other days DC news wins out and some days Virginia has all the news. Coupled with that is that some of our metro stories run on Page One. Today, for instance, a Loudoun story -- one of our prime Virginia offerings -- was on the front of the newspaper. So the VA Metro section suffers. DC news is often on Page One. That may be why you see less in your Metro section.

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Ed Thiede: Time's up. So many GREAT questions, and I only got to a few. Maybe next time.

And buy a newspaper!

-- Ed

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