The How newspapers work.


How do newspapers work?

It may seem a common and simple thing to check your mailbox in the morning and to see the daily paper sitting in there, waiting for you to open it up and explore all of the different sections and news, ranging from the local forecast to world news and even covering different sectors such as the entertainment industry and the business world. A newspaper is one of the greatest, and earliest, forms of mass communication that there is. However, with the emergence of the Internet came another form of mass communication that is able to reach millions of people simultaneously and conveniently.

The Internet has undoubtedly caused many newspaper offices to fear that they will soon be a thing of the past but the Internet is not the first form of media that seems to rival newspapers – television was actually the first. But neither of these has the portability and mobility of a newspaper. Even the smallest laptops still need to be booted up before anything can be viewed on the Internet and for televised news you need to be sitting in front of the television. Newspapers are the only form of media that still gets the news to the public but can be taken out of a bag on the subway, or held while standing in line at the grocery store. It’s the simplicity, the mobility, and the easy-to-read format that ensures that newspapers are not going anywhere just yet.

But how do these newspapers come to be in the first place? How does an event that happened halfway around the globe end up being printed in your local paper, complete with photographs, and then delivered straight to your door? Here we’ll take a look at just how newspapers collect their news, what editorial pages really are, how newspapers are produced, and how they are distributed.

A Bit of History

As mentioned earlier, newspapers are one of the earliest forms of mass communication but although they came before television, radio, or even telegraphs, newspapers have the same typical format today as they did when the first one was published. Newspapers follow easy-to-read formats that generally contain many different sections that can be flipped through and moved back and forth between, and don’t necessarily need to be read in the order of the pages. This means that you can find a newspaper from 1775 and still read it the same way you would read a newspaper today.

However, there are some changes to the newspaper industry that have been made along the way. These were mostly due to the laws and rights surrounding the pieces of mass media and what they were allowed to print. Before 1791, newspapers were seen as a threat to the kings and authorities because they were a medium that allowed anyone to express their opinion – and this was very worrisome, particularly when those opinions contradicted those of the government. Because of this, what newspapers published was greatly controlled and had to be approved by the government. This all changed however in 1791, when the First Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights, which allowed for freedom of the press.

However, it was shortly after the Civil War that newspapers truly had their glory days in America. This was a time when the public was starving for knowledge about what was happening and when political activity was high. Newspapers seemed to be springing up everywhere and they became a very common commodity. Not only were there many, many newspapers created and distributed during this time but it’s also the time in history when newspapers were a very lucrative business. This allowed for people such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to become the tycoons that they were. Not only were newspapers, and the people behind them, making a ton of money, but they were also greatly influencing people’s opinions and Hearst was actually accused of starting the Spanish-American War in 1898 with his newspaper publications.

How News Works and is Gathered

Of course newspapers print news but what can be classified as ‘news’ is a very broad and vague area. Generally, the principle of ‘news’ lies in what’s unordinary so what makes it to the page are generally human interest stories, natural disasters, and other things such as mechanical failures. Newspapers use reporters to gather this information, write about it, and then send it on for review before it makes the final cut. Gathering the information often includes going out on location to cover an event, or talking to people about things that have happened. The relationship between a reporter and their source is a very special one – although sources are sometimes very reluctant to talk to reporters, the name of the source is kept confidential if requested and at times, reporters have been known to go to jail rather than give up the name of one of their sources.

This is actually more often seen in movies and television, where big crime mysteries are always solved by the reporter and because of that, the reporters often find themselves in very dangerous situations. However, the life of a reporter can actually be very mundane and rarely lead to anything that could pose a threat to their safety. It is still due to their close relationship with the public that reporters are often called the fourth branch of government, or the watchdog branch, that will write a story about government misdoings.

Just like police, some reporters will be given a beat, which is a particular location or topic to cover. This means that they could cover legal proceedings at the local courthouse or they could cover the entertainment section of the paper. There are also general assignment editors, which can cover a wide range of stories such as human interest, events, or one-time occurrences such as accidents. However, all reporters, no matter which type of material they are covering, report to the editor. If the newspaper is a very large publication, it will usually have many editors such as an executive editor, who will be responsible for the news division and a managing editor, who will coordinate the day-to-day activities of the news division. It is the managing editor that other editors will report to, such as the sports or entertainment editor.

Out of all the editors that a newspaper may have, the most prevalent perhaps, and the most well-known is the city, or metro, editor. This is the editor that reporters are directly responsible to and their responsibilities include assigning reporters to certain stories, determining deadlines, and will be the first person to read the reporter’s raw copy. City editors have huge responsibilities because of the fact that they must always keep on top of breaking news and they are also largely responsible for what appears in the next day’s newspaper. Because of this, they are also often called the gatekeepers of the newspaper.

After the city editor has finished with the reporter’s raw copy, they will send it to the copy desk, which is another part of the news division. This is where copy editor’s work and they will review the copy and check for things such as grammatical and spelling errors, and they will also check to see if the story makes sense and is accurate. In order to do this, they must sometimes cross-reference the raw copy with the newspaper’s library, which is usually electronic and is a database filled with past stories the newspaper has ran. Once the city editor chief has determined that the story is ready for print, it will be given to the other editors in different departments and divisions, who will then collect photos, create headlines, and otherwise finish the story. The process of this work is called pagination and today, computer programs are extremely helpful in this process as editors can now use Microsoft Word and Quark Express that make the whole process much more time-efficient.

Other Divisions of a Newspaper

But the news division isn’t the only part of a newspaper otherwise you would only have news stories from front to back. But open up any paper and you’ll find classifieds, editorial pages, advertisements, and much more! Here are some of the other parts of a newspaper and why they are so important.

Editorial Pages

Editorial pages are different from news in that they are based on opinion rather than fact. These opinions may be about factual news but always have first-hand experience or opinion related to it. These editorial pages bring up issues such as community services such as the police or the mayor and may present their own opinions about the ways these authorities have been handling particular situations. The purpose of these editorial pages is to get the community talking, raise people’s awareness, and bring important issues to the forefront. It is really these editorial pages that the whole concept of newspapers was first based on. These editorial pages are usually written by many different people. Editorial boards often write them but they can also come in the form of letters from readers.

Letters to the editor are some of the most-read sections of any paper, because they raise interest issues and debates and because readers like to hear what other readers are thinking. Letters to the editor are generally quite short, 150 – 300 words in length, and are one reader’s opinion. There are however, other types of letters and these are called op-ed letters, short for opposite-editorials. These letters are much longer and run 850-1000 words and generally contain a much more in-depth look at the issues but it is still wrapped in opinion.

Because editorial pages are opinion, the editorial board must be very careful in making sure that the line is not crossed between opinion and fact. Once this is done, the newspaper loses all credibility. The objective is to raise issues and awareness, not to simply make things up or cloud the issue so much with opinion that it becomes lost. Because this line is a very fine one, the editorial board often reports directly to the publisher of the newspaper, which is also the chief executive officer of the company, while some will still report to the executive editor.


Advertisements are an essential part of the newspaper business. Without them, no newspaper could survive as the major income of newspapers comes from newspapers. In fact, it may be surprising to learn that ads make up 60% of the space in newspapers. The exception to this rule is the Sunday edition of newspapers which is generally larger than issues on other days of the week and generally contains more news than ads. The space for ads is added into the minimum amount of pages needed for a particular newspaper and the advertising department will place the ads on a page before the news division places a story on a page however, the two do not influence the other’s content. Display ads, classified ads, and inserts are the most common forms of advertising in today’s newspapers.

How it’s Made

Of course, the reporters, the editors, and all the other divisions of a newspaper are what goes into making a newspaper’s content but how is it physically made? They were once made by ‘hot type’ machines in the 14th century, when a piece of paper would be placed over a block of type of pressed down so that the print would be etched into the paper. This process would obviously be far too costly and labor-intensive for all the papers today and so a process known as ‘cold type’ is used along with off-set presses to print the newspaper and a division called the production division is responsible for it.

The production division oversees all the different equipment needed to assemble and print a newspaper including presses, typesetters, image scanners, and photographic engraving machines. The process of off-set printing involves the etching of a newspaper page to be transferred to aluminum plates. These aluminum plates go to a specialist and then are placed inside the machine. Once inside the press, a rubber roller will be used to transfer the image on the aluminum plate onto a piece of newspaper. The reason why this process is called off-set is because the aluminum plates and the newspaper don’t ever touch each other.

The presses that are used to print and assemble newspapers are massive machines that are extremely noisy and can stand up to 3 stories tall. In addition to that, they can also cost up to $40 million dollars and more. However, as big and strong as they are, they treat newsprint extremely delicately. This is mostly because instead of individual sheets of paper, these machines use streaming sheets and inside the press, the sheets must continuously wind over and around huge rollers. And even though the process inside a web press, the machine that prints and assembles a newspaper, is extensive and complicated, the process all happens extremely quickly and one of today’s presses can create 70,000 copies of one newspaper in an hour. Once these are ready and off the press, they are sent to the distribution division.

How are they Distributed?

The distribution department needs to ensure that the latest news is being delivered to the readers and to do so, many large newspapers will have many different editions of the daily newspaper. The first edition goes to the outermost boundaries of the circulation area, the area that receives one particular newspaper. Then a second edition, which will include news that is more local and more current, will be distributed to a smaller area and so on, until the fourth edition, which will include breaking news, stories that are much more local, and more current.

Once the distribution department is ready to release the paper to the public, they will hand it over to independent contractors, who are also called newspaper carriers. Most people are familiar with what newspaper carriers do, as this is often many people’s first jobs. These carriers buy large quantities of the newspaper and sell them to individual customers. These customers will then pay on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, for receiving the daily newspaper delivered to them every day.


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