The book “A Day in the Life of The New York Times” chronicled 24 hours at the Gray Lady 50 years ago. On its anniversary, we look at how the news organization operates today.
By Lara Takenaga
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
Typewriters click-clack incessantly, correspondents call in stories from around the world, editors race to put out four print editions and cigarettes are lit up after deadline.
It’s 1969 at The New York Times.
On Feb. 28 of that year, Times journalists wrote detailed memos about their activities and whereabouts, which they later sent to Ruth Adler, a longtime editor of the internal newsletter Times Talk.
Known for her encyclopedic knowledge of The Times, Ms. Adler, who died in 1997 after more than 40 years at the paper, chose the date at random, using the memos to write her book “A Day in the Life of The New York Times.” In some 230 pages, it gives an hour-by-hour account, starting at 3 a.m. Eastern, of how the paper came together that day across states, countries and time zones.
It’s 1969 at The New York Times
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A half-century later, many of the book’s details seem anachronistic: the telex machines, the Scotch-fueled lunches, the “women’s page,” a singular focus on print and a newsroom run almost wholly by white men.
But many things haven’t changed. The Times’s mission to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, remains its cornerstone, now extending to video, graphics, audio and, later this year, a television show. Correspondents continue to report from bureaus around the United States and the world, and authoritative critics weigh in on theater, art, food and more.
Here’s what 24 hours of news gathering at The Times looks like today.
Do you have questions about how The Times comes together? Please leave them in the comments, and our journalists will answer a selection of them.
3 — 6 a.m.
Asia and Europe run the show
While the journalists in New York sleep, The Times’s international editing hubs, Hong Kong and London, take over. They pick up late-breaking news in the United States, handle coverage of their parts of the world and monitor developing stories.
By 4 a.m. Eastern, operations in Hong Kong, 13 hours ahead of New York, are winding down. Editors there do a “handoff” via video conference to London, where it’s 9 a.m. local time, pitching their articles for The Times’s home page and noting what to watch. The team in London resumes where Hong Kong left off, editing and updating stories as needed.
A running list of articles that have been assigned, filed or published also circulates. Yonette Joseph, the weekend editor in London, likens the process to “a relay marathon at the Olympics.”
Elsewhere around the world, foreign correspondents like Dionne Searcey, the West Africa bureau chief, work in the field, reporting enterprise stories and major breaking news events.
Thirty-one international bureaus, from Cairo to Kabul to Mexico City, are scattered across every continent except Antarctica (but we do visit it).
6 — 9 a.m.
Waking up to the latest
By 6 a.m. Eastern on weekdays, the U.S. Morning Briefing, written by Chris Stanford in London, has been posted and sent to its 1.5 million subscribers. The newsletter tells readers what they need to know to start their day. (There are other editions for Europe and Asia and Australia.)
“The Daily,” The Times’s most popular podcast, also becomes available. In 20 to 30 minutes five days a week, Michael Barbaro, the host, dives deep into one story with the journalist who reported it and gives a rundown of the day’s top news. Andy Mills, one of the podcast’s founding producers, captured him in the studio.
The first journalists trickling into the New York headquarters work on the Express desk, The Times’s breaking news hub. They’ll jump on any big stories that arise before the rest of the newsroom is staffed.
In the eastern half of the United States, print subscribers wake up to find their papers. The Times’s main print plant, in College Point, Queens, and 26 other sites across the country have worked through the night to produce enough copies.
9 a.m. — noon
At 9 a.m. London fills in the International editors in New York on stories that have been started, breaking news and anything big or quirky to relay at the Page One meeting in a half-hour.
Department heads, masthead editors and the occasional famous guest then gather in a glass-enclosed space in the newsroom for the day’s biggest news meeting, to which the Washington bureau tunes in virtually. The departments present their biggest stories and what they expect that day, helping to determine what will lead the digital report.
Most of the day-side editors and reporters, if they’re not in the field, have arrived at headquarters by 10. Department heads assign stories, check in with reporters and make editorial decisions for their sections’ coverage.
By this point the Washington bureau, the largest of The Times’s 15 domestic bureaus, is well into its morning. Depending on what’s happening around the capital, reporters like Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court, may be out covering their beats. If Congress is in session, they may be at the Capitol, where there’s workspace set aside for The Times.
Noon — 3 p.m.
Report, write, repeat
As New York finishes the first half of its day, journalists on the West Coast are digging into theirs. The Times has made a push in recent years to expand its coverage of California, where its largest audience — even bigger than the one in New York — is based.
Julie Bloom, the deputy National editor in New York who oversees coverage of California and the West, begins calling correspondents early in their (Pacific time) morning. They talk about stories and how the day’s events may play out. As the correspondents report, they stay in touch with Julie, updating her on interviews and talking through the tops of their articles. In the afternoon Julie checks in with Jill Cowan, who writes the California Today newsletter, to plan for the next day.
Lunchtime in New York may mean pausing in the lofty cafeteria at headquarters, shot below by a senior vice president of advertising. After a midday break the pace starts to quicken.
Each beat and bureau faces its own reporting challenges. In Washington one hurdle is all the breaking stories, which often happen in the afternoon.
“In those moments seconds count,” says Mikayla Bouchard, an assistant editor in the Washington bureau. “We have to be as prepared as possible to get the news out and to beat our competitors.”
That means having an arsenal of H.F.O. (“Hold for Orders”) stories. These are written in advance of an anticipated event, like the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and updated and posted once it happens. When there’s no H.F.O., reporters and editors aim to finish at least the top of a breaking article in time for consideration for the next day’s front page.
While articles come together, the next episode of “The Daily” also takes shape. After the team devises a plan in the morning, the episode is taped in an audio studio in the early afternoon. Then producers spend the rest of the day cutting and editing.
“Figuring out what’s going to be the most important story people need to hear that day is our obsession,” says Theo Balcomb, the podcast’s executive producer.
3 — 6 p.m.
Picking up steam
Alison Mitchell, an assistant managing editor, leads a midafternoon meeting to prepare the front page for print. Top editors debate the merits of the articles and photos up for consideration. They choose an average of six stories for prime placement.
Afterward a rough sketch of the page is done on The Times’s bespoke green layout paper, often by Tom Bodkin, the creative director. A designer draws a more detailed version and usually passes it to Tom Lotito, a paginator for A1, who will render it digitally in the production system.
The newsroom begins to hum as the first print deadline, for nonbreaking copy, looms at 6 p.m. More deadlines will follow in rapid succession as reporters in the newsroom polish and file articles. Editors write snappy headlines, catch errors, rewrite and fill in holes.
But it’s not all work and no play. For Melissa Clark, a reporter for NYT Cooking, a sweet reward often follows a busy morning of recipe development.
“Generally I spend the mornings cooking and the afternoons eating, which is a pretty good job to have,” says Melissa, who is perfecting a trio of “snacking” cakes for a coming feature.
Department heads and masthead editors reconvene in the glass “bubble” for the 4:30 news meeting to present the latest coverage, which will guide what leads the home page in the evening.
6 — 9 p.m.
Off to the races
The Print Hub kicks into high gear in the evening. As Tom Lotito continues to build A1, editors write headlines and captions, design pages and edit photos. Tom aims to finish by 6:30.
“From there my job is to babysit the page,” says Tom, who will update it if an article changes or a major story breaks.
Steve Kenny, who runs the newsroom at night, begins supervising The Times’s digital and print operations around 7 p.m. He’ll look over a proof of A1 an hour later and flip through “the book,” a stapled copy of most of the print pages, an hour after that. He makes note of any headlines he thinks should be tweaked or reframed. Throughout the evening he and Jaime Swanson, the night editor in Washington, stay in close communication.
After the first print deadline for breaking news copy at 7:15 p.m., the first National edition, destined for readers outside the New York region, heads to press at 8:30.
Meanwhile, some of our critics and reporters continue to work. Those who cover the arts, such as classical music, dance and theater, and Pete Wells, the New York restaurant critic, can be found at venues across the city, and sometimes farther afield.
During awards show season, that often means traveling to California. This year for the 91st Academy Awards, the arriving stars were shot by Josh Haner, a staff photographer. Brooks Barnes, who covers Hollywood, and Kyle Buchanan, the awards season columnist, were also in Los Angeles.
The most competitive night of the year for entertainment coverage calls for a large team in New York. At headquarters members of departments across the newsroom, including Culture, Styles and Photo, are on hand to cover the ceremony as it takes place. Some of that work will make it into print the next day.
9 p.m. — Midnight
The sun never sets
On the other side of the world, Hong Kong is beginning its day. Gerry Mullany, the bureau’s international news editor, is the first journalist in the office. He checks in on the news in Asia and begins assigning stories.
By 9 p.m. in New York, 10 a.m. in Hong Kong, the other editors have arrived. They do a conference call with the International desk in New York to find out what articles need to be updated and promoted on social media and The Times’s home page, and to touch base on what they’re covering in Asia.
Hong Kong also picks up any editing overflow from New York, like late sports stories and the European Briefing, and sometimes from Washington. When the shootings in Las Vegas in 2017 and Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 2018 occurred, journalists in Hong Kong started reporting before domestic correspondents could arrive on the scene.
Back in New York, it’s time to start printing the City edition of the paper, destined for the New York regional area, including parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The presses at the print plant in Queens, which handles almost half of The Times’s total circulation, are ready by 10 p.m. They just need the print plates, which are etched by laser. At 10:30 they start rolling, pumping out 40,000 copies per hour on average.
Every night, the plant goes through an average of 600 to 800 plates and 56 rolls of newsprint, each measuring 10 miles and weighing one ton.
Second editions, which have updated and corrected information and sometimes new articles, go to press in New York and across the country at midnight. If there’s a nighttime event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, or a late-breaking story, a postscript may be added to the City edition at 12:30 a.m. This allows a more fleshed-out article to be included in the papers distributed closest to the plant.
The goal is to be “the first one with the most” on newsstands in New York, says Mike Connors, who has worked at the plant for 43 years and is its managing director of production. He’s the fourth generation of his family to work there.
On a normal night the last copies roll off the presses at 2:15 a.m., ready to be loaded onto trucks and delivered to distribution depots.
MIDNIGHT — 3 a.m.
Good night from New York
The newsroom in New York is nearly empty, and Steve is usually the last to leave. At about 1 a.m., he sends a late note summarizing what happened that evening, with “an eye on decision-making.” He also gives credit to reporters whose stories are attracting a large digital audience. Afterward he hands off to Gerry in Hong Kong.
“It used to be that at 1 a.m. the paper shut down,” Gerry says. “Now that we have digital editing hubs in London and Hong Kong, we’re 24 hours.”
Hong Kong is the only international bureau with a print hub, which produces The New York Times International Edition. Unlike the domestic paper, its front page has an Op-Ed and an average of four stories, usually focusing on international enterprise.
It’s well into the afternoon in Hong Kong as Europe begins its day. In London, Chris starts working on the U.S. Briefing at 6 a.m. local time, and the first morning editor in the bureau arrives shortly after.
Correspondents aren’t the only ones who travel for their reporting and keep unpredictable hours. Journalists based in New York sometimes traverse time zones to report on the ground, domestically and abroad.
Ben C. Solomon, a video journalist, has traveled around the world for his sweeping visual work, which relies on cameras and drones. His latest story, reported in Switzerland with Henry Fountain from Climate, involved intense hiking across a glacier in the early morning.
As the next day carries on, the baton continues passing from one continent to another. And the news engine powered by The Times’s 1,550 journalists never stops thrumming.
Produced by Josephine Sedgwick and Nicole Phillip. Illustration by Rose Wong.
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