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Observer Editorial: A birthday behind the scenes

| Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Today marks the 55th anniversary of the founding of The Observer. That’s more than five decades of uncovering the truth and reporting it accurately. As members of the newspaper’s current staff, we are honored to continue to serve the tri-campus community.

Every success during these 55 years has been the result of the tireless work of tri-campus students dedicated to producing quality student journalism — this includes editors, production staff, writers and more. Every night, a portion of our staff puts together the final product our readers see in print and online.

The nightly production of The Observer is one that only those on staff usually become familiar with. But in observance of this anniversary, the Observer Editorial Board would like to pull back the curtain and invite you into a night of production with our staff.

The production of our daily content — a physical paper three times a week and two days online — really starts on the weekend, when each department and the Editorial Board plan out content for the week, beginning with print production on Sunday. 

6 p.m. —  Every night starts when the columns, stories and articles written by our opinion columnists and by our News, Sports and Scene writers are submitted for editing. Each department has various deadlines. For example, News writers must have their stories in by 6 p.m. the night before publication, or as soon as they’re finished.

Also at this time, our layout designers come to our beloved office in the basement of South Dining Hall. This is where they begin designing the layout of the pages on Adobe InDesign, the software we use to format the print newspaper.

7 p.m. —  Next, our content undergoes a first round of editing. Our nightly staffers for Sports, News, Scene and Viewpoint read through each piece and edit for grammatical errors, structure and clarity, in addition to vetting for Oxford commas. The copy editing process also involves fact-checking to ensure that all claims are accurate. Once these edits are made, our associate editors and copy editors mark the file in WordPress as “edited.”

At this point, layout designers, associate editors and copy editors begin requesting pictures and graphics from our Photo and Graphics departments. Our creative teams work to deliver beautiful visual elements to complement and enhance our journalism.

8 p.m. —  Roughly around this time, the edited stories are read once again, this time by the back editor, which is the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor or one of three Assistant Managing Editors. For print production, two editors split the work of the night, with one shift scheduled from 7 to 11 p.m., and the second shift from 11 p.m. to whenever the paper is finished. The back editors complete final checks for any errors and give everything a once-over. They make sure all sources are accurate and names are spelled correctly. Then, they mark pieces as “starred.”

At this point, the layout designers place the finalized text onto our draft newspaper pages on InDesign, piecing text, graphics, photos and ads together on the page.

9 p.m. —  Once headlines, body text, graphics and photos are all in place, our layout designers have the back editor visually check the printed pages. The back editor will mark layout changes that need to be made, such as adding spacing or changing a photo caption. After these changes are made, pages are checked once more to ensure they’re good to print.

10 p.m. —  The final step for the majority of our production staff is to schedule content for the next day. Each department writes and schedules the next day’s tweets for their respective pieces, making sure our content also reaches our online audience. Then they schedule all of the articles, columns, Letters to the Editor and stories in WordPress, to be posted to our website early the next day. When that’s done, the finished layout designs are uploaded to a Google Drive folder, ready for the back editor to piece together the whole paper.

11 p.m. — The night’s second back shift editor comes into the office to start their shift. Often, the editing and formatting process stretches late into the night, and the speed of production varies depending on department and content for the day. After all the pages have been checked for errors and department staffers have headed home, the back editor goes through each page with a fine-tooth comb to catch any errors and finalizes the format of every photo and graphic for optimal printing. The back editor then makes the final PDF to send to our printing partner, The Papers. The editor then updates the website to show the latest content and upload a virtual version of the finished print edition.

The earliest record for this year’s production staff to send the paper to the printing press is 12:14 a.m. The average time the paper is finished is around 3 a.m., but the latest nights have ended at around 6 or 7 a.m.

In the morning, all of the stories are published online and the printed papers are delivered to their various locations around the tri-campus. Our social media team schedules posts to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to reach our digital audiences in creative and innovative ways.

Despite this concise hourly timeline, each night of production is different and comes with its own unique challenges — breaking news, complications with stories, computer crashes, leaking office ceilings, etc. Every Thursday before a home game, the Sports, Graphics and Photo departments have a significantly heavier night as they put together the Irish Insider. Each edition is four to eight additional pages of pure football coverage accompanied by eye-catching photos and graphics. Because of the paper’s length, Insider production nights usually have a later finish time than usual.

Putting together a 12, 16 and sometimes 20-page paper with so many moving parts requires an extraordinary amount of communication, problem-solving and teamwork within departments and across the whole production team. It also requires the dedication of all of the students who work for and with The Observer, without whom the paper and its mission to uncover the truth and report it accurately for the tri-campus community wouldn’t and couldn’t exist. Thank you to everyone on our staff for your dedication, time, effort and love for the paper.

As we celebrate another year of The Observer, we look ahead to the work we will continue to do to keep our tri-campus informed and hold our institutions accountable at this moment in history. Please consider donating to The Observer as we remain the main independent, student-run news source at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. We could not do the work we do without readers, writers and staffers, and we hope you will continue to support student journalism — as we hope to continue to support all of you.

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