How the New York Times, Washington Post swap stories

Friday, October 21, 2005

Most have noticed the similarity of media stories on the network television (ABC, NBC, CBS) evening news. But until now few knew why the two major newspapers (The New York Times and the Washington Post) front page stories (which drive the evening television news) were so similar.

The following article is from the September Editor and Publisher trade publication titled:

STORY SWAPS: 'Here's the scoop', by Joe Strupp

When The New York Times on July 16 broke the story of a 2003 State Department memo that had become a key element in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, the paper scored a major exclusive. But when The Washington Post hit newsstands that very same Saturday, it had its own version of the same story. It even credited the Times for the same-day scoop.

Welcome to life under the Washington Post-New York Times swap. As part of a secret arrangement formed more than 10 years ago, the Post and Times send each other copies of their next day's front pages every night. The sharing began as a courtesy between Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and former Times Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld in the early 1990s and has continued ever since.

"It seemed logical, because for years we would always try to get a copy of each other's papers as soon as they came out," Downie tells E&P. "It made sense to both of us to make it simpler for everybody." Lelyveld, who left the Times in 2001, declined comment.

The Plame memo story is a good example of the swap's success. Although the Times did not post the memo story on its Web site the previous evening, as it often does with next-day stories, it was placed on the e-mailed, Page One image the Post received at around 11 p.m. on July 15. When the Post's editors saw the scoop, they assigned reporters Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei to track it down.

"We were able to match it, and got it in the [July 16] second edition," recalls Vince Bzdek, a Post news editor who was on duty that night. "We wouldn't have gotten it if we did not have their front page. They had not posted the story, because it was an exclusive."

When the swap first began in the mid-'90s, each paper would fax copies of its Page One layout, Downie says, adding that he does not remember which paper proposed the idea first. In recent years, they have moved to electronic transmissions of the front pages, usually sent between 10:30 and 11 p.m.

This exchange is just the latest element of a Page One battle that dates back several decades, according to those at both papers.

Associate editor Robert Kaiser, who has been at the Post since 1963, says his paper at one time even hired a New Yorker to listen to a radio show on WQXR, the Times-owned radio station that previewed the next day's front-page stories.

"Some retired person we retained for a modest fee to listen and tip us off," Kaiser says about the era preceding Web sites, e-mail, and faxes. "I believe he lived in a retirement home."

Philip Taubman, the Times' Washington bureau chief and 26-year employee, said it was much harder back then to nail down a story that had just run in the Post in time for the same day's edition of the Times. He recalled a Post story by Bob Woodward in 1979 or 1980 that broke news on the intelligence beat, which he found out about through the early edition of the paper. "I had to chase it that night, and I had no sources," Taubman recalls. "I found one person and he gave me some material so I could match it."

The Times-Post rivalry is unique in that it is believed to be the only one that involves two newspapers located some 200 miles apart, but with a competition that rivals any two-newspaper city. "This is really a peer group of two," explains Kaiser. The Los Angeles Times "has a place in it," he observes, "but it is not the same because it is in a different time zone. There is really nothing else like it."

SEARS GRAND, KOHLS, and STEVE and BARRY'S retail outlets have added a lot of new square footage to this area's retail choices which continues to expand our reputation as the "Shopping Hub" between St. Louis and Memphis.

With retail sales over $1 billion; a county population over 70,000 and a retail base population of over 250,000 people within a radius of 45 miles, it's no wonder so many restaurants are packed.


Two highly touted local theater productions are on tap.

"ART" will be at Rose Theater this October 25 to 30. I've seen this production twice and look forward to seeing it again. The show is funny about relationships and the question "what is art?"

Also, "Wait until Dark" is being presented by our versatile local theater group at River City Yacht Club at Port Cape Girardeau Oct. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29.

BRYAN PARKER, who delighted me in a recent variety show with his rendition of the song "Cellophane" from "Chicago," has one of the leads in this mystery directed by CHUCK ROSS.

Anyone who says there's nothing to do in Cape Girardeau has no interests or isn't looking. I could attend at least two events each evening if my legs would hold up.

Margaret, Mabel and Jimmy

Mabel is a widow deep in poverty with two hungry children of her own. Washing other people's laundry ten hours a day, Mabel earns barely enough money to keep them fed. To keep a roof over their heads, she works for a real estate man who moves her and the children from shack to shack "to clean them up and make them salable." But poor though she is, Mabel can't watch a baby go unloved, so she makes room in her home and her heart for Jimmy, an abandoned baby who was left on her doorstep.

Throughout his childhood, Jimmy will wear old, second-hand clothes because that's the best Mabel can do. His shoelaces will be broken and knotted. He'll never own a pair of skates, a bicycle, a baseball glove or a toy of any kind. But when his little town opens a public library, he and a girl named Margaret will be the first in line to receive library cards. One day, as the pair are searching for books they've not yet read, the librarian says, "Goodness, Margaret and Jimmy, I believe you've read all the children's books we have! If you wish, you can start on the other shelves." Margaret Mead will grow up to author 20 books and serve as president of a number of important scientific associations, including the American Anthropological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She will receive 28 honorary doctorate degrees from America's leading universities and in 1978, will be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As an adolescent, Jimmy hitchhikes his way from Pennsylvania to Florida and back again with on 35 cents in his pocket. By the time he graduates from high school, he will have visited all but three of the 48 contiguous states. In the Navy, Jim rises to the rank of lieutenant commander, serving on some 49 different islands in the South Pacific during World War II. Each night, he writes his thoughts and impressions in a journal.

"Sitting there in the darkness, illuminated only by the flickering lamplight, I visualized the aviation scenes in which I had participated, the landing beaches I'd seen, the remote outposts, the exquisite island with bending palms, and especially the valiant people I'd known: the French planters, the Australian coast watchers, the Navy nurses, the Tonkinese laborers, the ordinary sailors and soldiers who were doing the work, and the primitive natives to whose jungle fastnesses I had traveled." The book that will emerge from Jim's journal will be published as Tales of the South Pacific and win the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. And by the time he's done, James Michener will have written more than 40 books that will collectively sell more than 100 million copies. He will be granted more than 30 honorary doctorates in five fields and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. His cash donations to public libraries and universities will exceed 117 million dollars.

It seems a child can learn a lot by just reading.

-- Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: