Andrew Cullen

Andrew Cullen

Andrew, Millennial Youth's Vice-President and head of Business Development, loves all things tech. He is exploring social media, web tech and the ways youth use the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @andrewcullenMY

What’s top news?

In the past few days at Millennial Youth, we’ve been trying to work on a job description for the position of “briefings editor.” We really like the use of briefings in newspapers. Briefings are small paragraphs that summarize important news. We decided to use them to help people catch up on important news they missed.

All seemed fine and well until I sat down to actually write out the job description. I got to “your duties will include,” and then drew a blank. I wasn’t entirely sure what to write.

My issue was deciding what news should be summarized and put into briefings. There is so much news out there that I couldn’t possibly just tell someone to find the most important news. Honestly, when I went through it was a lot of work. I was at a stand still. I realized I had to find out how newspapers determined what was the most important news.

At first I went online to national newspapers — The New York Times and USA Today thinking that there would probably be sections telling me the top news. I wasn’t incorrect. Both websites had “top news” or “featured stories” sections. The thing is that all of these sections had dozens of articles. I was expecting to find just a few stories that were the most important. Next I looked at the Times Union’s online website at There was whole page with at least twenty-five stories. Each site had different stories, so looking at them didn’t tell me which were the most important.

My next step was to sit down and look at the top articles in the print versions of the Sunday newspaper for a few newspapers: The New York Times, Times Union, and Schenectady Gazette. USA Today doesn’t print a Sunday newspaper.  I looked only at the front pages of each paper, trying to find the trick as to how they decided on what was important.

When I laid them all out I was actually very, very surprised. I always figured the front pages of most major newspapers would at least have similar stories. I expected to see something about Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit plastered on all of them. I was surprised to see that only The New York Times had a very prominent article on the front page. There’s a huge photo at the top right under the masthead. There was only one similarity between two of the papers — an article about Al-Qaida.

After a while I realized how newspapers determine top news even though they didn’t seem similar.  Everything that was on each front page related to the community that the newspaper targeted. The New York Times, which of course reaches newsreaders all across the country, had the most national and international news. It had a story about Derek Jeter, which is relevant to Americans across the country, and international stories like one about the newly independent country of Juba.

The Times Union and Gazette had much more localized news. For example, the Times Union story of “Poppy,” a neighborhood figure in Ravena, NY. Most people wouldn’t care, but residents of Ravena certainly do.

It clicked with me that our target audience is youth. Therefore we should be focusing on news that has a direct impact on youth. Exploring these papers really helped me realize what we were trying to do, and what the briefings editor’s job would be. What news is most important varies depending on who the audience is. Making decisions on what readers will want and what they need to know is what’s important.

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