1: In May 2014, when Dean Baquet took over as the executive editor of The New York Times, he inherited an almost seventy-year-old tradition that no longer satisfied the needs of the newsroom or the newspaper’s readers.
The “Page One” meeting at The Times had achieved legendary status through the years. It’s been called one of the most consequential meetings on earth. Starting in 1946, each day, the paper’s editors would meet and decide which articles would be placed on the next day’s front page. Their selections helped set the news agenda for the world.
“In the meeting’s heyday, its purpose was clear, and its format and structure logically derived from that purpose,” writes Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. “For years, it took place at the Times building in a third-floor conference room around a massive wooden King Arthur–style table, with twenty-five or thirty editors, packed into the room. Editors pitched their lead articles, called ‘offers,’ making their cases for pieces they thought belonged on A1.”
“The desks would come with their best stories and offer them to the Olympic gods, and then would be grilled and battle it out to see what would make it,” one editor recalled.
2: By the time Dean became executive editor, however, the meeting no longer made sense. In our current digital age, the front page of the printed edition was no longer of utmost importance. Research showed only a third of readers ever visited the front page. “More and more readers were accessing online articles through social networks, drastically reducing the curatorial power of the editors.” Priya writes.
3: So, what did Dean do? He changed the venue, meeting time, content, and physical environment of the meeting. “The storied King Arthur–style table was removed, and plans were made to construct a new Page One meeting room with glass walls and red couches—a more relaxed environment to facilitate a broader discussion about the news.” In addition, the meeting would no longer focus on the print edition but the best stories across all platforms.
However, the most significant shift was signaled by a change in the meeting’s agenda. “Whereas the meeting used to begin with pitches,” Priya writes, “on the morning I was there, it began with an audience report on the number of views certain stories had attracted the night before and other audience statistics.”
Starting the meeting by focusing on readers rather than the paper’s editors signaled a major change in The Times’ culture.
Dean understood changing the “Page One” meeting was an opportunity to communicate that The Times was transforming into the new reality of the digital age.
“We changed the meeting as a deliberate way to change the culture and values of the newsroom,” said Sam Dolnick, a Times assistant editor.
Becoming clear on the purpose of why we are gathering can drive transformation.
Reflection: Think about any outdated traditions in my organization. Is there an opportunity to make a change and send a message about what is important now?
Action: Discuss with my team or with a colleague.