AT 9:30 in the morning each day, Monitor senior editors gather at a round table in a room on the second floor of the Christian Science Publishing House and put the world together - in 20 pages. This is the Page 1 conference, a sometimes noisy meeting where there is much discussion, debate, and humor. All eyes scan two large scheduling boards on the wall. Here stories being written by staff writers around the world are listed for the five publication days of each week.
From overseas locations such as Moscow, Nicaragua, Beijing, and East Germany, and from cities and towns across the United States, stories are sent by wire, telephone, or fax machine any time of the day or night into the Monitor's computer systems.
Most news editors are at at their desks by 6 in the morning. Working two days ahead, the Monitor staff plans news coverage on Monday for publication on Wednesday. The deadline for the Wednesday paper is Tuesday at 10 a.m., so there is always a rush to get the most timely stories in the paper.
For 81 years, the Page 1 conference has been held in one form or another, and in one place or another in or near the Monitor newsroom.
``The Page 1 conference is really the kitchen table of the newsroom; it is the place where we decide the ingredients each day for the Monitor,'' says Monitor editor Richard J. Cattani. ``Our writers are located all over the world and write about events and issues from politics to the arts.''
During the Page 1 conference there is sometimes a spirited debate among the editors over which stories should lead the paper and what other stories will fill most of the other pages.
Is a story about rapidly changing events in East Germany more important than a story about a massive oil spill off the coast of California? Should a story about the latest changes in the US war against cocaine go on Page 1 or Page 2? Which color photo should be on Page 1, the picture of President Bush meeting the Canadian prime minister or the one of youngsters on the streets of Capetown, South Africa?
While news editors work on political stories, the feature editors are working on articles about what people everywhere are doing and thinking in such areas as education, science and technology, cooking, travel, the arts - including previews of movies and television shows. Playwright Arthur Miller once described what a newspaper tries to do: ``A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,'' he said.
The Page 1 conference can last anywhere from a half hour to more than an hour. Once the decisions are made, and the meeting is over, the assistant managing editor, Ruth Walker, sits down with a layout specialist at one of five Macintosh computers in the newsroom to design Page 1.
These powerful computers use a software program called Visionary that allows the editors and designers to work on a complete page in full color. This means that text (articles from the writers) and graphics (color photos, drawings, and maps) can be viewed on the computer monitors at the same time and changed rapidly by moving a mouse or pushing keys.
Because the Monitor uses the newest and fastest technology available to publish the paper, it is one of the most technically advanced newspapers in the United States today.
While Page 1 is being designed, other editors in the newsroom are editing the incoming stories on a computer system known as Atex. This is the ``workhorse'' system of the newsroom, allowing each editor to edit stories on a computer terminal at his or her desk. And each editor can send messages and stories to other editors and writers through the Atex system.
After the first phase of editing on Atex, the stories are sent to the Macintosh computers. When each page is completed, it is sent electronically to the Scitex assembler in another part of the building. There the text of the stories is positioned automatically with photos, drawings, or maps. A proof page is then made and sent to the editors for a last look to catch any serious mistakes that may have been overlooked in the editing process. This proof looks very much like the page you are now reading.
The editors must sign off on the proof pages by 10 each morning to meet the deadline. Often changes in world events are added to stories at the last minute.
The pages, now in ``digitized'' form (a sequence of electronic bits), are then sent to a plotter that uses a laser beam to convert the digital information into a pattern of tiny dots and prints it on a film about 18 inches wide.
The final step is reached when the negative is delivered to a plant in Norwood, Mass., where the Monitor is printed and mailed that day to readers in the East, South, and Canada.
At the same time the digital information is sent almost instantly by satellite to a printing plant in Phoenix for printing and mailing to readers west of the Mississippi River.
The next day at 9:30 a.m. sharp the editors gather to put the world together again.