Times Masthead Workshops Tomorrow’s Page One With WQXR Listeners

At the old Times building at 1 Times Square, there was an electric “zipper” running up the side of the building that New Yorkers used to consult to find results. This time, the first ever election night at the new 8th Avenue Times Tower, the building is opening itself up for two hours for a panel session with Times editors and writers.

The panel is taking place at the TimesCenter, the ground floor auditorium that fits 378. Tickets are available to Times readers (and lots of WQXR listeners who have been bombarded with ads for the event!) for $80 a pop and attendees are treated to a buffet afterwards that includes free beer, hot dogs and popcorn.

Magazine contributing editor Matt Bai and metro reporter and host of the NY1 show The New York Times Close Up host Sam Roberts are the moderators are the event. They’re sitting behind a desk, not unlike the one a moderator sits behind at a debate, or that Katie Couric sits behind on the CBS Evening News. Behind them is an enormous screen that’s expected to bring in instant results.

To their left, are three office chairs, which will rotate Times editors.

Jill Abramson is the first guest of the night. She’s wearing a knee-length gray skirt. Did it seem at all odd or interesting that on election night, the masthead of the Times could make time for what is essentially a promotional event for the business side?

“This is the most exciting campaign i’ve ever covered and i’m embarrassed to say I’ve been covering them since 1976,” she told the crowd. “The length of this campaign–i feel like i’m going to suffer from terrible withdrawal tomorrow! I feel like I may not be able to do with myself tomorrow.”

She said an Obama administration would change Washington “hugely.”

“Eight years of, you know, the Bush White House, it’s hard to recreate this for you. The whole social axis of Washington will turn. The city that had a democratic elite and centered in georgetown gave to a republican elite centered in virginia. I think that if Obama wins you’re going to see a fascination with the new first family that will remind us with an obsession with the Kennedy family when they moved into the White House because they’re are small children in he picture again. The Obamas have a kind of celebrity that remind me a little bit of the Kennedys in 1960.”

Matt Bai asked if she was in Washington in 1993.

“Oh, indeed! I was in Washington starting in 1985. I was there from Reagan to Bush. In fact, since you mentioned my being Washington bureau chief, a very vivid memory for me was election night in 2000, Joe Lelyveld ( the executive editor) came in at at about 11 in the morning, I was then Washington editor which is the no. 2 job. He called me into say we don’t know who the next president will be, but we know who the next washington bureau chief will be. And so I found out that I was going to be the Washington bureau chief. The humorous outcome was that we didn’t know who the president was. I always think of that.”

During the summer, masthead editors at the Times went behind two-way mirrors and consulted readers on how they’d feel about a section consolidation (and it worked! You’ll now find Metro and sports in different sections). With that spirit in mnid, Rick Berke took to the crowd to get their advice on the Times’ banner headline for tomorrow’s paper.

Mr. Berke took out a galley of tomorrow’s edition. The banner headline reads WINNER, with a subhead underneath.

“What we decided to do, after great deliberation, we came up with a headline like this. What Bill Keller was suggesting we do, and tell me if you think it’s a good idea, and I’ll go up and tell him because we have time to change this. If Obama wins it’ll say ‘OBAMA’ instead of ‘OBAMA WINS’ And if it’s McCain it’ll say ‘MCCAIN.’ It’s more simplistic. So, if you like the simplicity of just Obama or McCain, no exclamation point, just their name, clap right now.”

The majority of the crowd clapped.

He reminded them it’s not a democracy, but he can make a recommendation to Keller.

Only a smattering applause came for the alternate headline.

“This will be a front page for the ages, one of those great front pages.”

 Update, Nov. 5, 2008, 11:05 a.m.: The address of the original New York Times Building has been corrected to 1 Times Square.