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Time zones can pose a challenge for a news operation that covers the breadth of the world. But they can also serve as an advantage.
With reporter-staffed bureaus in some 30 countries, The New York Times can report quickly on breaking news happening almost anywhere. But with three main hubs of newsroom operations — New York, London and an Asia hub that has been based in Hong Kong but is transitioning to Seoul, South Korea — The Times can also continuously cover a story no matter the hour, one newsroom picking up where another left off as one hemisphere goes to sleep and the other awakens.
At the end of the workday in New York, where The Times’s central newsroom is based, editors will hand off both domestic and international coverage to editors in Hong Kong and Seoul, who are currently 13 and 14 hours ahead on the clock. As editors in Asia wind down their day, a waking London newsroom will take over as the primary hub. Several hours later, that team will pass the baton back to New York, and it all repeats again, a rotation that is critical for a 24-hour news operation with subscribers in more than 200 countries.
“There’s a lot of overlap,” said Adrienne Carter, The Times’s Asia editor, “so there’s probably only a handful of hours where any one group is on its own.”
Of course, the Asia hub oversees all coverage of its region of the world, which could be anywhere from China to Australia, and that alone can be demanding, Ms. Carter said. But on any given day, the team may handle stories in any part of the world. In the morning for Asia, which is about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Eastern time, the team meets with editors in New York by video conference to discuss the day’s happenings and pick up any stories in progress.
Yonette Joseph, the Asia news editor, is in constant contact with the late-night crew in New York about breaking stories. Sarah Anderson and Sofia Mitra-Thakur, news desk editors, work closely with their counterparts in other hubs to manage the home page and alerts. The Asia hub consists of about two dozen editors, as well as reporters and researchers.
Because of its placement in the center of the global clock, London serves as a bridge between Asia and New York, which can mean demands early in the morning and late at night.
When Asia hands off coverage to London, a newsroom of about 70 staff members, an early team of editors and reporters, led by Mike Wolgelenter, Megan Specia and Marc Santora, must keep watch on four continents. The journalists start the newsroom’s coverage of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, contacting the Times’s bureaus in those regions, while often also coordinating news early in the U.S. morning with the International, National and Science desks, as well as the Washington bureau. London editors and reporters also produce the DealBook newsletter and help prepare other digital offerings like The Morning newsletter and the episode page for “The Daily” podcast.
Editors in both the Asia hub and in London also handle various live briefings on a variety of topics, with Russell Goldman, Jennifer Jett, Mike Ives and Dan Powell in Hong Kong, and Kaly Soto, Ms. Specia, Mr. Santora and Daniel Victor in London tackling, at times, multiple live briefings at once.
Coverage of the coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, which the Asia hub oversaw. As the virus spread, so did the demands of the coverage, becoming an all-hands-on-deck live briefing article that continues today, with London or Hong Kong editors starting a new coronavirus briefing every day. Coverage of the U.S. election, which lasted days, was passed from news hub to news hub. When the Politics desk managed a few hours of sleep, the Asia and London hubs continued to watch for breaking news, maintain live coverage and edit articles.
When U.S. news breaks overnight, as it did with President Trump’s diagnosis with the coronavirus, the Asia hub can work with the Washington bureau as well as with London to follow that story from thousands of miles away.
“We’re built to do anything,” Ms. Carter said. “It can be frenetic and crazy at times, but that’s the excitement, right? You get to experience it all.”
Jim Yardley, the Europe editor, said that the way the international newsrooms are structured helps makes the joint efforts seamless. “One of the things about London and Hong Kong is that, primarily, they are outgrowths of the International desk, but they are part of every desk in many ways,” he said. “It’s an attempt to actually make the work more collaborative and less siloed.”
In late November, there were signals of a covert meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, a major story. Editors in London phoned the correspondents responsible for covering that news in both Lebanon and Israel, whose primary editors were based in New York. The breaking news was published, and the wheels of coverage were set in motion.
“It was a very complicated story because it kept changing,” Mr. Yardley said. “And by the time New York woke up, we were probably on the fifth version of that story.”