“The Gray Lady” updates, revises inside news pages

DAVID W. DUNLAP, New York Times


If Page 1 is the front door to The New York Times, Pages 2 and 3 are the entranceway. In that spirit, The New-York Daily Times used the second page on the first day of its existence, Sept. 18, 1851, to welcome readers with a word about what they might expect.

Henry Jarvis Raymond, the founding editor, acknowledged that people had been wondering all summer what political positions the infant Times would take. ''Some have said it was to be an abolitionist paper -- a free-soil paper -- devoted to the work of anti-slavery agitation,'' he wrote.

Rather than deny that, Raymond declared, ''We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good; -- and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform.'' This was an artful dodge, since he would soon become an influential organizer of the Republican Party and a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln.

''What is good we desire to preserve and improve,'' Raymond wrote, ''what is evil, to exterminate, or reform.''

Advertisers understood the value of Pages 2 and 3 before we did. There were days in the 1890s and 1900s when Page 3 was given over largely or entirely to ads, including those from businesses that are still familiar -- like Saks & Company, the 34th Street forebear of Saks Fifth Avenue -- and deservedly forgotten ones like Buffalo Lithia Water.

No advertiser has been a steadier presence on these pages than Tiffany & Company. Even in the Panic of 1857, it offered diamonds, jewelry, silverware, watches and clocks to holiday shoppers, saying that its inventory, ''in view of the present disastrous times, has been marked to meet the ideas of the most 'unparalleled bargain' seeker.''

Long before The Times began featuring photographs regularly on Page 1, Pages 2 and 3 were used as a showcase. For our Anglophile editors, the coronation of King George V in 1911 offered the perfect excuse for a double-truck display of seven big photos, mortised into one another, with medallions of rampant lions at the corners of the ornate frames. The pictures, delivered by boat, were published a mere nine days after the event.

In 1954, Page 2 assumed its enduring role as a point of entry, when the News Summary & Index moved here from the back page of the first section. But five years later, the summary moved again, this time to the second front (the first page of the second section), now with a Quotation of the Day.

For nearly a half century, while the rest of the paper underwent a stunning transformation, Pages 2 and 3 remained pretty much unchanged as the home of international news, though the News Summary returned in 1986.

By far the biggest makeover occurred on March 25, 2008. Readers awakened to an expanded index across the bottom of A1, with news summaries (''Inside The Times'') sprawled over A2 and A3. Corrections and the Quotation of the Day were pushed to A4, where they sat under a summary of offerings from nytimes.com. After two full-page ads -- sigh, full-page ads -- international news began on Page A7.

''I've subscribed to the NY Times since 1989 because I like to read articles, not look at a Hulked-out table of contents,'' Kent Steinriede of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., told our public editor. He didn't have long to be unhappy. A year later, to reduce newsprint costs, ''Inside the Times'' was condensed to fit on A2, Corrections returned to the fold and international news reappeared on Page A3.

So last week, we took a new approach, making the pages a feature in their own right. ''Some little time is necessary to get the machinery in easy working order,'' Raymond wrote for the first Page 2, perhaps not imagining that his descendants would still be tinkering with it 166 years later.