Why the inconsistency in newspaper column borders?

Some articles will have nice straight borders on both sides, while others will have right-side borders that are all uneven. I thought that maybe the ones with uneven borders were, perhaps, late-breaking stories that they didn’t have time to set with nice straight borders, but there was no consistency when following that reasoning.
Then I thought that maybe only articles from the major wire services had the "NSB"s and locally written ones had the crooked right sides, but I found exceptions to that also.
So…any explanation?

All the columns are aligned in my paper. Your first guess is wrong, justifiying is now just an option on the word processor used for entry, a style choice not a time consideration. But you’re right in the second guess, that copy from other sources is often not reset, especially in smaller papers. One thing in particular is that many articles arrive as industry press releases, and the papers simply add a title to fit their overall style.

Newspaper sub checking in. There’s no reason in terms of deadlines or copy source that I can think of. Regardless of how a wire story is formatted when it comes in, it is going to be put into the standard story template on page anyway.

So, the only things I can think of are:

  1. Very sloppy copy-editing. Unlikely, I would have thought.
  2. Deliberate design element. The paper I work on uses both justified and ragged text, but not just willy-nilly. Certain sections use ragged text, others justified. On some pages you might see both used together, in order to break up the design somewhat.

I have never worked on a newspaper, but I have worked in publishing. One of the deciding factors might be the width of the column. Narrower columns often look bad with justified text because of the large word spaces forced between words when the text consists of many longer words.

First, the glossary: If a column’s text is straight down both sides, it’s “justified.” If it’s straight down the left side and not straight down the right, it’s “left-justified” or “ragged-right” (interchangeable terms). If it’s straight down the right and jagged on the left (infrequent), it’s “right-justified” (or “ragged-left,” though I’ve never heard anyone using the term).

It’s generally a style consideration. As Colophon said, generally certain sections or types of articles will be justified, and others won’t be. The most frequent (in my experience) ways to distinguish is that news stories (from all sources) will be justified, while columns, editorials, and the like will be ragged right.

I’m a newspaper designer.

First, thanks for the glossary. As you can tell by my use of the abbreviation in my OP I was getting tired of writing “nice straight borders” for what is termed justified.

Second, if I can use the Post Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. as an example, I don’t see the same consistency that you do - In a front page story for their February 20, 2007 edition about portable dialysis devices it’s ragged right, but when the article is finished on the back page it’s justified.

In other newspapers I’ve seen similar inconsistencies. For example, the Citizen of Auburn, N.Y. has some classified ads justified, and others ragged. (Admittedly, not the best example - advertising doesn’t necessarily follow rules.)

Lastly, on pages where larger news stories are justified, brief news items (on the same page) tend to be ragged.

I typed too slow for my edit to be accepted…I just wanted to acknowledge that Colophon’s second point concerning design might be the answer I was looking for. Thanks to all who participated.

Well there’s definitely not an industry standard or anything like that – each paper does things in its own way, especially with “small” things like this. Smaller papers might not even have an established stylebook and just sort of do things night by night, and each designer might do his own thing, or when the regular designer and the replacement comes in it’s different. Many papers don’t even have designers as such – the editor of the section will lay it out.

In short, newspaper design details are highly inconsistent between papers, and fairly inconsistent even within smaller papers.