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45 years of metropolitan newspaper

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45 years of metropolitan newspaper

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Forty-five years ago, Arthur Gelb, the managing editor of The New York Times, had an idea (or rather, he borrowed someone else’s).

As part of a redesign to liven up the pages of the newspaper – yes, printed sheets of paper – he added a column that relied on readers to submit short personal stories from New York City: Observations and Anecdotes; heard snippets, catchy lines and quirky encounters – even the occasional poem.

The feature film, based on Franklin P. Adams’ “The Conning Tower,” a column in various New York newspapers that Mr. Gelb enjoyed in his youth, was called The Metropolitan Diary. It debuted in November 1976 and has been published weekly since (which I am told qualifies as the longest-running Times column of all time). Not bad.

During the first part of its history, Metropolitan Diary combined readers’ contributions with writing from the various editors who oversaw it. It has been written entirely by readers for quite some time now. As the last column editor, I have probably reviewed 20,000 submissions and posted about 1,300 over the past five years.

What makes the Metropolitan Diary so sustainable? I think people love stories (and they really love stories about New York City): tell them, read them, hear them, share them. There is a kind of magic in there. You see it every week in comments posted online, where it’s common to find little gems posted by people who were driven to write by something they just read.

Metropolitan Diary isn’t for everyone, of course. (What is it?) But also for enthusiasts and casual readers – longtime New Yorkers, natives gone elsewhere, frequent visitors, people who have passed through – it offers a dose New York’s regular in stories that capture the mind and heart of this unique city, while providing some quiet moments to pause and reflect. And smile.

As for this “Best of Metropolitan Diary” anniversary contest, calling it that may be slightly misleading. Can one item really be “better” than all the others? Everyone has their own charm, and it was hard enough to winnow the field at five.

Still, giving readers a chance to weigh in on their favorites seemed like fun, and based on the ballot, they seem to agree. Each article is special to us. But if you don’t like the result of the vote, please discuss it in the comments.

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