Friday, September 24, 2021
Sept. 24, 2021

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From the Newsroom: News must be fit to print by deadline

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

As I am sure you have noticed that for weeks now we have been providing you with a daily update of local COVID-19 cases, deaths and tests conducted. The local information comes from Clark County Public Health, which strives to update its numbers by lunchtime on regular business days, Monday-Friday.

Tuesday was a little different, and eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a discrepancy in the paper as a result.

By midmorning we were awaiting the numbers as usual, but they didn’t come. Finally our health reporter, Wyatt Stayner, decided to go to lunch. (It’s an old adage in journalism that no one will call you back until you walk away from your phone.) But, after lunch, still nothing.

By midafternoon, he called and was told that the numbers were coming but there would be some delay. New people were taking over the report and there was some training that had to be done.

By 5 p.m., the normal copy deadline, we were still waiting. Time to make a Plan B. Metro Editor Mark Bowder offered this solution: “If we don’t get this by 6:45 p.m., let’s bring the cops blotter onto the (local) cover and have Wyatt write a little box explaining that we didn’t get the COVID-19 numbers by press time.”

Guess what? We didn’t get the numbers, so that’s what we did.

Public Health finally sent the numbers about 7:30 p.m.

We quickly put a story online, but by that time we had sent the local cover, containing Wyatt’s explainer box, to be plated for the press. But page designer Romana Wood was able to sneak the update — 45 new cases — into the daily box she’s been doing for the front page. So that’s how we ended up both with the updated numbers on Page A1 and a story saying we didn’t have any update on Page A6. Did you notice?

There’s some precedent for this strangeness. Because the Pac-12 conference likes to play its football games on Saturday nights, we often don’t get the final score into the sports agate; we just write “late.” But if the referees don’t dally we might get the final score in time for the Sports cover or the box on the top of A1, which we call a “skybox.”

Meeting deadlines

All of this underscores that deadlines are still an important part of the newspaper business. Although we can, and do, post content to our website and social media platforms at any time, our print edition depends on everyone hitting their deadlines.

Assembly of a typical edition starts several days before it is distributed. The first deadline is for advertising, which occurs before the “dummies,” or page mock-ups showing the positions of the ads, go to the newsroom. We get the Wednesday dummies on Friday evening.

The Life section is typically the first to be completed. Wednesday’s section was laid out on Monday, using stories that were written and edited, or chosen from the wire, last week. The horoscope, advice columns, comics and other syndicated features come in well ahead of time, but I’ve noticed we try to keep the celebrity news fresh.

The next thing to be completed is the editorial page. Greg Jayne usually writes the editorials two days before publication so the rest of the editorial board has time to give him some feedback. The Wednesday page goes to the copy desk around lunchtime Tuesday so that Greg can see a proof in the afternoon.

Assembly of the news pages starts early in the afternoon, starting with inside pages and working toward the covers. The front page is usually the last to be sent to plate-making. Some days, although not lately, the Sports cover is the last “off the floor” because that way we can include as much late news as possible.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer this traditional way will last. Nowadays, we publish to the web at will, using nothing more than a notebook computer or even a phone. I know I have published quite a few pieces from my recliner chair!

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