Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the newsroom tonight

Ever wonder what it's like in a newsroom when there's big breaking news? With the exception of 9/11 and presidential election nights, it doesn't get any bigger than it did tonight with the death of Osama bin Laden. This is the sort of news we journalists live for.

7:52 p.m.: The Associated Press sends an alert that President Barack Obama will make a late-night statement; subject not announced.

8:15 p.m.: AP says Obama will make his statement possibly in the next 15 minutes, and also informs us media types (as if we didn't know) that this kind of abrupt presidential statement with no pre-announced subject is very unusual. The copy desk spends the next 15 minutes speculating on what is going on. Something to do with Libya?

8:30 p.m.: The New York Times reports on its website that Osama bin Laden is dead.

8:32 p.m.: Our 1A page designer rips up the front page.

9 p.m.: The top editors start to show up in the newsroom. We soon have the editor in chief and two managing editors, as well as the chief page designer and extra support in the graphics and photo departments. But no extra news copy editors. We have six copy editors and one wire editor tonight, which is a skeletal crew. Three sports copy editors are recruited to the news side.

9:30 p.m.: We all stop for nine minutes to listen to Obama's speech.

10 p.m.: Our deadline for first edition is pushed back a half-hour to 11 p.m., and we're all thanking our lucky stars we don't live on the East Coast. They are two hours ahead and their newspapers were probably already coming off the press when the news broke.

11:05 p.m.: We're off the floor for the first edition. We did a completely new front page and one whole open inside page of bin Laden coverage. That will increase to four open pages (as in, no ads), for the final edition. That's 14 new stories, with photos and graphics. Deadline is midnight. We're unlikely to make that.

11:50 p.m.: We're still compiling and editing stories, picking photos and putting together pages. I was tasked with compiling quotes from U.S. leaders (done) and finding a story of world reaction (no wire service has moved one yet).

12:40 a.m.: After a frantic hour of editing and writing headlines and photo captions, we're down to one story.

12:52 a.m.: The wire editor finally gets to leave after a 12-hour shift. "Happy dead terrorist day," she says as she walks out. All of the copy is edited and approved.

1:04 a.m.: All pages are gone! Only 64 minutes late.

1:30 a.m.: Everyone has gone home except me. I have to hang around and wait for the actual paper copies to be delivered and check to make sure all is well. But as of right now, the presses aren't going yet. Gonna be awhile.

2:30 a.m.: Papers have arrived. They look good. I'm heading home.

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