Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A President Dies, But Not In The (Early Editions Of) New York Times

True, word of Gerald Ford's death arrived at an inconvenient time -- going on midnight -- for newspapers on the East Coast that had gone to bed with their first editions or were on the verge of getting them ready for the presses.
But breaking news sometimes has a way of pushing back those deadlines. Ford's passing didn't rise to that level for papers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, whose editions that arrived on my doorstep this morning failed to note.
At that hour, the front page is locked up for copies that are going beyond the city limits. The exception for late news at that hour is sports, as evidenced by the Times recounting the Jets' win late Christmas night that appeared in Tuesday's papers.
You would think, though, that because the sports section has a late close, the Ford obit could have been stuck there, with a quick refer inserted in a box on A-1 to at least cover you for the early edition, saving the banner head for the late city edition.
But even the Times wasn't quick enough to act, which means you have to read its exhaustive obit online. Which may be what editors intended.
Long gone are the days when you had to rely on the print version to get your news, and the Times and the other 400-pound print gorillas have continuous news desks for that reason. Still, if you automatically assume that people will rely more on their computer instead of the front page for their information, then before long fewer people will feel compelled to read that front page and the rest of the paper, the very engine that's driving the Web sites in the first place. Which, of course, means the print versions need, more than ever, to stay relevant. And the first step is to get the most important news of the day into the paper, even if it means pushing back those crucial deadlines a few minutes.
The death of a president would certainly qualify on that account.

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