- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 13, 2004

Arafat’s death

Some of you will have read about the death of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the front page of your Thursday paper. Others will have found a highly interesting, if less momentous, story at the bottom of the front page Thursday outlining some of the many theories in circulation about the cause of Mr. Arafat’s illness.

The difference depends mainly on where you live. As those of you who have gone looking for the score of a late-finishing ballgame already know, we publish two editions every day, each with its own deadlines.

The final deadline for the first edition is about 10 p.m., and the papers begin rolling off our presses not too long after that. They are loaded onto the trucks soon after midnight for delivery to the outer reaches of our circulation area.

Major developments still can be stuffed into the second edition as late as 12:30 a.m. Those papers are delivered to the inner suburbs, downtown addresses and street boxes.

If you are in any doubt about which edition you have in your hand, take a look at the date at the top of the front page; you will see either one or two little stars next to the date, indicating first or second edition.

With Mr. Arafat still lying in a coma on Wednesday and very little information forthcoming from his wife or doctors, we went ahead with an ambitious coverage package based on the assumption he would still be alive when our deadlines arrived.

We put together what we hoped would be a highly readable story for the front page explaining the dearth of information about Mr. Arafat’s mysterious illness and the many theories that were going around.

Paris-based freelancer Jennifer Joan Lee provided the skeleton of the story, quoting French doctors and lawyers to explain the strict privacy laws that gagged Mr. Arafat’s doctors, leaving a vacuum in which the conspiracy theories were able to flourish.

A late development

Washington-based editors went to the archives and the Internet to round up some of the more dubious rumors in circulation, ranging from poisoning to cancer to AIDS.

Medical reporter Joyce Howard Price, meanwhile, went to American medical experts seeking some responsible and informed speculation, based on what already had been made public about Mr. Arafat’s symptoms. Editors wrapped the whole package together under Miss Lee’s byline.

The second story in our package came from Middle East correspondent Joshua Mitnick, who had been out during the day to the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mr. Mitnick’s story carried the hard news of the day, that the little-known Palestinian parliament speaker, Rauhi Fattouh, would serve as interim PA president for 60 days from Mr. Arafat’s death until elections could be organized.

The article provided several paragraphs of background about Mr. Fattouh and said the decision suggested the Palestinian leaders were determined to have an orderly and constitutional succession.

That package was already on the first-edition presses when authorities in Paris summoned reporters at about 11 p.m. Washington time to announce that Mr. Arafat had died.

Our night crew quickly prepared a new package for the second edition, with Assistant Foreign Editor Gus Constantine working closely with News Editor John Bourantas.

Mr. Constantine went to the news agencies for the announcement of the death and the initial reaction, combining that information with the earlier material from Mr. Mitnick about the succession. That text replaced the Jennifer Lee story on the front page, and Mr. Bourantas rearranged the page to get the new story above the fold.

Miss Lee’s story, meanwhile, was shifted to the space on an inside page that had been previously occupied by Mr. Mitnick’s story, and page designers cleared some extra space on the page for historic photos.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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