- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

Daily deadlines

A reproduction of The Washington Times Web site appeared on a blogging site last week under a headline that read: “Washtimes.com discovers the 24-hour news cycle.”

Underneath, the entry carried the following comment: “Oh look at the little red time stamps next to the article abstracts — washtimes.com is now updating throughout the day, instead of just once every morning. Let’s welcome the folks at 3600 New York Ave NE to the late 1990s.”

Well, yes, we are well behind a number of our competitors in beginning to update our Web site during the day. But we are pleased at least that even our critics have noticed.

We wanted to make the change long ago, and would have if we enjoyed the hefty profits and surplus resources available to some other newspapers. But, like everyone else in this business, we can see that our long-term survival requires that we have a competitive Web site, and are moving to build it up as quickly as circumstances permit.

For a former wire agency reporter, there is some irony in this. For more than a decade I worked at a company whose slogan was “A deadline every minute.” We sold news to newspapers in every time zone around the world, and at any given moment a client somewhere was getting ready to shut down and start rolling the presses.

When big news broke, reporters and editors scrambled to get a bulletin onto the wire; a one- or two-minute beat over the competition was judged a great victory — and often meant getting our story published rather than the competitor’s.

We had to follow with a complete story ready for publication as quickly as possible, and then refile it with updates after every significant development. On a very big story it was not unusual to get up to 20 or 30 leads in a day.

All that changed when I came to work for a newspaper, with just one or two deadlines every evening. On September 11, 2001, we were able to sit back while the cable news channels reported all sorts of false rumors — the State Department was on fire, 11 planes had been hijacked — and calmly sort things out late in the day, though we did print a special edition on the attacks in the afternoon.

That is changing. Newspaper reporters now are being asked to file an early version of their stories for the Web site and perhaps update it once or twice during the day. It’s a shock for reporters who are accustomed to newspaper deadlines, and not all of them are enthusiastic.

The news curve

The Internet is forcing changes in the way we approach our work as editors as well.

We used to sit and monitor the wire agencies all day, knowing that apart from a couple of top items that made the evening news, most of the material would be new to our readers when the paper hit their doorsteps the next morning.

That’s not true anymore. With Web sites like Google News and Yahoo providing all the wires and bloggers arguing over developments as quickly as they appear, it won’t do just to fill tomorrow’s pages with stories our readers are seeing today.

That puts a higher premium on developing exclusive stories that will not be seen anywhere before we print them. We won’t often be alone in reporting a plane crash or suicide bombing, so we look for political, social and economic trends that have not been noticed, or exclusive interviews with policy-makers.

We also try to get ahead of the news curve. Knowing that Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who inspired the Bali bombings, was going to be released from jail on Wednesday, we selected a story the day before to run that morning explaining the significance of the release.

We had another nice little coup the same morning. Our reporter in Baghdad had told us Tuesday about a major security operation that was to kick off in the Iraqi capital the next morning. We had the story on our front page on Wednesday morning, just as President Bush opened a press conference by announcing the operation.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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