- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

Too many stories

When I was small, my mother would recite amusing little ditties to me, including one that went: “What a wonderful bird is the pelican; its beak can hold more than its belly can.”

It’s a bit like that in the news business. There are always more stories that attract our interest during the day than will fit on the allotted pages.

The crunch comes at about 5:45 p.m., when the senior editors emerge from the daily meeting where they decide which stories will appear on Page 1.

If fewer foreign stories than we had hoped go on the front, that means our top stories must run on the World page, pushing out lesser items. If the advertising department has sold an extra ad or two, the space gets even tighter.

Here are a few of the stories we had wanted to use last week but just couldn’t get in:

• The Associated Press reported from Strasbourg, France, on a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of a British woman who wanted to use frozen embryos to have a baby over the objections of a former boyfriend who had provided the sperm.

The story raised fascinating issues in the area of men’s and women’s rights as modern science breaks down old barriers. But it got substantial play on radio and other media, so we felt the space was better used for something else.

• Agence France-Presse reported from Beirut that a widely touted “national dialogue” on the future of Lebanon broke down almost as soon as it started because of remarks made in Washington by Walid Jumblatt. The Druze leader, in town for meetings at the State Department, had made a speech that was sharply critical of President Emile Lahoud and of Hezbollah, now a major political force in Lebanon.

I have been interested in Mr. Jumblatt since interviewing him in Lebanon years ago, and had wanted to cover his speech on Monday but didn’t have a reporter available, so this seemed like a good way to catch up.

Beyond that, we believe Washington readers are interested in things that happen here, especially when they have consequences on the other side of the world. But when the space ran out, we had to let it go.

too little space

• The rape trial began last week for Jacob Zuma, who was deputy president of South Africa and the likely next leader of the African National Congress until the sensational charges were brought against him.

Stories of powerful people in trouble always have reader appeal, but beyond that the trial raises interesting questions about the integrity of the legal system in South Africa and the future leadership of the ANC.

Two days in a row, we were planning full coverage of the trial but had to drop the story at the last minute. All we were able to fit in was a three-paragraph brief.

• The Associated Press got hold of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s latest blueprint for U.N. reform a day before it was released, focusing on a proposal to “outsource” some functions — such as translation of documents — to other countries.

The story was cut at the last minute, so the next day — when the report was formally released — we tried to keep ahead of the media pack with a London Daily Telegraph item quoting angry U.N. employees in New York who fear losing their jobs. That didn’t make it in either.

• The Telegraph had another intriguing story that we held for several days until it got too old to be used:

Secret files dating from the 1940s and released last Sunday showed that Britain’s security services at that time considered Menachem Begin — who went on to become Israel’s prime minister — to be a terrorist because of his leadership of a militant Zionist group.

The files also showed that the security services believed Mr. Begin had undergone cosmetic surgery some time in the 1940s to change his appearance, and that they were no longer certain what he looked like.

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

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