Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Daily newspaper deadlines are hourly

I interned at a small daily newspaper. I got my first staff job at a twice-weekly newspaper (technically called a “semi-weekly” because “bi-weekly” means “every two weeks” AND “twice each week”). I worked every day as a photojournalist, so (in my head) I did the same amount of work as a “daily” photojournalist. Actually, I shot more assignments per day.

But, it is not the same.

Big metro daily newspapers are not like small daily newspapers. Yes, they both appear on the doorstep in the morning and look similar. However the deadlines are completely different.

At a small daily, the photojournalist shoots all day and into the evening. Then, s/he can’t go home until everything is done. If it is an afternoon daily paper, all the pre-press work can be done between morning assignments. Everything must then make deadline between noon and 3 p.m.

At a semi-weekly, there is a specific deadline at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays (as an example). As long as all the pre-press work and page positions are complete before this deadline, there is no problem. Shoot all day and night on Monday, then go home. Worry about it on Tuesday while finishing the Tuesday shoots.

A metro daily newspaper should be called an "hourly" newspaper. Each section of the paper goes onto the press at a different time. Some sections have multiple runs and deadlines based on the distance the paper travels from the press. For example, there are three versions of the front page each day. There are at least four versions of Sunday's front page including the bulldog (an early edition of the Sunday paper).

More recently, there's been a push to turn out images on-the-fly for the Web site. This is problematic because it makes transmitting "any 'ol" image more important than getting the best images, which is the whole point of photojournalism.
We've been able to fight this idea so far. It's currently on hold, but I don't know for how long. I hope those in charge continue to understand the certainty of these conflicting realities.

There are already some wireless transmitters, which send images directly to a remote location in real time via FM signals. I'll save this topic for another blog entry. For now, we'll say it's used in extremely limited instances. I hope it doesn't ever make it to regular daily assignments.

Meanwhile, one Saturday last month, I had three assignments in three counties with three deadlines. Once someone has traveled DFW highways, it's easy to understand the difficulty of completing three assignments in different counties without the deadlines. When there are multiple timed deadlines on top of the normal stress, it makes the brim of the boonie cap a bit moist. It worked out, but it really leads to a rushed and panicked feeling.

This Saturday, I had an assignment with a 9 p.m. deadline, but they wanted a shot from 10:30 p.m. Unless someone actually invents a company called Einstein Express ("When it absolutely, positively needs to be there yesterday"), this can't happen. I did my best before deadline and they built an entire page (three display photos) without the primary image they actually requested.

With multiple, hourly deadlines, give 'em what they don't want and sometimes it's better than what they requested (but can't have). It's not inspiring. Nor is it what I'd prefer. However, it's the reality of deadlines at daily newspapers.

Enough for now,

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